An Interview With Mike Netzer - Continuity Studios and A Spiritual Awakening

Written by Bryan Stroud

Mike Netzer, holding a Batman commission.

Michael Netzer (born Michael Nasser on October 9, 1955) is an American-Israeli artist best known for his comic book work for DC Comics and Marvel Comics in the 1970s. Mr. Netzer joined Continuity Studios in 1973, where he created art for both Marvel and DC as a member of the Crusty Bunkers. In the late seventies, Mike left Continuity in a move that eventually saw him relocated to Isreal. In the early 1990’s, Netzer would open litigation against Neal Adams claiming ownership of the character Ms. Mystic - a claim that he maintains to this day.

This particular installment of the Crusty Bunker series was especially fascinating.  Not only did Michael have a lot to share, but it was my first time reaching out internationally, as he was (perhaps still is) in Israel at the time.  Michael was generous with his time and remembrances and boy, did he have some adventures, as you'll soon see.

This interview originally took place over the phone on September 25, 2010.

Adventures on the Planet of the Apes (1975) #7, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Klaus Janson.

Bryan Stroud:  There seem to have been a few different paths to Continuity.  What was yours?

Michael Netzer:  I was invited by Neal [Adams].  I was about 18 years old at the time.  I was in Detroit at a big comic book convention there put together by Greg Theakston and it was called the Detroit Triple Fan Fair.  Greg was someone that I knew in high school and he was encouraging me to try and break into the business.  He saw something.  He saw my enthusiasm for it and he sort of helped push me into it.  He had this convention and he invited Neal Adams among other guests, like William Shatner and some of the Star Trek people.  Jim Steranko was there and as I remember Vaughn Bode was invited.  He (Greg) asked me to be in charge of Neal and to pick him up at the airport and to make sure that he had everything he needs and so on.  He did that purposely because he knew how much I was attracted to Neal’s art and what an influence it was becoming on my own work. 

So, when Neal came I went to pick him up at the airport.  It was a pretty odd situation because instead of the sort of vehicle you might expect, I went to pick him up in my 1964 Mustang.  This was in 1973 and it was like going to a convention in a car that looked like it had been through World War II or something.  I bought it for $100.00.  It featured a convertible top with a hole in it.  As it turns out, on this September day that I was picking him up it began to rain a little bit.  So, we’re driving and water is starting to get into the back seat and I’m sure Neal was wondering what he’d gotten himself into. 

So, this was my first big comic book convention.  I may have been to one smaller one in Detroit, but this was my first direct contact with comics fandom and it was a very big deal for me.  Neal had seemed to particularly take interest in things personally.  He hadn’t yet seen my work, but he seemed good with this kid who had come to pick him up who was, at the time, very much the quiet type.  Very withdrawn.  I didn’t say much and didn’t appear to have an outward involvement in very much.  But I was a good listener, and Neal was a good talker.  (Chuckle.) 

We got to the convention and there seemed to be a good chemistry between us.  As things went along and he started seeing my work he took an interest in it.  He invited me to come to New York and work at Continuity if I ever had the chance.  I have to say that my work at the time didn’t look much like it was influenced by Neal at all.  Mostly what I had to show were drawings I’d done in a life drawing class that I did in college.  Interestingly enough it had a look altogether different from the comic book work that I do.  It had more of a drawing look, more like an illustration, but at that period in time I was drawing more for drawing as opposed to comic book art.  I think maybe that was what interested him more than anything.  He knew I was a big fan of his work and was enamored of it before he came to Detroit through Greg Theakston.  So, at the end of that convention I got the invitation, which was a very big deal for me. 

Star Trek (1980) #7, cover by Mike Nasser.

As an aside I’ll tell you at that convention I had done an exhibit of some art that was 6 pieces of the Star Trek crew and at the end of the con Neal was there when Greg told me that one of the drawings was missing from the exhibit.  They thought that somebody had taken it.  They were apologetic about it, but it seemed to me that it was kind of cool that someone liked my drawing enough to take it from there.  I say that because recently someone contacted me from Detroit and said they’re putting on a convention in remembrance of those days of comic fandom from the 60’s and 70’s and they’re calling it the Detroit Fan Fair, not the Detroit Triple Fan Fair.  But the guy that contacted me told me that several years ago he had bought a box of old comic books and inside of it was a few drawings and one of them was this drawing of Captain Kirk and that my name was signed to it and he asked me what I could tell him about that and how it had come about.  I told him the story that this was the drawing that was taken from the exhibit and he basically invited me to this convention that’s coming up in October where he’s going to return it to me.  Along with that we’ll be publishing a sketchbook of the last few years and the story of that drawing will be in the front of the book.

It’s an interesting theory that a big circle is being closed right now from that convention that was exactly 35 years ago to now.

Stroud:  Oh, what a magnificent story.

NetzerArvell Jones, another of the Detroit area people along with Keith Pollard broke into the business in the 1970’s and they were together at the time.  Keith Pollard worked for Marvel back then.  They were driving up to New York to try and break into the business.  This would have been late October 1975.  The asked me if I wanted to come along for the ride and see if I could get in, too.  Of course, I had the invitation to go to Continuity, so that was a good step.  I had something to rely on, so I took my meager funds, maybe $100.00, knowing I at least had a place to stay for a short time.

So, I took that ride with them and went to Continuity the next day.  Neal told me, “Look, I don’t have much work right here, but here’s the phone book and a list of contacts including DC and Marvel.  Call them up and see if you can get an appointment to show them your work.”  I did just that and had a couple of appointments lined up.  One was with Jack C. Harris at DC Comics, who promptly gave me a script for a story in Kamandi.  That’s how my career started.  I also did a little bit of commercial work with Neal, penciling story boards and sometimes inking backgrounds.  So that’s how it started, in late 1975.

Chamber of Chills (1972) #24, cover penciled by Al Milgrom & inked by Mike Nasser.

Stroud:  So, you kind of got spring boarded from Continuity into your comic career.

Netzer:  Exactly.  Now I’ll try to give you my perception of what Continuity was at the time.  Naturally, Neal’s personality was the dominant one.  To me it was a whole new world.  I’d just come from a limited home/school life and was thrust into New York City and the hopper of the comic book industry.  So, there was a feeling of being overwhelmed and also taking into consideration my age at the time, barely 20, and was still a very withdrawn and introverted man.  Aside from wanting to be a comic book artist, and being thrust into this situation, I just tried to make the best of it.  My own personality was fairly optimistic.  I had the feeling inside that I was living at a very important time and that some very big things were awaiting us.  I’m speaking generally as a civilization.  There was something in the air.  Something important about being there at this particular time. 

Now most of the people in Continuity were young people who were looking to break into the business.  Maybe they’d got their first independent script to draw.  There were a few artists like that at least.  I basically became attached to some of the artists like a guy named Mark Rice, a guy named John FullerJoe Rubinstein was one of those.  They’d not really done any independent work.  Along with that there were a lot of established professionals there like Cary Bates, Larry Hama, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson.  A lot of them were beginning to make a presence for themselves in the industry.  Continuity was a hub in every sense of the word. 

When I landed in New York it was basically in the throes of helping out Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  The day I landed I was in the front room all the time and Siegel and Shuster were visiting at Continuity and Neal was giving them some details on how to move forward and convince DC Comics to give them a little compensation for the creation of Superman.  That was a pretty big event and this was when I began to understand the rather peculiar personality which was Neal and that he was very involved in the industry and very involved in making things better for others in the industry.

This was a little bit unique because most other artists seemed to be more than anything else worried or concerned with advancing their own career.  Very few were showing the kind of extending of themselves towards this sort of activity.  So right away I became a part of a very good spirit that was in the studio, which kind of had an overall look at the industry and it seemed that there was a feeling that from Continuity, there was a very big influence over what was going on in the comic book industry. 

Wonder Woman (1942) #231, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Vince Colletta.

Stroud:  I think your describing it as a hub seems very appropriate, at least from what I’ve heard from others who were involved there.  It has been described as a middle ground between the big two publishers. 

Netzer:  There is certainly that.  There were artists and writers and editors from both companies who felt at home there.  And people who worked at Continuity were working for both companies.  It was a middle ground and it was also a place where the people who were involved in it seemed to have some influence over what was going on in the industry.  Meaning that Cary Bates was writing Superman and having the regular writer of Superman at Continuity meant that everything that was going on with Superman and everything that was going on at DC Comics at the time was known and by knowing that it kind of helped us to do our jobs a little better and maybe people who weren’t exposed to this kind of environment wouldn’t be aware of it.

Now I just want to add one more aspect to this.  At the time, on that first day, there was something very interesting that happened.  A big poster on the wall next to Neal’s desk in the front room was a map of the Earth.  I believe it was a map of the ocean floor.  It was a picture of the ocean floor without the water.  It was a very interesting picture that I’d never seen before.  Somehow, right away, I was pulled into this discussion and I remember Neal looking at it and he said, “You know that geologists are saying that the continents have moved around and they used to be together, but they’ve spread apart.  Now look at this map.  Does it look to you like the continents can move around on the ocean floor the way they show it?”  I said, “What are you talking about?”  It was a little bit of overload.  I wasn’t familiar with the theory.  I mean I’d heard of Pangea, but never really got into the details and I found myself going out and reading and researching so I’d have an idea what they were talking about.  At that time Neal hadn’t yet started talking about the planet may be growing and that the continents spread out because of it.  All this about the organic matter coming from inside.  But he was trying to pick peoples minds and say that there was a problem with this theory.  The idea that the continents were moving around just didn’t make sense to him.  This would have been around 1975, so it was the period when Neal was starting to formulate his resistance to a very popular new scientific theory and he was looking around to maybe see what people thought of it.  A lot of people came in and whenever he found people to be of interest, he would open up that discussion in the front room. 

Ghosts (1971) #97 pg.4, art by Mike Nasser.

It’s interesting that most of the people there didn’t have anything to say about it and Neal was going to go up against the scientific community and who would know more?  People just didn’t seem to know where he was heading with that, but you could see back in 1975 the beginning of this idea which for Neal has become a very important part of his work.  You could see the seeds to it right there. 

So, to me I felt that I’d pretty much found myself in the middle of a very serious and pertinent kind of place.  And here I was in the midst of the place and person whose artwork had pulled me into the comic book world.  This man was proving to be a lot more than just a comic book artist with great ability, but also someone working on a humanitarian level and with an overall view of the world and he seemed to care a little more and be involved in it.  He felt he could be an influence on any aspect of it.  A conversation with him would move from anything to politics, to social issues, to what was going on in the comic book industry.  He was someone whose view was more than just worrying about advancing his own career.  Rather he was someone who would be engaged in many aspects of the world we were living in.  To me that was very important.  I had been instinctively pretty much the same way. 

So as time went on, this interesting bond was forming between us.  I would say that it may not be like a lot of people that shared that engagement that Neal had in the studio.  I like to think I lent my support to that right from the beginning and it created a very strong bond between us. 

Another interesting aspect to this is that I saw a lot of artists come in to show their work and some of them were not so bad.  Let’s say that they were…I wouldn’t want to grade anyone, but I would say that it seemed like almost regardless of what identity these people were bringing in, Neal’s criticism of their work was evidently harsh.  It took me a long time to understand how or why he would do it.  What was interesting was that with me, particularly, is that I never faced that criticism from him.  He seemed to treat me with kid gloves and it was just the opposite when some of these kids would come in to show their work.  There were times when he would bring them back to my table and he would actually pull out one of the drawings that I did.  I remember a splash page from the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu that I did during that early period and spent a lot of time on and he would bring them back and he would say, “See that?  This is how good you have to draw to get into the business.”  So he would use me as an example to show young artists the extent of the work that they had to do. 

Megalith (1989) #7, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Rudy Nebres.

So, what I would take from all this is that from my situation, personally, my work seemed to be a little different than what most other young artists were facing at Continuity.  I think it can be attributed a lot to a very positive outlook of mine toward the future in this new life that I was beginning in New York. 

Stroud:  That’s quite a remarkable chain of events that you’ve described.

Netzer:  It is pretty remarkable.  Again, I think it was something in the chemistry between us.  I have to say that I think there was an aspect to me that contributed to the whole thing.  I’d basically been raised in Lebanon.  I was born in Lebanon, but I came to America and by the time I came to America, between the ages of 12 and 19, those critical school ages, I was extremely withdrawn.  I wasn’t really engaged in American culture.  I had to do some catching up.  There was some culture shock to deal with and it felt like instead of starting my life at 5 years old, where you typically start going to school and so on, I started at 12, so I had something like 7 years missing.  I felt like I was behind everybody else. 

I found myself a little bit disengaged from the kind of life that most kids my age were living.  So, by the time I got to New York and began working, I was missing basically a lot of the culture that my colleagues had.  I hadn’t grown up in America throughout that whole period.  There was Greg and others and these were the people who were at the forefront of media and culture in America.  Comic book artists and writers were just very interested in what was going on in film and in books and science fiction and everything.  So the conversation between them would inevitably be around certain things.  People would talk about Humphrey Bogart and Casablanca and Citizen Kane and James Cagney and things in the culture that left a very big impression on them from the world of film and television and actors and books and so forth and I just didn’t have any of that. 

It was like an immediate overexposure to the world.  When everyone else seemed to be involved in these conversations it would bring out the impact of these things in comic book stories and so on and I had very little of that.  I found myself always on the outside and learning and absorbing as much as I could.  I had a lot of catching up to do.  I was very interested in knowing what everybody was talking about.  I think that contributed to something that was distinguishing me from everybody.  Maybe that needed someone who was like a little kid in an environment of a lot of grownups who needed this kind of perception.  I think Neal instinctively felt in this situation that he took it upon himself to be that guy, to be the one that would take care of me as I was taking these steps of getting acquainted with everything. 

Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #207, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Al Milgrom.

I think that also contributed to the bond and contributed to the difference in this particular relationship that we had, relative to the kind of relationship he had with other artists. 

I would also say that I shared and supported his larger outlook on the world.  That being engaged and using the position you have, or using your time in this journey through life to do what you can to contribute to making your environment a little better.  It’s to have an overall large outlook on things so that you can be engaged in almost anything you need to see where you can contribute in a positive way.  This was a little bit unique and I think that Neal was pretty much wanting to do that.  It was the crux of what he was doing in this life and I think he still feels that way, and you can see it even today in everything that he does. 

It wasn’t such a shared thing…it wasn’t clear to everybody in the studio and in that environment shared that feeling with him and sometimes it was even said that it was just an eccentricity of Neal’s that he was that way. 

With most people, you have your career and you have your life and you have your own things to take care of and that’s enough of a chunk to deal with.  A lot of people thought, “Well, that’s all there is.  I can’t change the world.”  Certainly, we all run into this situation where we get cynical.  “So, what, you think you can change the world?  The political situation, the economic situation?”  But then some actively try to see where the weaknesses are in what humanity is going through and try to improve them in some way.  And here I was in the situation I was brought into, drafted into this thing with the kind of optimism that you have the ability and yes, you can do that.  To have someone like Neal around just pulled me right into that inner world of his.  And there was a big feeling, at least for me, and I’m sure it was for him, that this bond that was developing between us was something that is going to lead to some kind of an ability to be some kind of a contributing factor.  The steps that we were making for ourselves. 

Neal has a big world within him.  It’s really rare that he expresses the depths of that world that is within him, so he has his own way of concentrating on things that open up certain avenues, especially the way he talks about his contributions.  How the comic book industry was shaping up.  To me it was very clear.  When Neal and I would talk about the idea that comics…and this was back in the 1970’s.  You have to remember that comics were going through a very difficult time.  They had been through the 50’s already and there was some new energy coming into the business now with artists like Wrightson and Kaluta and Jones.  Having gone through the Green Lantern/Green Arrow run.  The feeling that comics were now somehow becoming pertinent.  The sales of comics was still very much questionable at that time. There wasn’t a lot of optimism in the industry for where the industry at large was heading.

Batman / Green Arrow: Poison Tomorrow (1992) 1, cover painted by Mike Netzer.

As a matter of fact, I say this all the time.  A lot of creators from that time would be very enthused about what was going on in comics at that time.  They might not be getting a piece of it.  They might not have a lot of work because there was so much talent and a lot of the creators from that time found themselves jobless and outside the industry and they had to look for their work somewhere else.  Still, most of the creators I’m in touch with still cannot deny that at the time, in the 70’s, they never dreamed that comics would have the influence they do today in our culture.  This is a very important thing because we seemed to have, at that time, during that early period, this new spirit that was new and that Neal had injected into the industry through Continuity, being a hub where a lot of creators were coming in.

This led to a serious effort to get the artists and writers together to create a comic book creator’s guild.  Something that Arnold Drake had tried in the 60’s after working at DC, and it didn’t work.  We found the same thing.  I remember Neal asking me to try to write some kind of beginning of a charter of why we needed to do this.  There was a lot of talk with a lot of artists.  It was amazing the resistance we had from the actual artists and writers themselves.  It was amazing how many established creators were reluctant to put their name onto this piece and to support the idea that we present a unified stance to the publishers.  People were just afraid for their jobs.  They were afraid that DC and Marvel would stop giving them work and so we had to work very hard to get the things that we did on it. 

Tomb of Darkness (1974) #22, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Pablo Marcos.

In the end it turned out that it really wasn’t enough to put together a guild.  But the effort was made.  Steps were taken and some things were written and names were signed on.  What this indicated was a general feeling that the industry was not up to speed with the vision that seemed to be coming out of Continuity.  That made for an interesting struggle and dichotomy for a particular problem that we faced.  Because if we could not do this, then it seemed that the industry would continue to develop in such a way that the state of the creators would remain as that of an underdog because we didn’t have the ability to put forth a unified stand in order to be rewarded fairly for the work and the contribution we were making to the industry. 

Now just to put that a little bit in perspective, I think it’s really important to understand one of the reasons we felt comic book creators really should be at the top of the pyramid.  The main reason being, most everything that the comic book industry was basically came from creators.  There isn’t a character, there isn’t a property you could say that a publisher created.  At best you could say, “Well, look at Stan Lee.  He was the publisher and look what he did.”  Stan wasn’t a publisher.  Stan was a writer/editor.  Basically, everything he did, he did under the auspices of him being a comic book creator, not as a comic book publisher.  Stan was editor in chief, but without Jack Kirby it would be very questionable whether Stan could come in and create the surge that Marvel went through in the early 60’s with the characters and stories and properties. 

This is the thing that came from comic book creators.  The people who owned Timely, which became Marvel, were not the ones who created these properties. 

Stroud:  Not at all.

Netzer:  The same with DC.  You could look at everything that DC has developed over the years and it all came from the creators.  The creators were the source of everything that the comic book industry has become.  And when you look historically at what the comic book industry has become and where it’s going, it is the leading source for entertainment properties in the world today.  I’m not just talking about the super heroes, I’m talking about everything.  The breadth of the comic book industry, the independents and everything that has come from the periphery of the indies world.  It’s going into film. This is all the work of comic book creators.  Without them, none of this could be. 

The Huntress (1994) #1, cover by Mike Netzer.

And yet, even to this day, I finished a job for Dynamite Entertainment and I’m still getting a contract that says, “Work for Hire” for doing these eight pages for Dynamite.  I know that the page rate I get from Dynamite puts me back to a time from 20, 25 years ago.  It’s like half the page rate I was getting from DC comics in the 90’s when I returned to do a few Batman stories.  That’s the story, that’s the situation comic book creators are living in.  A situation where the publisher is taking these properties, making millions and billions of dollars on them, from properties that no one there had created themselves.  It all came from the creative community and they find themselves fighting for every bit of right that they get.  For every little morsel of bread that they get.  Droppings that they get from the table of the publishers. 

It’s kind of like there is a serious, serious injustice going on and being perpetuated in the comic book industry that comic book creators find themselves powerless to change.  Even to this day.  That’s kind of an interesting dichotomy, because you could say, “Well, back in the 70’s, that was also the same situation,” but back then nobody dreamed that the industry would flourish to what it’s become today. 

On the other hand, we have a very interesting situation where the comic book publishers continue to this very day to keep presenting the same situation that the comics aren’t really making enough money.  “We can’t compensate you any more than we do for your work.”  I don’t know.  Someone is cooking the books, it seems, or someone is telling these weird kinds of stories, because comic book companies are making a lot of money.  If there’s a reason that comic books are not making a lot of money, then somebody has to look at whether the publishers are happy with the situation.  I mean, come on.  Why would the publishers continue making this product that isn’t making any money?  Well we all know that they’re making money.  They’re making it from peripheral projects.  It seems almost like it’s in their best interest, the publishers, that the comic books don’t sell a lot and they make a lot of movies and a lot of products that make a lot of money and this is very much in the interest of the publishers because they can keep the creators at bay and say, “Well, look, the comics aren’t making money, so we’re not in a situation to compensate you for the amount of work and contribution that you’re making for the industry.”  This way they can get off the hook and keep the creators at bay and they will have to settle for a situation where they give away their intellectual property for characters that they create or they never get a proportionally fair reimbursement for the work that they’re doing. 

DC Special Series (1977) #1, Batman-Kobra penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Joe Rubinstein.

Because the industry just isn’t making money.  As far as the publishers are concerned it’s a wonderful situation.  If the publisher tells you that the comics aren’t making any money, it seems to me the publishers haven’t bought anything to help the comic books themselves make any money because they don’t need to.  And it serves their interests because the creators can’t get for themselves what they need.  It’s a terrible, vicious circle.  I think that we began seeing that in the 70’s.  I think we saw the germination of that, which has continued even to this day.  The industry has grown and grown and grown and creators are still at the very bottom end of this thing although they are the major contributors to this industry. 

Stroud:  The sales figures would seem to bear out their position.  I think they peaked in the post World War II timeframe, so pointing to that it would be easy to say, “Sorry, guys, but we’re just not selling enough copies.”

Netzer:  Exactly.  They might come and show you the numbers and, “Look at the numbers, look at the sales.  We’re only selling 40,000 copies of Superman.”  Back in the 70’s they were selling a couple hundred thousand of Superman and Batman.  Today the numbers are like half or a third of what they were selling back then.  And nobody can argue with that, you know?  The comic book industry is like on the ropes.  Well, it’s not true.  They lie.  That’s a really big distortion of reality.  The publishers are making a lot of money from the comics.  They might not be making it from the comic books themselves, but without the comic books they would not have these properties to make films from and to do all these other things and produce the merchandise that they are producing. 

Stroud:  The licensing.  I suspect it’s not accident they keep getting sold to larger conglomerates like Marvel to Disney for example. 

Netzer:  Exactly.  They’re not stupid.  Now of course throughout all this we saw some very nice things in the 80’s.  Certainly, the idea of the Image guys coming together and the opening up of the industry on the one hand was a very good thing.  It seems to me like the distribution is a factor.  I look at the distribution and I can’t believe that the people who are running the industry are so stupid that they think this is a good distribution system that we have today. 

Marvel Two-In-One (1974) #70 pg.2, penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Gene Day.

Marvel Two-In-One (1974) #70 pg.3, penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Gene Day.

Marvel Tales (1964) #100 pg.26, penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Terry Austin.

If you have a property that has any potential, any shot at being successful, the distribution system is working against that right from the beginning.  The idea of direct sales and selling your books ahead of time before you see the project, and basically that the success or failure of the book has already been predetermined before the book is published?  By the amount of the advance sales at the store where it’s being sold?  You want to tell me that this is the best way to sell a product?  Wouldn’t it be better to put it out there, without selling it in advance, without putting it into a situation where people have to pre-sell the amount of books they’re going to sell?  How do they know?  Do they know only by the PR the company is putting out?  That means the company determines ahead of time what comics are going to make it by the amount of PR, the campaign they give to every product?  Regardless of whether it’s a good product or not, this is a very good situation for the publisher because they can say, “Well, you know, we’re going to do Infinite Crisis and Endless Crisis and one Crisis after another…”

Armageddon: Inferno (1992) #1, cover by Mike Netzer.

Stroud: (Laughter.)

Netzer: “Crossovers.  And these are the ones that we’re going to push.  And they will sell because we pushed them ahead of time, and whether this product is good or bad and whether the readers wanted it or not, we don’t care.  In fact, we’re determining the sale of this product from the beginning.”  And the readership really has nothing to do with it because the readers don’t buy the book.  It doesn’t matter.  The company has made their money.  And they really don’t care if the stores are able to sell them or not.  It doesn’t matter.  No one can do anything about it because of the distribution system that exists.  This is the awful situation.  There is no other product being sold that way in the world! 

Stroud:  You’re absolutely correct. 

Netzer:  It’s a very strange situation. 

Stroud:  It doesn’t seem to reflect the market in any realistic way.

Netzer:  No.  The market is forced to like or not like this product that is being spoon fed to it.  They are forced to like or not like it based on the position on the scale that the publisher is giving this product.  Again, it seems to me that if I were the publisher at DC or Marvel and I was looking out for the interest of the publisher, and was trying to keep the creative community at bay, then this would be the best way to do it.  I would support the system because this way I could control a system where we can control the sales and we can make it look like these properties are not selling very well, not selling enough.  To decline, over the years, and they continue to decline, and we can make all of our money on films and other merchandising and this way we can maintain full control of the properties and acquire these intellectual properties to ourselves without the creators having any leg to stand on to get the rights that they duly deserve as creators. 

Now I didn’t really want to get into this whole negative thing with the industry situation.  I do want to get back to Continuity.  That is what this is about.  (Mutual laughter.)

Megalith (1989) #6, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Neal Adams.

Stroud:  Well, I appreciate the insight just the same.  How many years did you spend at Continuity?

Netzer:  The peak of my career was basically two years between 1975 and 1977.  After 1977, those two years were the learning curve for me.  What is very interesting is I got to New York and in a way that one aspect of my art, which is drawing stuff, that ability to draw seemed to go on the back burner and I became more of a comic book artist.  I wasn’t drawing drawings, I was drawing comic books.  The 70’s, working at Continuity, and the two years of doing art took a front seat and I worked so much that it was a little scary at times because it wasn’t just drawing.  Our handwriting was the same (mine and Neal’s).  My natural handwriting was pretty much like his and everything seemed like this synergy of things at Continuity with Neal.  Those were those two years.  It was a big learning curve, learning to do what Neal does. 

I wasn’t looking to do it better than he does.  I was just trying to do things the best that I could.  I didn’t think it could be done better than he does.  I wasn’t aware of where I would be taking my art at the time.  I just pretty much put my mind to concentrating on that learning curve of absorbing everything I could in those two years.  The cultural world that was around me, at Continuity, whether it was the actual craftsmanship of drawing, or whatever.  I think during this two-year period you could see a marked improvement in everything I did.  There seemed to be an attitude there of, “Keep an eye on what this guy is doing, because it looks like he’s getting better really fast.”  It took something like a year and some time in the later part of ’76, maybe the first book I did which was a Challengers #82, the second Challengers where Neal got the bundle that came in from DC Comics to Continuity and he flipped through the bundle and he looked at that Challengers that I had done and he saw me working on it and he looks through it and comes back out and he’s holding the book in his hand and he was really enthused about it. 

To me it seemed to be a turning point.  It was also a bit of a turning point on the Batman/Kobra that I did.  The turning point was like I’d gone from the point of being like someone who was looking for his way as an artist to one who had at least developed the ability to put together a good comic book.  I wasn’t really looking at what Mike Nasser, who I was at the time, was like as an artist.  I was still in the state of the learning curve. 

Batman (1940) #480, cover by Mike Netzer.

Certainly, by that time there was a turning point where we had went from the amateur/rookie that was groping around in the dark for something to hold onto to, “See, here’s a guy who can do professional comics.”  It was an interesting change.  There was a lot of criticism, still, of my work.  Because it was so much like Neal’s.  But it really didn’t bother me.  I had such admiration for Neal’s work that when it would come up that, “Well, you’re a Neal Adams clone,” well, if I’m going to be a clone, then I’m happy to be the clone of one of the better artists out there. 

It seemed to be enough for me at that time.  It was that second year that things started changing.  I had a personal situation that wasn’t very easy going on in Detroit and then her mother, who I couldn’t bring to New York when I was making $30.00 or $40.00 a page at the time and sometimes a page would take a couple of days to do and living in New York was a very expensive thing.  I was sharing an apartment with people who were young artists who were still looking to get work.  Whatever money I was making at the time sometimes had to be shared with the people you’re working with.  Sometimes someone would want to go out to eat or something and because not everybody is working so whatever money was being made was going out more quickly than it was being made. 

I worked very hard to make a living in comics at that time.  Especially when living in a community type of thing.  So, there was a bit of a change happening in that second year, slowly building up.  “You know, there’s something about this that isn’t working.”  It made me invest a lot more time in working, trying to develop the craft more and more and more and there was an improvement.  You could see from issue to issue that I was investing more time than I did on the issue before.  It was improving and I was getting a lot of commercial work with Neal, doing illustrations for magazines, like a nice little illustration of Bjorn Borg, the tennis player that showed an ability to do a painted type of work, which was a very good piece.  I had a good name, I had a good reputation, but something just wasn’t really working.

I needed to see where it was going.  I couldn’t see myself forging a career in this particular direction that things were heading into.  The business was not compensating enough for the work needed in order to do really good work.  Neal at Continuity, had a whole different reality.  He was into commercial art long before he came into comics.  He had an infrastructure.  He wasn’t doing that much comic book work.  The little bit of comic book work he was doing at the time was really supplemental to a large amount of commercial work, so he never really had that problem. 

Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #228, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Joe Rubinstein.

For me it was like I was still young.  I was coming into my own.  I became aware that this was a time in life when you had to decide what you wanted to do.  Who you are and what you’re going to do with your life?  I had some friends who were very uptight at the time.  It was very interesting.  They would say things like, “This work is so good, but why are you doing comic books?”  I would say, “Well, what else would I do?  What else can I do?  I’ve been drawing illustrations.”

Certainly, today in hindsight that wouldn’t have been a very good choice because the illustration work was all being done in the commercial art market the way it was in the 70’s was totally different.  You had commercial artists doing movie posters and magazine illustrations…you don’t see that any more.  Or at least very little of it.

Stroud:  Right.  It’s all gone to photography.

Netzer:  Exactly.  On the other hand, and I think this is what creates the turning point, there was a world of comic book fandom that we were part of which was a very interesting situation.  We would go to these conventions, whether in New York or New Jersey and we were invited to these conventions in Detroit and so on and we would go like celebrities, like stars.  They’d pay your way, give you a motel room and you’d get to the place and you could do sketches and make a few hundred dollars doing that and at the convention you could sell original art.  The reception from fandom was phenomenal!  I mean you go to a convention and you sit on a panel with a few hundred people in the audience and you could talk about anything you wanted to and it seemed like the audience were completely fascinated.  “Tell us what you’re doing.  Tell us about the comic book world.  Tell us about these characters.  Tell us about this, tell us about that.” 

This was an interesting phenomenon, and to me it seemed to be more important than anything else that was happening around me.  It was like this wonderland and anything that was happening in my life was this cycle and to me that was very important. 

Now the thing about it is that whatever the problems were at the comic book industry personally at the time, they weren’t just problems of the industry itself.  The industry is part of a larger, financial wheel that the whole world was in at the time.  There was a course that the world was taking at the time, it seemed to me, that was not portending good news for the long road ahead.  Further ahead in the future.  It seemed at the time pretty clear to me that things were going to get worse and not get better.  It seemed like, from the little experience that I had, from working those two years, that the direction was that financially, for people like us, it was going to get harder and harder as we moved along.  Not just for us, it seemed like for everybody in the world. 

House of Mystery (1958) #276 pg.12, art by Mike Nasser.

The world was heading on a course where the strong were going to get a lot stronger and the weak are going to get weaker.  It’s just the nature of things.  And certainly, looking back on it today 35 years later, it has borne out to be a fact.  You could say that life is better for some people, but I think generally that the general picture is that life has become harder for almost everybody.  And if you are succeeding and are able to find your place, then you can count yourself among some of the lucky ones, but that generally isn’t true for everybody.  It certainly isn’t a situation where you could say that the general quality of life is getting better for everybody.

It’s like the myth of capitalism.  The myth of capitalism was that everybody has an opportunity.  Well, it’s true that everybody has an opportunity, but everybody can’t succeed.  They might try very hard, but it takes a lot of things for someone to succeed.  The savvy to be able to be a good businessman, which sometimes means that you have to be pretty tough with people and take things by force and do things in your position and stature in order to basically get something from someone that you couldn’t get otherwise.  And what if you’re not that materialistic sort of guy?  If you’re an artist, sometimes you’re just interested in the craft.  “I want to tell stories.  I want to draw well.  This is what I love doing.”  Well, that’s like a whole different reality from someone who is a savvy businessman and is going to succeed. 

I mean, come on.  You have guys like Mike Kaluta and Bernie Wrightston out there.  Where are they?  Why aren’t they working?  Why aren’t they doing projects?  The popular interest in artists and writers in comic book properties is like with DC and Marvel where we discussed that “We will decide what’s going to be popular and what isn’t.  We make the distribution decisions and we do this and we do that.”  It’s to the point where talent like Jeffrey Catherine Jones, who is one of the most phenomenal artists who probably exist on the face of the earth today, is relegated to doing commissions.  Like an unemployed artist.  He’s doing commissioned artwork for collectors because there aren’t any jobs in the industry based on who gets picked and chosen.  It’s a really wild situation if you think about it.  The great artists of our generation, of that time period, basically have no place to work today.  And I’m not just talking about them, I’m talking about the regular people like Bob McLeod and George Harras and everybody who were important to the industry at that time.  Today it’s like they’re on the margins and have to fight for any one particular job, and it remains that way. 

The Defenders (1972) #87, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Al Milgrom.

I believe that at the time I had a feeling that this is how things would go and it’s going to take something very serious and big to be able to affect any kind of change.  I think around the time of my second year up there that I sank into this state of repositioning myself.  And maybe in a search for myself; who I am, what I am, what am I going to do with my life; in order to come out of it in such a way that I can find a direction that would offer something a little better than the one that was being offered to me at the time.

I suppose you’ve heard stories about that particular period.  Basically, what I’ve given you up to now is a bit of the important background to explain the necessity I felt for some kind of change. 

Now, the change that I was going through at the time…and I remember many times being out with Howard Chaykin and Gray Morrow sitting and having a drink downstairs and I remember Howard saying, “Mike has really become quiet.  He seems to be not engaged in anything any more.”  This was in the later summer of 1977, and I really was at a point of change.  I was still at Continuity and I kind of disengaged myself totally from everything that was going on.  I was still doing some work, on a big collaboration story and it was done and I was at sort of a standstill.  I had friends at Continuity, the younger crowd who pretty much felt maybe the way I did, although they were still chugging along trying to find themselves and get a footing in the industry. 

At some point I came to some conclusion that this wasn’t working and I needed to change.  I just wasn’t sure where.  But I did start asking myself, “What do you want to do?”  I think that from that position that I was in, instead of going in the direction of, “Well, why don’t you take care of yourself, maybe go find some other career and see if you can go somewhere else, maybe leave New York and go back to Detroit and see if you can set up a home for a family, try to keep the family back there together,” instead of doing that, I did another thing.  I said, “I want to see what I can do to change things.”  I know it’s a big thing that you can’t really change.  Look at the economy; look at government; look at the world infrastructure, which everything in your environment is connected to; which everything in your local environment is influenced by.  This is the beast that you have to deal with.  This is the world that you’re dealing with and if you want to change something you have to deal with the whole thing in order to influence your local environment.  And unless you can have some kind of effect on the whole package, you’re not going to be able to change anything.

The Comet (1991) #12, cover penciled by Mike Netzer & inked by John Beatty.

At that point, for me, it was like I had nothing to lose.  I simply had nothing to lose, so at that point, when you’re going into this spiritual thing and you’re asking yourself, “What do you believe in?”  It brought me to a place saying, “Well, I’m the kind of guy who looks at history and where humanity is today and I look at all of the influences that have historically had their impacts on civilization.”  I realized there are a lot of factors that need to be touched on in order to have an influence on what’s going on in the world.  Some of them being religious, some of them being spiritual, some of them being economic, some of them political…but there were a lot of things. 

I think that I took it upon myself to be some kind of person who would at least step aside form this thing and see what you could do and at least find out who you are.  For me, at the time, when I think of it, of what drove me into this particular corner, I would say that I certainly had an idea of history.  I thought that historically, the kind of local world we live in wasn’t always in tune or in touch with the larger picture of how humanity has evolved to become what it is. 

Let me give you an idea:  Here we are, a group of comic book creators, working in an industry like underdogs, being taken advantage of.  We can’t get our shit together enough to put together a union or a guild, and yet the same creators who are not able to create this one simple stand as a group of people, these are the creators that are sitting down and writing and drawing stories of the greatest heroism that humanity can imagine:  The mythology of superheroes, which involves sacrifice, and of good fighting evil.  It’s like we were able to write it, but we can’t live it.  We are powerless.  It seemed like a big dichotomy.  Even a hypocrisy, I would say, to sit and write these stories but we’re not able to do the slightest kind of thing to improve our lot in this life. 

Stroud:  Ah-h-h-h.

Netzer:  Ah-ha!  So, I was starting to see my environment and saying, “Guys, what are we doing here?”  It started becoming like meaningless.  It seemed to me that you have to show, throughout your whole life, that we need that same thing that we’re writing about in the comics.  We needed to because the world needs it.  Because we need it.  Because our children will need it.  Because the way things are going, it’s going to get worse and worse.  And there doesn’t seem to be anybody that is making a real stand.  If it was Neal, then he was a lone soldier.  There were a few.  But Neal certainly didn’t seem to have the support of the industry.  If the comic book creators had come together to help create this guild, then they would have.  But their fear for their particular state prevented them from doing the heroic thing that needed to be done.  The very same thing they were writing about in the comics all the time!  They were writing about it!  They were writing stories about sacrifice and fighting evil and it was just, “We were writing about it, but I’m sorry, we can’t do it.  I don’t want to jeopardize my income here.” 

Kobra (1976) #6, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Joe Rubinstein.

Stroud:  Quite the contrast.

Netzer:  So, to me a lot of this took a rather…let me tell you this story.  As a kid, I remember being 4 years old and I was in Lebanon.  In Lebanon, just like in America, just like in every other culture, a kid growing up, one of the things he hears, that I heard at least, which made a big impression on me…just imagine yourself as a kid:  Everything is new in the world and somebody says, “The painter is coming to paint your house.”  And you see the guy coming to paint your house and you know what that is.  And if someone says “painter,” you see that he paints houses and then you ask an adult, “What does that painter do?”  That is the most simple, basic curiosity:  To learn new things, and as a kid that’s what it is:  A series of learning one new thing after another. 

So back at the age of 4 I remember hearing all the time people saying, “God forbid, God willing,” this whole thing where God is all the time coming out of people’s mouths.  I remember asking an adult one day at 4 years old, sitting on the steps of the house, “Where is this God?”  It seemed like this must be a big guy that everyone had this reverence for, and I was wondering who he was.  “What are they talking about?  Who is this guy?”  I had this impression about him, but he never came around.  I never did see him.  So the guy looks up and he points at the sun and says, “You see that?  On the other side of that, he’s over there.”  It kind of drove me crazy at the time.  “Really?  Come on, I’m not stupid.  I know that you don’t mean it, right?”  You’re talking about something that you believe in, and yet you really don’t know what it is.  I was really enamored with the subject.  And it was on a slow burner.  As a kid growing up, I would conceive of these stories.  I was into science fiction, and I was into the superheroes, and it seemed like all of the stories I tried to put together and write, whether I was doing samples, or whether I was looking ahead at a time when I would become a comic book artist, a lot of them involved some kind of future that put forth the idea of discovering the Creator and what he was. 

It seemed that this was all good and fine for a child, but at this particular point in my life that we’re talking about, my second year of comic books, I began to think, “Well you know, Mike, you could take it upon yourself to go out and try to change the world; the way things are, but you know this sounds like a really big (something.)  It would be good for you to include that in all the periphery of options that you are considering.  Whatever it is that you decided to do.” 

Marvel Team-Up (1972) #101, cover by Mike Nasser.

It reached a point where I was sitting with this girl in New York, a friend, and she asked me, “What are you going to do now?  You’re not finding yourself in the comics.”  I said, “I don’t know.  I wish I could use my talents in the industry to say something to the world.”  She said, “What would you say?”  I remember writing down, “We should love each other.”  This seemed to me to be a very important message.  She said, “Okay, so what?  Where do you want to take this?”  It seemed to me this was a very big message, and then the connection came:  This really is the core.  I’m not talking about religion.  Surely religion hasn’t really fomented that message.  But the source of religion does.  And I thought that I would want to go and figure that out.  To see what it was that source was talking about. 

So at some point I put myself in that position, and at one point I said, “This is going to be the next step.”  Then I made the decision to leave New York and to go spend some time in the mountains and on the beaches of California.  Just to clean up inside.  To disengage from the hustle and bustle of what was going on in New York and to clear out my mind.  It seemed there was something in all that that I could grab.  So I did that. 

One day, it was the 19th of November, exactly three years after I went to Continuity, and after two years of a very intense comic book career, I met somebody early in the morning at Continuity and I said, “Tell everybody I’ll be gone for a month or a month and a half and don’t worry about it.  I’ll be back.”  And that’s what I did.  I had ten dollars in my pocket and went out on the George Washington Bridge and hitchhiked out to California.

Stroud:  Wow!

Netzer:  In search of whatever it was I needed to find.  I won’t go into every little thing that I learned, but the bottom line is I arrived in San Francisco exactly 7 days later.  It was Thanksgiving Eve.  I’m traveling by hitchhiking.  I have nothing on me.  I’m living from day to day and moment to moment in whatever it is I run into along the way.  I’m surviving, though the ten dollars was gone the first day.  I was having this experience where I was going to see that if you believe God is with you on this thing, let’s put it to the test.  We’ll see if he’s still there on the road.  And it did in terms of being afraid.  I mean if you’re going to go hitchhiking with nothing on you, what are you going to eat?  Where are you going to sleep?  And yet everything along the way seemed to take care of itself.  I never was in need of anything. 

Challengers of the Unknown (1958) #82, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Joe Rubinstein.

I arrived in San Francisco and there was a Thanksgiving dinner there being given to those who were homeless and so on, so I joined them and had a nice Thanksgiving dinner.  Then I walked out of the place and I see this ad pasted on some glass looking for an illustrator with a phone number.  Now interestingly enough, Mike Friedrich at Star*Reach had contacted me and wanted me to do the first 8 pages for that magazine.  I was starting to do it, and I never got around to doing it, and when I saw this name I thought, “Oh, my God.  He needs that job in another couple of weeks,” so I called Steve and said, “Steve, this is Mike and I’m here in San Francisco.  I’m not going to be able to finish that job and you can tell Mike I’m really sorry.”  He said, “What are you doing in San Francisco?  Come on up here and we’ll talk about it.  Mike won’t want to let you go.” 

So, I make my way to Steve and he calls Mike Friedrich and Mike comes by and asks me what I’m going to do.  “I can’t do comics any more.”  “Well what are you going to do?”  “I don’t’ know.  Maybe I’ll go around the country and talk about bringing about world peace.”  I was in a frame of mind for setting things up for a larger situation.  He said, “Well, the story you were going to work on wasn’t really regular science fiction, it was just a special thing, but maybe you could write down what you’re going through and we could do a special feature.”  So that’s what I did.  Basically, I stayed with Steve for a couple of days and that’s what I produced.  That 8-page story that was in Star*Reach.  I don’t know if you’ve seen it.

Stroud:  I have not.

Netzer:  It’s got three parts and in “The Final Testament,” it basically represents our coming to the point that we’re colonizing another planet.  I was looking at our religious history as a catapult to our future and that’s the last chapter of our history, like spiritually.  It’s basically being applied toward a continuation of humanity, colonizing in outer space on another planet.  I specified Titan, the moon of Saturn.  I don’t know where that came from at the time.  There was just a feeling about Titan because I’d read a lot of books about Titan and there was this thing in mythology about Titan being very earth-like.  I really knew very little about it, but I needed somewhere, so I set that up as the target. 

So, I left it at that.  I was in such a state at the time that I really didn’t understand it.  Any effect that it would have.  But as strange as it was, Mike Friedrich thought that it was worth publishing.  At that particular time and place it seemed like a good thing.  The message was a positive one, so he published it and he wrote an editorial about what I was going through and I think it contributed a lot to a big story that was starting to form about what had happened with my leaving Continuity and I came and saw him and I’m studying religion and I still had no idea where this was going. 

The Defenders (1972) #88, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Armando Gil.

So I left Steve and Mike and went out to Southern California to San Clemente and spent a lot of time on the beaches and in the mountains and I met people here and there and I took a Bible from somewhere and I read it through four times.  I just wanted to know it.  I’d never read it through completely and I wanted to know all that history.  I wanted to know what was in the book.  There certainly was grandeur in the stories.  I’m not talking in a religious sense.  I’m talking as stories.  In the sense of what the people did.  The prophets and what they did and that was the sort of force that we needed today.  It seemed to me that this was what was needed in the infrastructure to face what was bringing civilization down.  The main reason for it was to encourage.  To bring out the spirit of hope and goodness in humanity.  This was what it was all about.  Everything that was missing from the jargon of modern civilization.  Not necessarily in the sense of religion, but of what’s right.  There are people that need help here.  There are people that have a lot of power and a lot of money and then there are the people that are starving and dying and it seems that the powerful are only engaged in getting more power for themselves and engaging in activities that are only distracting everybody and not being able to face the evil that is standing in front of us.  That connected to me.

It took a long time to be able to put that into perspective.  Maybe 20 or 30 years.  But I really didn’t have a choice at the time.  I was already into it.  I had stepped into the cold water and I found myself in the mountains of California, walking around, living outside, living with whatever nature had out there and reading this book and absorbing it.  And what did I find in it?  Well, I found a lot of things, but very interestingly I found it in both the Old and New Testament that they had a common thread that touched me.  In the book of Daniel, it mentions the name Michael in this very strange context; like at times, Michael will stand up.  Looking at this verse and at the whole thing that preceded it, I had no idea what it was about.  There were things about the kingdom of the north and the kingdom of the south, but it turns out to be a very important prophecy and there’s this name.  Somebody is going to come in time and they have this name and I thought, “What is this?  Is this a set up?”  Then I continue reading through the New Testament and you get to Revelation and there you see the name being used again!  “They will rule all nations with a rod of iron and there was one in heaven, Michael and his angels,” and I really didn’t put the two together, but coming back again in a similar context and I found the name and thought, “All right.  I’ll do it.” 

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (1976) #37, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Joe Rubinstein.

So, I came back to New York, feeling new and invigorated and being sent from God kind of thing and I arrive at Continuity and everybody is looking at me kind of strangely.  Neal said, “Mike, you have religion!”  He’s laughing it up and I’m really serious.  This isn’t some kind of joke for me.  I’m not a happy guy any more.  I’m not that kind of person any more.  I’m very serious.  I don’t know what’s going on here, I’m just walking into the lion’s den and I have no idea what’s going on.  So, I just shut up, go back to my room and sit with Marshall Rogers and ask to be left alone. 

So, I went back to the room and suddenly there was tension.  That night I’m sitting with Joe Barney and it’s 3 or 4 in the morning and Joe Barney is one of the artists who work at Continuity and there’s this radio talk show from one of the New York stations and they’re talking about Steve Ditko.  It was a show that talks about comic books and Joe Barney is trying to get a few words out of me.  “What happened?  What’s going on with you?”  I still didn’t know how to put it into words and I said, “Look, Joe, do you see this?”  I showed him Revelation, Chapter 12, and he says, “Mike, you know, that’s talking about the second coming of Christ.  You’re not saying you’re the second coming of Christ?”  I said, “Joe, I’m just saying, I went out there looking for something to do and I found this in the book.  I don’t know.”  He said, “Well, if you really believe it, why don’t you get on the radio and say it here?  I’ll dial it.”  So, he dials into the radio talk show, and I get on there and I said, “I’m Mike Nasser and I’m working at Continuity,” and they move me right up to the front.  I didn’t have to wait very long.  The guy comes on and suddenly I’m on the air and this guy says, “We have Mike Nasser, and he works at Continuity Studios, and he might have something to say about Steve Ditko.  Hello, how are you?  What’s on your mind tonight?”  I said, “We’re putting together at Continuity a political party for the 1980 elections.”  Then there’s a silence like, “Where did that come from?”  I mean, I’m Mike Nasser, and I’m supposed to be talking about comics.  He said, “That’s very interesting.  I have a feeling there’s something else you want to say.”  I said, “It was written that the second coming of Christ would be a man named Michael.”  More silence.  And the guy said, “Well, Mike, if you really believe it, then I wish you all the luck.  Thank you very much for calling.”

So, it’s like 9:00 and Neal comes bursting into the studio, “Was that your voice I just heard on the radio?”  I said, “Neal, I was just answering his questions.”  I felt I was placed into this position by one event after another.  I can’t even begin to tell you what the beginning of this thing was, but certainly up until Joe Barney said that word, I had no idea that the use of it was intended.  And yet I went into this with open arms and an attitude of whatever happens, happens.  Suddenly it started becoming bigger than life.  I was hearing, “Mike, this is Continuity Studios.  We do comic books.  We don’t make political parties here, and we certainly aren’t running any kind of movies here, so this isn’t going to be easy for you.” 

Uri-On (1987) #1, cover by Mike Netzer.

So basically, what you have is this thing developing, with 20 or 30 people always visible in the studio and everybody has their own feelings and they just don’t talk about this thing.  I mean Continuity really isn’t the kind of place for a born-again, religious type of thing.  It’s not a church.  That wasn’t what I had in mind, certainly.  I was thinking, just take it a step at a time and see where it goes. 

So, I went to a convention a couple of days later and somebody took a picture of me, with my beard and they published that in the next Comic Buyer’s Guide and some of the magazines and they published a few articles and the picture and it said, “Mike Nasser,” with just the photo and nothing under it.  Usually there would be something about the guy.  “We saw Michael here,” or something.  Instead it was just the photo and why?  Because there was a buzz.  It was about Mike having gone crazy and coming back with this religious thing and him thinking he’s the second coming of Christ and now it was a matter of how do we deal with that?  Then it was a matter of somebody saying, “Look, you can’t do that and you’ve got to go.”  This was Mike Nasser, who had become a big, promising talent in the comic book industry and it just wasn’t going to be that easy. 

The thing is, Neal, interestingly enough, caught on right away.  Now if you think of everything we talked about before, it’s very interesting that Neal, who might not give away what he believes in religiously or not, though he has a couple of times; and I would only say that there was an interview he did with Silver Bullet Comic Books a few years ago called “Neal Adams, Renaissance Man.”  If you search for it, you’ll see a 5-part interview with him and he makes this interesting statement, and this is probably one of the few instances where we see what Neal thinks of the subject.  So, what does he say there?  It’s interesting that this happened at a time when my there was some talk about Mike coming back from this Messianic trip and here it is 30 years later and Neal is being interviewed and when asked about religion he said, “You know, I think there’s a lot of truth in religion.  But I think there’s also a lot of lies.  And I think one of the reasons I like talking about growing earth and science is maybe because people are uncomfortable talking about religion.  Maybe people will be more comfortable talking about science and maybe one day they’ll be comfortable talking about religion.  They might want to stone me to death one day for saying the things that I say, but I think one day that it will need to be said.” 

Uri-On (1987) #1 pg.1, art by Mike Netzer.

I read that and I’m thinking, “Gee.  I’ve never heard Neal talk about that.”  I know Neal.  So, what happened was, back then, Neal understood exactly where I was coming from.  He used to say, “Mike, you’re a fluke.  What’s a fluke about you?  The fluke about you is that you’re this guy who is like looking at the big picture of things and you have this long-range vision of where you see your name in the book and you want to take on that role, and you’re in a position where you can effect something.”  It was like the comic industry in the 70’s.  Everybody else didn’t understand how big the comics industry would get, but we understood.  Neal and I certainly did.  We knew that the comics industry would become a very pertinent part of the culture in the world.  Everything that was happening in the comic book industry would eventually have an impact in the world.  He thought that at the time, just like I did.  This was exactly where I was coming from.  And we’re not talking small potatoes any more.  We’re talking about the kind of thing that says, “Well, we’ve got comics fandom.  We’ve got a lot of people and we have to open up the subject.” 

The end point is to present this kind of a figure, that maybe it’s worth it to be able to change something in this world.  He understood me, exactly the way I’m saying it.  And he supported me.  A lot of other people thought, “Well, Mike is just going through this religious thing.”  Nobody else understood.  I remember him coming back to my room a few days later while all this was happening.  I did this 8-page story for Hot Stuff magazine which had this spiritual intonation to it.  Not necessarily religious, but certainly spiritual, and I remember him coming back there and saying, “Mike, you can’t just sit there, you have to do something with comic books.  Use them as your wheels.”  It was like he was egging me on to get off my butt and do something, draw something, look for work instead of just sitting there and acting like some sort of prima donna and acting like I didn’t need to make a living like everyone else.  Which is what I was doing at the time, because I really had no idea what it is I needed to do. 

Shazam (1973) #35, cover by Mike Nasser.

So, he comes back and he says that and Larry Hama comes back and he says, “Neal, why are you encouraging him like this?”  Neal turns to him, kind of flabbergasted, and he says, “You know what, Larry?  One day, Mike’s trip to California is going to become the basis of a new religion,” and I thought to myself, “My God, Neal, what the hell are you talking about?  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I don’t want a religion.  I think most religions are pretty bad as far as what religions have done to the institutions of the world.  It’s not been a very positive thing.”  I mean, the most positive thing you can say about religion is that they have preserved the writings of great stories that have an influence on the common people.  But the average religious person I don’t think would come out and do the things that they’re supposed to do.  I don’t see anything in the Bible that says set up a religion.  I don’t see Jesus saying to establish Christianity.  I don’t see Moses saying, “Become religious.”  Not at all.  I see stories about righteousness; about justice.  I see stories about people having a personal relationship with their faith.  But I don’t see a call in the writings to establish a religious institution.  I don’t see the writings calling for worship of the institutional type that religion has become.  Then you look through the history and you realize it’s true. 

Just think about the story of Jesus.  Just as an aside.  He comes, and he’s not into worship.  He goes out and basically spends a few years on the road talking to people and eliciting popular support for a movement that stands up to religious hypocrisy.  By teaching what the actual meaning of the scriptures are.  And his biggest enemies are the religious people.  The people who basically come together to run to Pilate to put him to death are the religious people.  Much of it run by the high priests.  So this is how religions were developed.  A prophet comes along, goes out on the street, brings the voice of the people against the establishment, writes the story down, the writings later become the basis for a new, specialized religion, that basically at some point will need another prophet to come and stand against them.  That’s religious history.  It’s not about the spiritual.  The only thing that the church has done or the synagogue or any institution, basically, is preserve the writing.  But it seems that the writing would have preserved the stories anyway.  Or at least what we could expect from religious institutions, what we could expect is to receive the message of the writing.  And the message of the writings do not ask for this kind of separatism.  Or this kind of pride in being; a religious pride that creates an animosity between you and those who choose not to be religious.  The writings don’t ask for that.  That’s what religious institutions do. 

The Defenders (1972) #89, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Joe Rubinstein.

So, the question is, why is all this important to a comic book artist working in New York at Continuity in the mid-70’s?  (Mutual laughter.)  I don’t have an answer for that, but what I do know is that I went in this direction and I found a big world that was like finding my way a little closer to the truth about all this and what do I find?  I find resistance.  I find people back here saying I can’t say that, I find other people saying I can’t say that.  I get, “Oh, Michael, you can’t talk that way about that.”  What I’m talking about is really a lot more truth in the original writings and the spirit of the stories that came out of the writings that the world seems to be ruining in many ways.  I mean look at what’s happening in America today. 

The political conflict in the world today, the political dichotomy, it seems that the powers that be today are very happy that people are at each other’s throats.  You’ve got the Right and the Left and the Liberal and the Conservative and they’re all at each other’s throats and the powers that be are happy because we can just forget paying attention to how they’re just running our world into the shit heap.  Humanity is basically being subjugated and the economic structure is such that we’re being left powerless to do anything in the way of good in the world any more. 

Now on the humane level, people have the choice to do good and to help make their environment better and they do.  The only thing is that we’re working against really tough odds.  Because the general spirit of things and the good that we try to do, we’re doing it against overwhelming odds against a very big, strong infrastructure which is not really interested in the well-being of everybody.  It seems to be more interested in its own well-being and power and subjugating everybody.

So, at that age and that position I took all that on and basically one thing was clear to Neal and to myself.  I’m saying if I’m going to see this through, and he would be there, I knew that he would, he would be there to be a part of it, I know, I’ve been in touch with him enough to know, that we basically understand each other.  We have this history, which has not always been on the best of terms.  We went through this thing in the 90’s with the lawsuit and there might be some blood between us, but still, both of us, I think, understand that as far as the big picture is concerned, nothing has changed.  What he did back then at Continuity after that period of my going and coming back and making that first stand and trying to change the spirit of things in the studio at least to try and set up for some kind of creation of something that would go beyond talking about the superhero and trying to do something of some heroic value in the world, it was clear to me and Neal that it was like it would have to step out of the comics periphery. 

Challengers of the Unknown (1958) #81, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Neal Adams.

I think that it was inevitable that I would not be able to keep working at Continuity.  I think Neal understood it, too.  Interestingly enough, if Neal had not pushed when he did, he pushed me not to forget, “This is what you took on.  This is what you said you were going to do.”  I remember at that point, after I’d come back from California, that first day, I had my room and Neal was trying to bring me down to earth as far as having this big Bible in the front room and he was reading it all the time and he was arguing with me about not looking at things in the religious sense, but in a spiritual sense, but he was doing it through the Bible.  He was showing me verses that had to do with work and it had nothing to do with worship and he basically understood exactly what I was going through and he was trying to guide it into a particular framework that would be practical in a way that we both thought would have an influence on the industry and on the world. 

In that sense, he pushed me into this thing.  I might have, if it wasn’t for that, those first couple of years from about ’77 to ’81 when I left New York for Israel, if it wasn’t for his particular pushing, I might have said, “All right, guys, I just went through this thing and I’m sorry, I’m back to doing comics.”  I might have done that.  But Neal wouldn’t let it happen.  So, I found myself back to like before.  There’s this harmony between us.  He was saying things one way and I was pushing more in another direction and it’s very hard to explain now, but I remember one issue.  I did the Batman Spectacular at the time, which was the one with Marshall Rogers and Michael Golden which was a Superstar Spectacular, a DC Special, and that one story, which was one of my better stories, which was in early 1978 and after it was done it was like my roommate, John Fuller, said, “Come on, let’s go.  Why don’t you come back to California?  It doesn’t look like you have many friends here,” and that kind of thing.  So, I said, “That’s a good idea.  That fits into my plans.  I need to be outside a little more.”  So, I went to California.  I drove across the country and spent some time in California.  But the thing with Neal was like he was representing this position as to where he thought this thing should be and it was if he was challenging me.  “Mike, if you think what you think; if you believe what you say here, then you have to be able to present yourself…”  He was challenging me, and I can’t put it any other way, so while I was in California, all this was running through my mind and he kept asking, “Are you going to be able to answer all these important things about this history and when I got the answers together I thought, “Well, it’s time to go back to New York.”  So, I got back to New York and I did this 11-page story, which wasn’t really a comic book story, but it was in comic book form and it was from what I’d done during that period. 

Secrets of Haunted House (1975) #24 pg.20, penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Vince Colletta.

So I came back to the studio and it was like, “Okay, Mike, you can come back and work here, but one thing is that you can’t work on your religion here.”  He was now pushing me more into a corner and it was like, “All right, I’ll work on comic books.”  So, I came back and within a few weeks I found myself like...  (Connection lost.)

Stroud:  I’m sorry, I lost you.

Netzer:  Well, maybe that’s’ a good thing.  I can try to wrap it up now.  (Chuckle.)  So just to try and finish that last part, I basically found myself in a situation where I was still really very young, about 23 years old, and I’d put myself in this situation that maybe I was not really prepared to deal with at the time and I found myself really not being able to work on comic books any more, at least not the way things were before and I had this direction that needed more exploring at least.  And I kind of realized it was going to be the end of the road at Continuity. 

So, I started making plans to head out to Israel because I thought it was important to be here and come back to the roots of where all of that began and to study it a little more and to understand it a little more.  So, if there was any truth in what I was going through, this would be the place from where to do it.  I didn’t have the means to do it, but I had my father in Lebanon, who at the time was interested in seeing someone in the family.  This was 1981 and he was going into open heart surgery and nobody else in the family was able to make it, so I got a call from my brother asking me if I could go to Lebanon.  I thought this was a good thing and I could go to Israel from Lebanon.  That’s basically what I did.  In Lebanon I got caught up in the war, the Israel/Lebanon war and that took up a little more than I would have wanted and by August of ’93 I was basically able to escape a very tough situation and got into a cab and drove south to the border and came to Israel and started a new life here.

I think basically what I’ve told you is the story that maybe for the first time, more clearly than before, puts together some of that experience with a career which was maybe Continuity in its heyday because it was soon after 1981 after I left that things began changing over there.  They wanted to buy the building Continuity was in, they wanted to make an arrangement to have Neal leave there and still have enough compensation to open up another place and the new Continuity became something else.  It would no longer be that open hub of comics that it used to be and it became more of a commercial art place and it had a very important and pertinent chapter in the history of the comics industry.  Continuity in the 1970’s and early 80’s came to an end.  A new Continuity came into being somewhere else, which really wasn’t that much engaged in the comics as it used to be.  

Kobra (1976) #7, cover by Mike Nasser.

Stroud:  So, an era came to an end.

Netzer:  Pretty much so, I would say, in the early to mid-80’s.  I was gone already, so I don’t know much about what happened other than what I’ve heard in stories. 

Stroud:  You were certainly a first-hand witness in the heyday, as you so aptly put it.  I thank you for taking the time to share.

Netzer:  It’s a big story, at least from my point of view.  I still have a hard time putting it all into words.  I think the whole scope of it touches on so many things; ambition, creativity, and other things.  It’s very hard to be able to put it all into words and to express exactly what happened.  You can talk to others who were there and everyone will have their particular point of view and some will say, “Well, Mike just lost his mind,” and all that kind of stuff, and that’s one aspect of it, and maybe it looked that way, and maybe there was some truth to it, but certainly for me it was never that way that it was described.  Even Neal said that I went off the deep end.  You could put it that way and it would be unfortunate to put it that way, but overall, I think things set the tone for the industry and what I went through.  I can’t argue with everybody else’s view.  That’s what they think and how they see it, but I know there are other people who look at it a little bit differently and some people still to this day think that, “Well, at least he tried.  He did something.”  And the point is, the story isn’t over.  I’m still here.  I still have a hand and a footing in the industry.  I’m still working toward a time when we can have an effect on a change in the world in one way or another.  I keep looking for an opportunity.  Certainly, that period of time at Continuity in the 70’s and early 80’s was a hub where everything was kind of the Ground Zero of my life, at least.  I hope that one day the story will be told in a way that will show really what it was all about.  Not only from the perspective of somebody looking at it form the outside trying to put it into perspective as far as how successful of a career you had, or how good of an artist you were.  That’s not the sum of what life is all about.

Time Warp (1979) #4 pg.13, art by Mike Nasser.

Wonder Woman (1942) #232, cover penciled by Mike Nasser & inked by Vince Colletta.

Mike with Ms. Mystic, drawn by Mike Netzer.


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.

An Interview With Alan Kupperberg - Beginning His Career With Continuity

Written by Bryan Stroud

Alan Kupperberg and his cat in 2010.

Alan Kupperberg and his cat in 2010.

Alan Kupperberg (born on May 18, 1953) was an American comic artist known for working in both comic books and newspaper strips. Mr. Kupperberg entered the comics industry by working at Neal Adams' Continuity Studios and was a member of the Crusty Bunkers inking crew. He began writing and drawing for Marvel Comics in 1974, mostly doing fill-ins and one-shots. He later worked on team books such as The Invaders and The Defenders and drew several issues of What If. In 1983, Alan created the one-shot comic Obnoxio the Clown vs. the X-Men - taking on the writing, all art duties, and lettering for the issue. Through the late '80s he contributed to several of the Spider-Man titles, including Spider-Ham back-ups for Marvel Tales. Mr. Kupperberg passed away on July 17, 2015 after a battle with thymus cancer.

The Continuity train continues to roll as I got the opportunity to speak with Alan Kupperberg, who was one of the original members of the Crusty Bunkers at Continuity.

This interview originally took place over the phone on September 24, 2010.

Detective Comics (1937) #421, cover by Neal Adams, Alan Kupperberg, & Dick Giordano.

Bryan Stroud:  How did you come to spend time at Continuity?

Alan Kupperberg:  When Continuity was getting started, Neal Adams sub-let a room from a guy who leased the whole third floor at 9 East 48th Street.  He was a well-known commercial director or producer and Neal just rented one room to start with.  Eventually Neal took over the entire floor.  When Neal and Dick began Continuity, the room we had was probably about eight or nine feet by nine feet.  There were four desks squeezed in there.  Three drawing tables and one regular desk.  Dick Giordano had the desk (he used a lap board for “arting”) and Neal had one drawing table and Steve Mitchell and I had the other two.  Steve and I would come in the morning and open up the place and answer the phones and hold down the fort until Neal and/or Dick showed up.  That’s how it started. 

Before this, Neal had operated out of the Art-O-Graph room at DC Comics over at 909 3rd Avenue, when he wasn’t working out of his studio room at home up in the Bronx.  Neal stopped working up at DC because he opened up Continuity.  I had been fired from DC, and I don’t remember if Neal asked me to come over to Continuity or if I just showed up there and started working.  It was a long time ago. 

Stroud:  So, you were right there at the literal beginning.

Kupperberg:  Yes.  I don’t know if Steve and I made any money at first.  I don’t know how the hell I made a living. 

I’ll try to describe it for you a little bit.  There was a gigantic back room that Mike Hinge eventually rented.  The next room in line was that small room we had when we first started Continuity.  When we were all still in that room Jack Abel called NealJack was still working out at Wally Wood’s studio in Valley Stream, Long Island.  Jack needed someone to pencil a job for him and Neal recommended me.  Because I was the only guy there.  So that’s how I made a living.  I went to Valley Stream and started working for Jack Abel and then for Wally Wood.  Eventually I went back to Continuity.  Continuity had the entire floor by that point.  So, I was there in the very beginning and then I wasn’t there for a while and then I went back to Continuity. 

House of Mystery (1951) #228 pg.20, Art by Alan Kupperberg & Neal Adams.

I’m pretty sure that Neal never liked me.  I think one of the reasons was because I didn’t react to him the way the other people reacted to him.  Neal was a god back then.  These days I think only he thinks he’s a god.  But back then we all thought Neal was a god.  And, artistically, he really was the greatest thing around back then.  He was a brilliant guy.  But he was an evil genius.  Neal liked to make people to jump through the hoops.  I probably jumped too, but I don’t think I ever jumped in the direction he thought I would.  Neal and I kind of had a similar ability.  We could figure out just what would freak people out and he would zing them and manipulate or upset them that way.  I instinctively knew how to push people’s buttons and I did that to people too.  But I didn’t want to do it.  I didn’t know I was doing it.  When I found out what I was doing, I tried to stop it.  Because I don’t think it’s nice. 

Stroud:  Some maturity kicked in.

Kupperberg:  I hope so.  Neal is still doing that shit to people.  And I try not to.  I don’t know if I’ve succeeded… but even if I was going to do it, the effect is totally different.  I don’t have the power that he has because I’m not Neal Adams.  I’m just a guy.

Now, I’m not saying Neal hasn’t done good.  He certainly helped Siegel and Shuster and so forth, but in my opinion, he wasn’t doing it in order to help people, he was doing it to enhance himself so he can say, “Look what I did.”  But the results for Siegel and Shuster were wonderful. One can’t take that away.  So, what if Neal did it for himself?  It had a wonderful result for those two men who deserved it.  But of course, Neal leaves out Jerry Robinson, who had a huge amount to do with it also - and so did a lot of other people.  Jerry Robinson may have had more to do with it than Neal did, but he doesn’t toot his own horn that way. 

What If (1977) #38, cover by Alan Kupperberg.

Stroud:  Jerry seems like a true gentleman in the interactions I’ve had with him. So, you were working sort of as the office gopher initially…

Kupperberg:  Yep.  Making the coffee and scrubbing the toilet.  All the glamorous stuff. 

Stroud:  Jerry seems like a true gentleman in the interactions I’ve had with him. So, you were working sort of as the office gopher initially…

Kupperberg:  Yep.  Making the coffee and scrubbing the toilet.  All the glamorous stuff. 

Stroud:  I assume at some point you were called upon to use your artistic talents.

Kupperberg:  What talent I had manifested at that time.  By the time I went back to Continuity after working for Woody, I had learned a good deal of stuff from Woody.  When I came back to Continuity the firm was all the way to the front of the building by that point.  Neal was doing a lot of motion boards at that time.  I had to draw Lee Iacocca, president of Ford and doing that Ford logo was a lot of fun…not!  We did motion boards for brands like Stove-Top Stuffing and that kind of stuff. 

Stroud:  The sorts of things that were probably more lucrative but not that creative, I’m guessing.

Kupperberg:  I started my account book at that point, so I’ll look in there.  Ah, Trac II razor blades, Slo-Pokes, Volkswagen spots, and in late 1972, maybe early 1973 we were working on Ford.  In January of 1973 we started working on Warp, the Broadway show. 

Poster for Warp! done by Neal Adams.

Stroud:  Quite a cross cut.

Kupperberg:  Are you familiar with Warp?

Stroud:  I’m not.

Kupperberg:  The Organic Theater Group out of Chicago, which was run by Stuart Gordon the movie producer, was running this play in Chicago.  Warp was billed as, “The World’s First Epic Science-Fiction Play in Three Parts.”  A three-part play.  And they’d mounted the first part on Broadway.  But it didn’t succeed, so the other two parts didn’t get produced in New York.  Neal drew the play’s poster, designed the costumes and the sets and the theater marquee and the play’s logo.  I lettered the Playbill cover, which Neal drew.  I think I may have even cut out the Zipatone that was transformed into the Ambassador Theater’s marquee.  So that’s my Broadway experience.  The actor John Heard was in that.  I think I still have one of his rejected superhero costumes for that show.

Stroud:  Wow!

Kupperberg:  Not the cool leather costume, the one with the sequins on it.  I don’t wear it out much…

Stroud: (Laughter.)  I can’t blame you there. 

Kupperberg:  It was a lot of fun being involved with all that. 

Stroud:  Getting back to Continuity, how long were you there?

Kupperberg:  It’s tough to say.  As with many other people, we were in and out of there as ours and Neal’s wants or needs dictated or warranted. 

DC Comics Presents (1978) #96, cover by Alan Kupperberg.

Stroud:  It seems like it was very fluid.

Kupperberg:  Yes, it was, very.  Jack Abel had the middle room and there were 3 or 4 other drawing tables in there. People came and went. But Jack Abel would sit at his drawing board in that room and ink all day.  Jack was an anchor.  Jack would show up every morning at Continuity, and he’d plant his ass in that chair and he’d work all morning. Then we’d go downstairs for lunch, to Kenby’s (For Fine Food) and then he’d come back upstairs and work until the end of the day.  Because Jack was a real guy who drew comics.  I’m a comic book artist, not a real guy.

Now, Neal might live in the studio for a week and not go home.  There was this crummy couch back in the original room, and we’d all go back there for naps. 

Gray Morrow might be working at Continuity one day and Russ Heath or Bob Brown might be there.  Lots of people.

Stroud:  Fantastic.  So just a drawing point for some of the area talent. 

Kupperberg:  Yeah, mostly the young guys, though, because they needed the space and Neal liked sycophants.  Neal liked to run people around and put them through their paces.  Bear in mind that this is all just my opinion.  I may be totally wrong regarding these observations.  I have enough perspective to realize that this is all from my point of view and maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe Neal is an unadulterated saint.  Maybe I’m crazy.  I’m not so in love with my own opinion that the thought I could be wrong doesn’t exist.  I would never fight to the death for what is simply my opinion. 

Stroud:  We all certainly have our own viewpoints and it speaks well when the realization is that perhaps we’re not the be all and end all.

Kupperberg:  Perhaps?  (Laughter.)

Alan Kupperberg in 1972 (photo by Jack Adler).

Stroud:  You mentioned a little about compensation earlier…

Kupperberg:  I’m looking at my book and I can give you some figures.  For example, I got $69.00 for lettering the Warp Playbill cover and $90.00 for penciling and coloring an Evel Kneivel motion board.  By the way the motion board coloring was all with magic markers.  Neal liked working with markers.  So, it was $25.00 here and $50.00 there.  We didn’t need that much money to live on back in those days. 

Stroud:  Did you learn things while you were there at Continuity?

Kupperberg:  I don’t remember particularly learning anything from Neal per se.  Neal’s way of “teaching” was to come up behind you when you were working -- and Rich Buckler remembered this the same way -- and Neal would sort of hug himself and put his arm out with this weird gesture and he’d point at something in your drawing and say, “What’s that?”  And you wouldn’t know what to say.  You had to defend yourself all of a sudden and you had nothing to say.  Because you didn’t know what you were doing.  Now, if you were a dummy -- and I was a smart kid and people expected a lot from me.  But I wasn’t as smart as people thought.  People kind of overestimated me.  But I was very stupid in several important areas.  But people didn’t understand the stupid part of me and they often thought I was just mean.  But I was stupid and it didn’t bother me if and when Neal did that to me.  As far as I was concerned it was just Neal being Neal.  But some people couldn’t take it.  They would run away and never come back. 

Invaders (1975) #29, cover by Alan Kupperberg & Ernie Chan.

Stroud:  Hmmm.  I don’t have a lot of credibility on the subject, but it always seemed to me that creative people need to be nurtured.

Kupperberg:  With Neal it was more of a challenge.  It was Neal’s way of trying to make you think about what you were drawing.  If one could run the gauntlet, survive and come out the other end, you might make it.  A lot of us did.  Neal never hurt me one bit except maybe my feelings.  He may have tried, but Neal never did anything that wound up hurting me.  He helped me.  He called up John Verpoorten one time and he said, “I’ve got a kid here, he can letter.  I’m gonna send him over there, give him a lettering job.”  So, I went over to Marvel and John Verpoorten looks at me and he knew me, probably didn’t like me, but John promised Neal he’d give me a lettering job and he did.  So, Neal got me a job.  Neal did the same thing with Joe Orlando.  My first penciling job in House of Mystery, I would not have gotten it if Neal hadn’t told Joe to give it to me.  So thank you, Neal.  I appreciate it.  He was very good to me until he wasn’t.

Neal could make Bob Kanigher jump.  Neal would do to Kanigher what Kanigher did to his freelancers.  Neal did have a sense of justice.  But the thing is that Kanigher was a sick guy, an effete poseur, who didn’t know he was acting out his neuroses.  But Neal did it for the glee of doing it.  Neal knew he could do it, so he did it.  It was impressive because Neal didn’t have any “power” over Kanigher, but Bob would still jump through the hoops Neal held up.  Kanigher could do it to his freelancers because he had the power. The funny thing was Kanigher didn’t realize that Neal was pushing his buttons.  And the freelancers Kanigher did it to knew it was being done to them, but they had to grin and bear it.  He was the editor.  Now, if you didn’t work for Kanigher you’d probably punch him in the nose if he pulled his shit on you. But if he had power over you --.

Stroud:  The power of the check.

KupperbergNeal had no power in that sense, in relationship to Kanigher, so it was justice in a way, a sort of retribution. And in that it was Kanigher, it seemed okay -- because Kanigher was a prick. 

Marvel Two-In-One (1974) #88, cover by Alan Kupperberg & Frank Giacoia.

Stroud:  I know Russ Heath said that Kanigher would look for a weak spot.

Kupperberg:  That’s a good way to put it.  Neal was like that too, and if I had a weak spot, Neal didn’t find it.  I think I was too stupid to have a weak spot.  I met Neal when I was 14 years old.  I started going up to National (DC) comics in the late 60’s when Carmine Infantino was still just the cover editor. 

I was around when Neal stared doing his wonderful run of covers from Carmine’s layouts.  I used to see him work on those covers.  He’d often do the final touch-ups in the production room at National.  This was back at 575 Lexington Avenue.  So, I’ve known Neal for a more than 40 years. 

Stroud:  Ah, that’s right.  Jack Adler mentioned you were his assistant for a time in the production department.

Kupperberg:  I loved Jack Adler.  I loved Jack to death.  Jack is a great talent.  A wonderfully talented man in everything he does.  He does great woodworking.  He invented stuff, including a 3-D process, just a wonderful talent. 

Stroud:  Do you recall any of the things you picked up from all these mentorships?

Kupperberg:  It was my experience that when you work for someone they don’t often “teach” you.  It’s up to you.  You have to learn.  I learned a tremendous amount about the process of working by being around Woody.  I learned a lot about composition from Jack Abel and Howard Chaykin.  When I’m drawing, and I come to a place where someone has given me advice, or I learned something in the past, I always remember where and when I got that knowledge when I apply it.  I have learned a lot of stuff, even in negative instances.  You very often learn by making mistakes. 

Stroud:  Absolutely true.  I’ve met some people who are great examples of what not to do, too.

Kupperberg:  A cautionary tale.

House II The Second Story (1987) #1, cover by Alan Kupperberg.

Stroud:  What were the hours like at the studio?

Kupperberg:  It was a 24/7 operation.  You could work around the clock if you wanted to or had to.  That was the fun part of it.  The front office in the building had these huge windows.  I remember one time at midday, Steve Mitchell was going across the street to Charles & Co. to bring back some sandwiches.  We’re all in the front room, hanging out the windows and Chaykin looks out and sees this beautiful blonde on 48th the street.  Chaykin starts yelling out the window at Steve, “Hey, Mitchell, look at that!”  Steve looks around and all Steve sees is the Today Show movie critic, Gene Shalit.  So, Steve points at Shalit as if to say, “Oh, look, its Gene Shalit.”  And Chaykin screams out the window, “No, f*** Gene Shalit, look at the tits on that blonde!”  Now, everyone in the street is staring at Shalit and the blonde.

Those kinds of situations were among the things I loved.  Downstairs on the ground floor was Kenby’s Coffee Shop, where we ate lunch most of the time.  We were in New York City and in the middle of everything.  All this stuff was going on around us.  You’d see it all in Midtown. 

When you’re young and stupid you can have a lot of fun.  I’d be walking down the street and literally meet Cary Grant.  I could walk out of an office building and suddenly the Queen of England went by in an open car.  I met Jimmy Carter on Madison Avenue.  I saw the Pope.  Last year I looked out of the window I’m looking out right now and saw Obama and Clinton go by in a car.  In New York City if you keep your eyes open, you can see a lot of people.  Somehow, I can often recognize people from the backs of their heads.  I believe its part of being an artist.  You notice details and little things.  You can recognize a building from a brick in photograph.  It’s a very strange thing. 

Stroud:  I remember my art appreciation professor mentioned that artists are more aware and notice things.

Falcon (1983) #3, cover by Alan Kupperberg.

Kupperberg:  Yes, so you can recall them and use them later.  My history of art teacher in school was Bernie Krigstein.  But he wouldn’t talk about comic books.  I did a 12-panel page, a sword fight sequence and showed it to him and when he looked at it he said, “Oh, I didn’t realize you knew what you were talking about.”  I wasn’t even very good at that time, but I guess he saw I wasn’t just talking nonsense.

Stroud:  Do you feel your time at Continuity helped your career?

Kupperberg:  In a sense.  When I went from there to work for Woody, I soon found myself penciling, inking and lettering his strips.  That was a direct result of having been at Continuity. 

Stroud:  Who did you most enjoy working with?

KupperbergJack Abel was very special to me.  If not for Neal I probably wouldn’t have had and enjoyed my relationship with Jack.  I first met a lot of these people at DC, but Neal’s place was like a DC, Jr.  Continuity was sort of like DC’s coffee room moved over to Neal’s.  DC actually did have this coffee room with nice Formica tables and coffee machines and hot chocolate and sandwich machines and so forth.   Sergio Aragones came in one day and with a fine tipped marker he filled up a Formica table top with his little cartoons.  Sol Harrison came in and hit the roof.  Sol took a wet paper towel and wiped them all out. 

Marvel Team-Up (1972) #96, cover by Alan Kupperberg & Terry Austin.

Obnoxio the Clown Vs The X-Men (1983) #1, cover by Alan Kupperberg.

Thor (1966) #321, cover by Alan Kupperberg & Brett Breeding.


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.

An Interview With Greg Theakston - Remembering His Time At Continuity Studios

Written by Bryan Stroud

Greg Theakston in 2012.

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.

Wonder Woman Is Bettie Page by Greg Theakston.

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.

DC Comics Presents (1978) #84, cover penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Greg Theakston.

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 CushingLou 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.” 

Ex-Chameleon: Daredevils LTD (1987) paperback cover art by Greg Theakston.

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. 

Galactus, penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Greg Theakston.

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 RogersMike 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.” 

An illustration for Wonderama Magazine by Greg Theakston.

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.

Super Powers (1984) #4, cover penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Greg Theakston.

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. 

Art for a Camel Cigarette ad by Greg Theakston.

Stroud:  Innovative.

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!”

Batman & Robin, penciled by Bob Kane & inked by Greg Theakston.

Stroud:  Whoa!

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?

TheakstonTom 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.           

Betty Pages Annual (1992) #2, cover art by Greg Theakston.

Stroud:  Unquestionably.

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

Return of the Swamp Thing ad from 1988, art by Greg Theakston.

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 RiceJohn 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.

Tease Magazine (1994) #2, interior illustration by Greg Theakston.

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. 

Star Wars Galaxy I - Card #130. Art by Greg Theakston.

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. 

TheakstonTex 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. 

Super Powers (1984) #5, cover penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Greg Theakston.

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.”

Stroud: (Laughter.)

Cover for Telengard, a 1976 video game.Art by Greg Theakston.

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!” 

Personality Comics Presents Sports Classics (1991) #1, cover by Greg Theakston.


A portrait of Greg Theakston.

Greg Theakston’s original painting for Personality Comics Presents Sports Classics (1991) #1.

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. 

Rustler's Blood (1984) paperback cover art by Greg Theakston.

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. 

Tease Magazine (1994) interior illustration by Greg Theakston.

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. 

Stroud:  Volleyball?

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.

Planet of the Apes (1974) #9, cover by Greg Theakston.

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…

Stroud:  Un-returnable.

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. 

Wahoo!, a painting by Greg Theakston.

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. 

Greg Theakston art for a 1984 issue of The TV Guide about “The Fall Guy”.

Stroud:  Ouch!

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.”

Super Powers (1985) #5, cover penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Greg Theakston.

Stroud:  Yeah.

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.

The Fireclown (or The Winds of Limbo), cover art by Greg Theakston.

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.

Radon (1999) movie concept art by Greg Theakston.

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.

Pure Images (1992) #3, interior Horror Hosts by Greg Theakston.

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

Tease Magazine (1994) #8, cover by Greg Theakston.

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

Stroud:  Hmmm.

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.

Mad Sports Special 1987, cover art by Greg Theakston.

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 NealNeal won’t budge.  He’s got a 10-year lease or at least a long-term lease.  They tried to burn the building down. 

Stroud:  Wow!

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. 

Silver Surfer, drawn by Greg Theakston (in the style of Jack Kirby)

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.”

Stroud:  Precisely.

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. 

A fan poster for the James Cagney film Blonde Crazy done by Greg Theakston.

Stroud:  Complicated.

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.

The Vision, drawn by Greg Theakston in 2014.

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. 

Stroud:  Uh-oh.

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.

Escape (1973) cover by Greg Theakston.

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.” 

Stroud:  Jackpot!

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. 

Promo art for the film Mogombo (1984), done by Greg Theakston.

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.” 

Stroud: (Chuckle.)

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.) 

Wonderama (1993) #1, cover art by Greg Theakston.

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

Betty Pages (1990) #6, cover art by Greg Theakston.

Stroud:  Really?

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.”

Interior from a 1988 Mad Magazine, Behind the Scenes at a Slasher Studio. Art by Greg Theakston.

Darkseid Vs. Superman Pin-Up, penciled by Carmine Infantino & inked by Greg Theakston.

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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.

An Interview With Larry Hama - A Short Glimpse Into the Crusty Bunkers

Written by Bryan Stroud

Larry Hama

Larry Hama

Larry Hama

Larry Hama (born June 7, 1949) is an American comic-book writer, artist, actor, and musician who has worked in the fields of entertainment and publishing since the 1960s.

Mr. Hama is best known to comic book readers as a writer and editor for Marvel Comics, where he created the universe behind the G.I. Joe comic book series, based on the Hasbro toy line. He also co-created the character Bucky O'Hare, which was developed into a comic book, a toy line, and a cartoon series.

But before that, in 1971 - with the help of contacts he had acquired while working with Wally Wood, Larry was able to find work at Neal Adams' Continuity Studios. While there, he worked with the inking crew known as the Crusty Bunkers.

The Crusty Bunker quest continues with a short exchange courtesy of Larry Hama. Even though I'd have loved if he'd gone into greater detail, each tidbit was another piece in the story of the days at Continuity Associates, and I'm grateful for all inputs.

This interview originally took place via email on September 29, 2010.

Bucky O’Hare (1991) #3, by Larry Hama & Michael Golden.

Bryan Stroud: How did you end up at Continuity?

Larry Hama: My friend Ralph Reese was working there and told me that desk space was available for 50 bucks a month. This was in 1973 or thereabouts. Neal Adams was still in partnership with Dick Giordano then.

Stroud: What did you do there?

Hama: I worked on freelance jobs with Ralph and picked up advertising storyboard, comp and animatic work from Neal on the side, as well as Crusty Bunker stuff.

Stroud: Who did you meet there?

Hama: Sergio Aragones, Russ Heath, Carl Potts, Klaus Janson, Jay Scott Pike, Bob McLeod, Pat Broderick, Joe Rubinstein, Joe D’esposito, Mike Nasser (Netzer), Marshal Rodgers, Terry Austin, Jack Abel, Mike Hinge, LynnVarley, Jim Sherman, Bruce Patterson, Frank Miller, Eric Burden, CaryBates, Vicente Alcazar, Sal Amendola, Greg Theakston, Bob Wiaceck, BobSmith, Cathy-Ann Thomas, and probably hundreds of others.  I already knew Kaluta, Wrightson, Jones, Vaughn Bode, et all from Gothic Blimp Works and First Fridays.

Stroud: How long did you spend time there?

Hama: I kept my desk space there for something like five years.  In the beginning, I had the drawing table in the front room next to Neal.

Stroud: What did you learn?

A Crusty Bunkers t-shirt design done by Larry Hama & Neal Adams.

Hama: Everything.  I was at the font.  The single most important thing I ever learned about drawing was from Neal: “Stop settling.”

Stroud: Was there any payment for your work?

Hama: Absolutely.  There was a per-panel rate for storyboards and a complex system of divvying up the Crusty Bunkers money.  Advertising paid way better than comics in those days!

Stroud: Legend has it you were the first to coin the term "Crusty Bunker."  True?

Hama: Not true.  I designed the t-shirt- actually, I think I penciled it and Neal inked it.  It was Kris, Neal’s daughter who came up with the name.

Stroud: Any particularly fond memories?

Hama: Too many to recount here.  I spent 12 to 14 hours a day there, seven days a week for years.

Stroud: Did the gathering at Continuity start informally or through renting of space by other artists?

Hama: Neal encouraged people to stop by.  (All the bad coffee you could drink - it put me off Cremora for life.)  The original Continuity @ 8 E. 48th St. (the building no longer exists) was only three blocks from DC and nine blocks from Marvel at the time, so it was easy to make the side trip if you were coming into town to go to either.  National Lampoon was close by, too.  Warren was only two subway stops away as well.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1982) #1, written by Larry Hama.

Stroud: Was it pretty much a 24-hour operation?

Hama: Pretty much.  Most advertising jobs came in with a deadline of “yesterday.”

Stroud: Did you interact much with Neal?

Hama: If you sit next to somebody all day, every day, you end up talking about a lot of stuff. I owe Neal a lot. If he called me at 3:00 AM and said I had to come help him get rid of the body, I’d have to show up.

Stroud: What, if any, benefit was your association there to future work?

Hama: Everything.  Neal got me my first DC pencil job by promising to ink it.  Working at Continuity got my foot in the door throughout the entire comics biz.  Neal’s influence on comics goes way beyond his drawing skills.  It’s largely because of his efforts that incentive payments and other artist’s rights that we take for granted exist. Neal also spearheaded the fight for (Jerry) Siegel and (Joe) Shuster.


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.

An Interview With Carl Potts - On His Time With the Crusty Bunkers

Written by Bryan Stroud

*UPDATE* - An earlier version of this interview listed an incorrect attribution for the creation of a Crusty Bunkers t-shirt. The article has been updated to credit the correct artist.*

Carl Potts

Alien Legion (1984) #1 by Carl Potts, Alan Zelenetz, & Frank Cirocco.

Carl Potts (born November 12, 1952) is an American comics artist, writer, teacher, and editor best known for creating the series Alien Legion for Epic Comics. After contributing to such comics fanzines as the anthology Venture, Potts began his comics career in 1975. Relocating to New York City, he freelanced briefly until joining Neal Adams' commercial-art company and comic book packager Continuity Studios - and was a member of the Crusty Bunkers crew of inkers. While at Continuity, Carl worked with storyboard and comp art for some major New York ad agencies and also produced finished-illustrations for magazines and books for several years. In 1983 he joined Marvel's editorial staff. In his time at Marvel, Potts oversaw the development of the Punisher from guest star to franchise character and edited such titles as The Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange, The Defenders, The Thing, Alpha Flight, and Moon Knight. In 1983, Potts teamed with Alan Zelenetz and Frank Cirocco to co-create the series Alien Legion, conceived as "the French Foreign Legion in space." In 1989, Potts was named executive editor in charge of the Epic imprint, and about a third of the mainstream Marvel titles. Five years later, he became editor-in-chief of the "General Entertainment" and Epic Comics divisions.

In my continuing effort to document the stories and remembrances of the "Crusty Bunkers" and their time at Neal Adams' Continuity Associates back in the day, I managed to track down Carl Potts and get a few of his recollections.  He was another creator I had the privilege to meet during my San Diego Con sojourn in 2015 and in addition to a nice chat, I purchased a copy of his book, "The DC Guide to Creating Comics," which is a good primer of the process that I can recommend to those interested in learning about it from a first-hand point of view.

This interview originally took place via email on September 22, 2010.

Adventure Comics (1938) #454, interior panel penciled by Carl Potts & inked by Dick Giordano.

Bryan Stroud:  How did you end up at Continuity?

Carl Potts:  I met Neal Adams at a San Diego Con and asked him to review my comics art portfolio. He gave a pretty brutal review but, eventually said, "If you work real hard for 18 months, I might be willing to look at your work again."

Two years later I moved from CA to NY to try and break into comics. After I picked up a few pin-up assignments from Marvel, I visited Continuity and showed Neal my work again. He asked me to join the crew he had assembled to work on the Charlton B&W comics magazines that Continuity was packaging - 6 Million Dollar Man, Emergency! and Space: 1999. So, I was assigned a table in the front room, to the left of Neal's desk. Directly behind me was Russ Heath and on the other side of Neal, Joe Barney and Joe Brozowski had desks.

Batman Family (1975) #11, interior page penciled by Carl Potts & inked by Frank McLaughlin.

Stroud:  What did you do there?

Potts:  Initially I did pencils for 6 Million Dollar Man and Emergency! My work was being inked by the likes of Dick Giordano, Russ Heath, Neal Adams, Terry Austin, Bob Wiacek - it was like a dream.  

Eventually I also worked on the storyboards and animatics that Neal produced for NYC ad agencies. I started out coloring the commercial work and then did some penciling that Neal would ink, making it look like his own work as he fixed the drawing.

Stroud:  Who did you meet there?

Potts:  In addition to Neal, Dick, Russ, Joe Barney, Joe Browzowski, Terry and Bob, working up there at the time were Pat Bastienne, Jack Abel, Larry Hama, Ralph Reese, Mark Rice, John Fuller, Cary Bates and Mike Hinge. Over time, people came and went. Among those who arrived a bit later were Marshall Rogers, Jim Sherman, Mike Nasser, Val Mayerik, Lynn Varley, Christine Adams, Bruce Patterson, Frank Cirocco and Gary Winnick.

Continuity was sort of a neutral ground between the Marvel and DC offices. Many freelancers would often stop by to visit including Wally Wood, Alan Weiss, Jim Starlin, Allen Milgrom, Walter Simonson, Howard Chaykin, Bernie Wrightson, Sergio Aragones, Archie Goodwin, Joe Rubinstein, Vicente Alcazar, Joe D'Esposito, Klaus Janson, Michael Kaluta, Paul Kirchner, Denys Cowan, Frank Miller, Brent Anderson, Joe Chiodo and so on.

There were two (at least) Crusty Bunkers t-shirts – one by Sergio Aragones and one by Larry Hama. I believe the one Larry worked on was produced before my time at the studio. The Sergio design was done around 1977. Sergio echoed the style of Neal’s signature when creating the Crusty Bunkers logo.

The Crusty Bunkers t-shirts: Larry Hama’s design on the left, Sergio Aragones on the right

(Larry Hama adds about his design, "I cobbled the figure together out of images from the Yellow Pages, penciled it, and Neal inked it. The lettering was done with Press Type.” )

For years, during good weather, Continuity sort of "hosted" (provided the net and ball) for day-long Sunday volley ball tournaments in Central Park for the comics community. That is where I met Tom DeFalco, Jim Shooter and many others. Neal and Dick did not participate in those games.

Power Man and Iron Fist (1978) #84, cover by Denys Cowan & Carl Potts.

At his apartment, Neal would often host "First Friday" parties for the comics community every month. Many comics pros would attend. That is where I first met Steve Ditko (I think that may have been the only comics social event Steve attended).

Separate from Continuity but related were the occasional comics community poker parties. For a while, they were held in a downtown apartment that Paul Levitz shared with Marty Pasko.  

Stroud:  How long did you spend time there?

Potts:  I worked in the Continuity studios for about 5 years starting in the summer of '75. I took a staff job as a storyboard and ad comp artist at an Interpublic ad agency in '80 and left Continuity.

Stroud:  What did you learn?

Potts:  There was very little in the way of "this is how you do it" type instruction from Neal. It was pretty much learn on the run as you produced work for paying jobs. I got the impression that Dick was a bit more hands on with those artists specializing in inking.

For the Charlton B&W comics, the young artists would do small pencil layouts for each page on paper about 4 1/4" X 5 1/2" (8 1/2" X 11" paper folded into quarters). Neal would then take a Flair pen and draw over the layouts. Often, he would ignore what we had drawn and he would turn out totally new layouts on top of the pencils we young artists had produced. Sometimes he'd just strengthen the drawing we had produced instead of totally ignoring it!

We would then put the layouts into an Art-O-Graph and project the image onto the full-size comics board, trace off the layout and then tighten up the drawing in pencil. Neal would sometimes tighten up the pencils on the full-sized art boards before Dick and the other inkers would begin working on the pages.

We (the young artists) primarily learned by comparing what our original small pencil layouts looked like with how they evolved through the process and became completed full-sized inked art.

Punisher War Journal (1988) #1, cover by Carl Potts & Scott Williams.

Stroud:  Was there any payment for your work?

Potts:  My experience was that Continuity was pretty good at making sure all of the artists got paid for their work. Who should get paid what could be hard to figure out on the jobs where many different people contributed to the work.  It was not unusual for six artists to contribute to a particular page of comic book art. Most of the young artists were living check-to-check so as soon as a client paid Continuity for a job, Continuity would issue us checks.

Stroud:  Any particularly fond memories?

Potts:  I got to meet a lot of comics creators, veterans whose work I'd grown up with, and new guys like myself.

Neal would often include the young guys on the weekend trips he'd take his kids on, including to the houses he'd rent in the Hampton's during the summer.

There was also some practical joking going on. Here are two examples:

There was a running gag that was pulled on those new to the studio. The newbie would approach his desk where the page he'd been laboring on was sitting. The page was there but with an upturned bottle of India ink sitting on it on it along with a page-long dried ink blob obliterating the page's art. After much angst, closer inspection revealed that the ink blob was on clear piece of acetate, cut to perfectly match the outline of the ink blob.

Neal knew this trick well - so finding a way to pull it off so that it would fool him was a big challenge. When Mike Nasser (now Mike Netzer) began working at the studio, his style so closely mimicked Neal's that we found a way. Neal had done a very tight pencil drawing, fairly large, for a movie poster he was working on. Nasser light boxed Neal's original and copied it beautifully. Neal's original art was hidden away and Nasser's was left in its place - with the fake ink stain lying on it. When Neal walked in, he saw the very familiar toppled ink bottle with flowing ink stain and chuckled knowingly.  He reached to lift up the fake acetate-backed ink stain and found that, under the acetate ink stain, a real ink stain had ruined the original art! Nasser had also light boxed the fake ink stain's contours onto his fake Neal art and filled it in with solid black. Neal was momentarily stunned, thinking his art had indeed been ruined by a bad practical joke. In short order, Neal's pristine original was retrieved and all had a good laugh.

Who's Who of the DC Universe (1985) #7, interior Enchantress by Carl Potts & Dick Giordano.

One veteran artist had a habit of lighting up large cigars while he worked, filling the room with foul smoke that the 4 other artists who worked in that room had to breathe. I had the idea of packing a bunch of match heads in the middle of one of the cigars so it would flare up when the cigar's fire reached the match heads. However, I couldn't quite bring myself to do it. That didn't stop another artist who shared that room from implementing the idea. I remember trying not to chuckle and give the stunt away as I watched the smoking artist puff away on that cigar. Then, his head was surrounded by a cloud of sulfur fumes as his cigar momentarily flared up. Everyone in the room thought it was hilarious - eventually the smoker laughed about it too. I fessed up to coming up with the idea. Not sure if the guy who actually booby-trapped the cigar ever did fess up.

Stroud:  Did the gathering at Continuity start informally or through renting of space by other artists?

Potts:  I was not there at the beginning of the studio. I assume that both Neal and Dick had credibility in the broader comics community. That, combined with the lack of old-fashioned comics studios at the time, attracted some comics pros to rent space there. As Continuity ramped up to package comics jobs, they added more young artists.

Stroud:  Was it pretty much a 24-hour operation?

Potts:  At times! I remember putting in some all-night work sessions. We all had keys and could come and go at any time of night or day. Occasionally, artists who were between apartments would live at the studio. My commuter train stopped running after 1:30 AM so if I was stuck in the city after that, I sleep in the studio. One artist lived in the back room for years. I think Neal and Dick were okay with that because that guy served as a live-in security guard against thieves.

Stroud:  Did you interact much with Neal?

Potts:  Yes, my desk was next to his for the first few years I was there. I enjoyed the occasions when we were the only ones in that room and could engage in real conversation instead of the normal chaotic studio banter. I later moved to a room half way down the hall. I shared that room with Terry Austin and Bob Wiacek.

Stroud:  What, if any, benefit was your association there to future work?

Potts:  In addition to making improvements in my work, I certainly made a number of contacts while at Continuity. I also got into advertising work though the studio.

Defenders (1972) #125, cover by Carl Potts & Bill Sienkiewicz.

Last of the Dragons (1988) #1 by Carl Potts.

Strange Tales (1987) #1, cover by Carl Potts & Bret Blevins.

Punisher and Wolverine: African Saga (1990) #1, cover by Carl Potts & Jim Lee.


Carl’s introduction to the Marvel editorial team.


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.

An Interview With Jack C. Harris - Cartographer of Rann, Editor of Comics

Written by Bryan Stroud

Jack Harris.

Jack C. Harris (born August 30, 1947) is an American comic book writer and editor known mainly for his work in the 1970s and 1980s at DC Comics. He was hired by DC Comics as part of the company's "Junior Woodchuck" program and became the assistant to editor Murray Boltinoff before being promoted to the position of editor himself. Harris wrote text articles and letters columns for various series and his first published comics story was "Political Rally Panic" in Isis (1976) #3. In his time as a writer for DC, Jack contributed to characters like Kamandi, Batman, and Sgt. Rock. As writer of the Wonder Woman comic, he returned the series to a contemporary setting to reflect the timeframe change made from the World War II era to the present day in the television series.

As an editor, Harris edited the first appearances of several new characters in their own eponymous series including Black Lightning; Shade, the Changing Man; and Firestorm. Among the new talent Harris helped to enter the comics industry was the writing team of Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohn and artists Trevor Von Eeden, John Workman, and Bob Smith. On the advice of artist Joe Staton, Harris gave British artist Brian Bolland his first assignment for a U.S. comics publisher, the cover for Green Lantern (1960) #127.

Jack is an absolute treasure trove of memories with a sharp memory and some terrific anecdotes.  Did you ever wonder who came up with Arkham Asylum or the number of members of the Green Lantern Corps?  Look no further.

This interview originally took place over the phone on September 5, 2010.

From Amazing World of DC Comics (1974) #4 pg.8.

Bryan Stroud:  It looks like you started your DC career as a “Woodchuck.”

Jack C. Harris: (Chuckle.)  That’s what they called us.

Stroud:  In Amazing World of DC Comics #4 it says, “Our newest Woodchuck comes to us from Wilmington, Delaware via the Philadelphia College of Art where he earned a BFA and also taught a course on the History of Comics and the U.S. Army Signal Corps which he served in Germany.  Mr. Harris lists as his hobbies comics (Adam Strange and Green Lantern especially), creative Make-Up, Amateur Theater and movies.”

Harris:  I think I wrote that myself. 

Stroud:  Do you remember who did the little illustration of you that accompanied it?

Harris:  I did.  I actually graduated with a degree in illustration, I just never used it, but it was very helpful when I was an editor being able to direct artists and to talk in their language. 

Stroud:  That sounds exactly like what Len Wein told me.

Harris:  Yeah, Len had that art background.

Stroud:  He said it was very helpful when an artist wasn’t sure what he meant about how to do a shot and he would sketch it out for them.

Harris:  Exactly.  I could do the same thing. 

Stroud:  Your interest in comics history must have served you well as a member of the staff at DC.

Superman: The Arctic Giant (1942) Fleischer Cartoon.

Harris:  Right.  Just to briefly give you a history of how it started, I was into comics at a very young age.  But my favorites before I discovered superheroes were Little Lulu and anything that Donald Duck was in.  Those are the two that I was really into.  Then I discovered Superman on television first.  Some local kiddie show was showing the Max Fleischer cartoons and I remember watching those.  The first one I remember seeing was an episode called “The Arctic Giant,” about a giant dinosaur ravaging Metropolis, and I’d heard of Superman, but that was the first time I’d ever seen him.  Then some months later I saw the first television show that I remember seeing.  George Reeves in black and white, and I was dumbfounded because it was live action.  I thought, “He’s not just a cartoon, he’s real!”  Then I think it was that summer I was on vacation with my parents and we stopped in at some store along the way and my mother said I could buy a comic book.  She gave me a dime; remember when comics were a dime?

Stroud:  Weren’t those the days?

Harris:  I walked over and began looking for Little Lulu and Donald Duck and then I looked down and saw an issue of Action Comics and it had Superman on the cover and surprisingly that was the very first time I knew the colors of his costume.  Because I had seen nothing but black and white television.  So, all of a sudden, I found that Superman had a red and blue costume.  Very cool.  So, I picked it up, and while the Superman story was okay, what really got me in that issue was a Tommy Tomorrow story, which was drawn, I remember, by Jim Mooney and that was my introduction to Science Fiction.  I’d never seen anything like that before in my life.  And it just blew me away. 

DC Comics Presents (1978) #3, written by David Michelinie & Jack C Harris.

I remember there were house ads in that edition of Action Comics, including Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space and so that’s when I started looking for those.  And while I was in there and got Superman I also got World’s Finest and got into that. The science fiction titles were my real love.  Mystery in Space, Strange Adventures and things like that.  I really, really loved those.  Those were my favorites hands down.  If I had a dime and said, “Well, I can buy one comic.  There’s a Superman and there’s a Mystery in Space.”  I would always go for the Mystery in Space.  No contest. 

And then of course when fandom started, I was there.  What I remember was Julie Schwartz’s letter columns in Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures and the Flash and things like that and they were very oriented toward the reader.  He wanted us all to get involved.  I really got sucked into that.  He would publish everybody’s full address and created the network, which later became fandom.  So, I wrote a letter at one point and won some original artwork from Adam Strange and that got me on mailing lists for Jerry BailsAlter EgoJerry Bails and Roy Thomas.  I started reading that and I realized there were other people in the world that loved comics as much as I did.  Then I got very much involved with buying all the fanzines and kept up with that kind of stuff, too.  I wanted to be an artist.  That was my goal.  I started a correspondence with Sid Greene who did the Star Rovers in Mystery in Space.  I corresponded with Sid for quite some time and in fact right now, hanging on the wall in my den is the original artwork, one of the splash panels to a Star Rovers story, which Sid gave me during our correspondence.  Oddly enough he was one of the few artists I wasn’t able to work with because he passed away before I ever got to work at DC, which is really too bad. 

Then when I got into college…actually I went into the Army first and the Army paid for my college, for which I am extremely grateful, so when I got out of the Army I went back to college and I met some other comics fans.  One of my friends pointed out this article by a kid in Indiana who created a course on comic books that he was teaching in his college and I thought that was amazing.  So, we proposed the same thing at the Philadelphia College of Art and they accepted it and we had a course that we created and taught for two years at the University of the Arts, which is now called the Philadelphia College of Art.  In doing that we also had guest speakers from DC Comics to come and speak at our course.  Along the way we had Len Wein and Denny O’Neil and Dick Giordano.  They all came down to Philadelphia to talk to our course, so I got to know them, which was very good.  Then when I got out of college and started to apply for jobs, I applied at DC and dropped a lot of names like Len Wein and Denny O’Neil and Dick Giordano.  Of course, I’d met Julie Schwartz at a couple of conventions and had visited at DC comics, so they knew me up there. 

Amazing World of DC Comics (1974) #4, cover by Jerry Robinson.

Amazing World of DC Comics (1974) #4 pg.12

Amazing World of DC Comics (1974) #4 pg.13

So, I got a job as Murray Boltinoff’s assistant, which I did for a couple of years and then became an editor myself and worked there for seven years or so working for DC until I went completely freelance after that.  I’ve been doing that ever since, so along with teaching at the School of Visual Art and I’ve written a whole lot of stuff along the way.  As a little aside, by the way, the guy who was doing that course in Indiana that inspired us to do it, too, was Michael Uslan - who later became the Executive Co-Producer of all the Batman movies. 

Stroud:  Wow!  The seven degrees of separation strike again. 

Amazing World of DC Comics (1974) #7, cover by Curt Swan.

Harris:  And of course, he also was an assistant editor at DC for a while, too.  Mike and I became good friends and remain good friends to this day. 

Stroud:  Outstanding.  I’ve managed over the last year or so to assemble the complete set of the Amazing World of DC Comics prozines and what a treasure trove of stuff they contain.  From issue #4 on you were very heavily involved.

Harris:  Absolutely.  That was our little pet project that I think Sol Harrison created as a training ground for all the assistant editors.  That was our project.  We did that completely on our own.  The editors would help us if we asked.  Otherwise, it was ours.  We did that whole thing. 

Stroud:  You got to interview a lot of your heroes during the course of it all.

Harris:  Yes, in fact the cover of #7 with that really nice Curt Swan drawing of Superman is another of the pieces that hangs on the wall of my den.  He gave me that, as a gift, which I thought was very nice. 

Stroud:  Wonderful.  I wish I could have got to know Curt. 

HarrisCurt was terrific.  When they started giving the artwork back to the artists, we had a foot-high stack of Curt Swan artwork and so when Curt came in the first time after that was okayed, we said, “Curt, here’s all your artwork back.”  He looked at it and he said, “Oh, my God, I can’t carry all that home.  You guys can have it.  Divide it up.”  (Laughter.)  Everyone just dove in.  One of the pieces I got was a splash panel from World’s Finest he’d drawn that was inked by Al Milgrom.  So, years later I’m talking to Al via e-mail and he said, “You know, you have a piece of my artwork.”  I said, “Which one is that?”  He said, “The World’s Finest page, which was the only time I inked Curt Swan.”  “Oh, yeah, I remember that piece.  I have it tucked away somewhere.”  So, I said, “You know, Al, I really think you should have this piece of artwork, but I would not have any idea what to charge you for it, so instead what I want you to do is to draw me the best drawing of Hawkman you’ve ever done and I’ll trade you.”  So that’s what I did and I have this really nice Al Milgrom Hawkman drawing that no one in the world has seen except me as a trade for the World’s Finest page.  I thought that was an equitable and unique sort of trade to do with Al.

Isis (1976) #4, written by Jack C Harris.

Stroud:  And everyone’s happy.

Harris:  We both got what we wanted.  (Chuckle.)  It was a very good deal for both of us.

Stroud:  I don’t suppose there was such a thing as a typical day in the production department, but can you try to describe it?

Harris:  Well, the production department was different from the editorial department.  The editorial department was mainly us sitting in our offices thinking.  (Chuckle.)  We were just sitting there sort of staring off into space.  “What are we going to do next?”  But no, it was never the same twice.  It was always different.  We’d be plotting the stories or going over the artwork or coordinating something with somebody else, or making sure that you weren’t doing something that somebody else was doing or that your artist was available and other scheduling things.  I think my favorite part of it all was sitting and plotting stories with the writers.  Sometimes we’d get the artists involved, too.  We’d just get together and throw ideas around.  “What would be cool?”  A lot of times we’d start with an idea for a cover.  “Okay, this would make a good cover.  Now, how do we build a story around it?”  Sometimes we’d plot maybe three or four issues at a time.  Sometimes we’d just try to do one good story.  We’d want to use a particular villain.  We’d want to do something unique.  It was always just throwing ideas around.  That was probably the best part of the whole experience. 

Then the second thing was when the artwork would come in and the artist would come in and show me the art and my first thought was, “I’m seeing this before anyone else in the world.  No one else has seen these drawings and this story before except me.  Then the rest of the world will get to see it, but right now I get to see it.”  Then of course some of the people I got to work with, like Steve Ditko.  Nobody gets to work with Steve Ditko.  (Laughter.)  There are only like ten of us in the whole world who have worked with Steve Ditko.  That was unique.  And then meeting people that I’d always admired and then working with them.  I mean Julie Schwartz was my hero, and now here I was his colleague and later his friend.  That was fantastic.  And again, Curt Swan and Joe Kubert and Dick Giordano and I can’t even think of all the names.  Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson and people like that.  I had known them by their names before that and now I was not only working with them, but in some cases telling them what to do or what to draw.  (Chuckle.)  I mean, telling Steve, “Don’t draw it that way, draw it this way.”  “Okay,” and he’s making these changes.  “My God, I’m telling Steve Ditko what to draw.  And he’s agreeing with me!”  That was an experience that was just unique.

Daughters Of Time (1991) #1, cover by Steve Ditko & Kurt Schaffenberger - written by Jack C Harris.

Stroud:  Everyone is just fascinated with Steve, too.  That aura of mystery he’s surrounded himself with has only fanned the flames, I think.

Harris:  It’s terrific.  I used to help it along.  I remember one thing we did.  It was a series for a while called DC Profiles.  It was a little half page profile of all the people that were involved.  It was just a little quick interview with somebody and you’d run a piece of their artwork or their picture on the page with it and Mike Gold, who was working on it at the time and he was coordinating all these and he came to me and said, “Do you think we could get Steve to do one of these profiles?”  I said, “No way.  There is no way you could get Steve to do it.”  Then I said, “You know, I have an idea, though.”  So, the next time Steve came in I said, “I know you don’t want to do one of these profiles, but here’s the thing.  You always said that you should let your artwork speak for you.  So, what I’d like to do is a half page of all the characters you’ve done for DC in a group shot and we’ll run that as your profile.”  He said, “That’s a good idea.”  So, we did it.  (Chuckle.)  So, for that profile it just said something like, “Steve Ditko lets his work speak for him,” and there’s this big drawing of all his characters and I thought that was just really cool. 

Stroud:  Brilliant.

Harris:  It also helped continue the mystique that Steve has built up around himself.  The thing that I like about Steve, and it parallels some of his characters; remember Mr. A and he never compromises.  Something is either all good or it’s all bad.  There’s no gray area.  That’s Steve.  That’s the way he feels.  Either it’s all good or it’s all bad.  If you accept any part of any of those then you’ve compromised your own feeling toward those things, and you really shouldn’t do that.  I always respected that.

Stroud:  He’s a man of firm convictions.  We corresponded for a while and I’ll always be grateful for his giving me his impressions of being Jerry Robinson’s student.  What was it like to work with Jack Adler?

Moon Knight (1980) #16, written by Jack C Harris.

Harris:  He was a very creative guy and Jack had very specific ideas for coloring things.  He was a very good trainer for the people coming in and he loved teaching people how to color and what would work and what wouldn’t.  He always had these wonderful, creative ideas.  Whenever I wanted to do a special cover, I’d ask Jack.  I’d say, “Jack, can this be done?  And if it can be done, what does the artist have to do in order to make it easier or to make it work?”  And he was always there with the idea of how to work things.  I liked working with Jack a lot.  He was creative in a whole different way.  Not as an artist, but more as how to present the art in a new and unique way.  That’s what I liked about working with him.  The last time I saw him, and it was a long time ago, was at a memorial for Julie Schwartz when he’d passed away. 

Stroud:  He’s still very sharp and frustrated at his physical limitations, but he is in his 90’s after all. 

Harris:  I used to love all his wash covers when I was a kid.  I was just fascinated, but I could never figure out how they were done.  They looked like photographs.  How in the world do they get this effect?  I remember a Green Lantern cover that was done that way and I remember a Detective or Batman cover in the wash cover technique and it was fantastic.  “How is that done?”  It was a really great thing when he showed me.  “How do you do that?”  “Let me show you.”  He pulled out some old original art and he said, “We do this ink wash and then we half tone it.”  It was fantastic.  I loved it.  He was always very happy to tell you about his “secrets,” because he wanted everyone to learn how to do it.  That’s true in the industry as a whole, by the way.  Everyone I ever met was always leaning over backwards to tell you how they were doing things and how it was done, from the writing to the artwork.  Joe Kubert made a whole second career out of that.  He created a whole school to teach people how to do it. 

Stroud:  You worked with some legendary editors.  You mentioned Murray Boltinoff already and of course Joe Orlando…

HarrisJulie Schwartz.

The Ray (1992) #1, written by Jack C Harris.

Stroud:  Of course.  Do you remember anything significant you learned from them? 

Harris:  I always thought Julie was the best editor in the world.  Julie was always good about sparking the idea.  You had to come in with an original idea.  He inspired me to do that.  Whenever I came in to see Julie with an idea, I always had like twenty of them written down.  I’d just throw them at him.  “How about this?  How about this?  How about this?”  Usually there was at least one out of the twenty that he liked.  We could then build on it from there. 

Joe Orlando was also a good teacher.  One of the best things I ever heard Orlando tell was when he was talking to an inker.  He said, “Every time you do a job, you get better.  You improve.  Here’s what you do if you have a twenty-page story.  You work from the middle.  You work so that the first page and the last page are the last two that you do.  So, they’re going to be your best.  So, when someone opens the book, they’re going to see one of your best pages and when they’re finished with the book, they’re going to see one of your best pages.  So, the first and last pages should be the last two pages that you do.  I thought that was brilliant advice.  What a good idea.  That way you’re going to leave them with that.  You’ve showcased your best two pages when they open the book and when they close the book.  You’ve put your best foot forward and left that impression also at the end.  That kind of thing would come from the artists and the editors all the time.  Very clever. 

Stroud:  Utterly brilliant.  I’m reminded of something I read by a music producer that said your first couple of tracks on an album should be the ones that grab the listener because that’s what they’ll hear first.  Very similar.

Harris:  Right.

Stroud:  Did the Comics Code give you any grief?

Spider-Man Web of Doom (1994) #1, written by Jack C Harris.

Harris:  I never had any trouble with the Code at all.  We were pretty well versed on it by then.  I do remember trying to get things over on them occasionally.  I recall an issue of Challengers of the Unknown that had Swamp Thing guest starring in it.  Just for fun I had Bernie Wrightson ink the one panel that showed the Swamp Thing in it.  Bernie inked that one panel just as sort of a tribute thing.  In black and white it looked like Swamp Thing was showing his ass off.  The Code objected to that and we said, “It’s green.  He’s a plant, for heaven’s sake.  Imagine the whole thing as green and it won’t look like he has a naked butt.”  “Okay, all right.  We’ll let it go through.”  We had to explain it to them. 

Stroud: (Laughter.)  I always enjoy the stories of battling the code.  Russ Heath sure had no love for it. 

Harris:  That was another thing.  I got to work with so many people who drew my stuff.  Russ did a chapter once in one of my Wonder Woman stories and it was so amazing to have him do that.  Then to have Joe Kubert doing covers to books that I wrote:  Hawkman and mystery stories, just the little throwaway stuff with this great Kubert illustration on the cover.  My jaw would drop.  It was like, “My God, here’s Kubert doing MY story.”  That was probably the best thing about it.  To get the story drawn by the people that you really admired as a kid. 

Stroud:  I can only guess.  You lived the dream of many fans.

Harris:  Oh, gosh, I got to write Adam Strange.  I got to edit Green Lantern.  Those are my favorite two characters.  And right now, with the Green Lantern movie about to come out, I am so excited.  I mean this is what I envisioned years ago.  This is one of the characters that I helped.  There are elements of that storyline that I created, that I made up, that are still being used. 

Stroud:  Which ones, Jack?

Harris:  Well for instance I figured out how many Green Lanterns there really are.  There are 3,600 of them.  I figured that out and it’s all based on the circle.  The galaxy is a circle and every degree is a space sector.  That’s how we came up with that.  It’s 360 degrees, so there are 10 per degree, so that makes 3,600 Green Lanterns to cover the entire galaxy.  That’s how it works.  That was my theory.  I have to put this claim out, too.  I’ve put this claim out before and people say it’s a claim, but I can prove it.  I created Arkham Asylum

Batman (1940) #258 pg.4, featuring General John Harris.

The story goes like this:  Of course, Arkham Asylum was not created by anyone at DC, it was created by H.P. LovecraftArkham Asylum is where all the nuts who were driven crazy by the elder gods. They went to Arkham Asylum which is in Massachusetts in the Lovecraft stories.  It’s nothing that anybody at DC came up with.  But during one of those times that Denny O’Neil came to visit and talk at my college course, I remember we were at dinner.  We always took our guests to dinner.  So, I was talking to Denny and I said, “Denny, you know criminals like Two-Face and the Joker shouldn’t be just jailed.  They’re nuts.  They should be in an insane asylum.  And what better one than Arkham Asylum from the Lovecraft stories?”  He thought that was a great idea.  So, he used it.  And if you look, it was in Batman #258 from September of 1974.  That’s the first mention of Arkham Asylum in DC comics history. 

It’s been reported elsewhere, but that’s incorrect.  If you check it, this is the first time it’s ever been mentioned, in this story.  If you look at it, if you read it, the story involves Two-Face being brought in out of Arkham Asylum.  The guy who breaks him out is a military man named John Harris.  And that’s Denny O’Neil’s tip of the hat to me for the Arkham idea.  Now I think it was Len Wein who picked up on that idea and later expanded the whole history of Arkham.  But Denny did it first in that issue of Batman and I’m the one who gave him the idea for it.  Every time I see Arkham Asylum I go nuts. 

Stroud:  What a great story.  Thanks for sharing that.

Harris:  I think in the Arkham Asylum intro they mistakenly try to determine where the first appearance was and they are mistaken.  They got I much later than when it really was.  I have a page of artwork from that that Dick Giordano gave me from that story and it’s where John Harris appears.  I have that page. 

Stroud:  Rightfully so. 

Harris:  And if you have any questions about that story, ask Denny O’Neil.  He will confirm it. 

Stroud:  It looks like you were right in the thick of things during the infamous DC Implosion.  Several of your titles succumbed.

Kamandi (1975) #53, written by Jack C Harris.

Harris:  Oh, yes.  The most tragic one was Kamandi, because that was the cutoff.  Kamandi just missed the sales quota.  A little more and he would have made it.  But it was just the cutoff.  That was a very sad thing.  It was nobody’s fault.  It was actually upstairs.  DC was expanding and the corporate people upstairs said, “No, you can’t keep expanding.  That was all last year.”  If I remember right, we had a bad winter with a lot of snow and a lot of people didn’t buy things.  A number of factors were in play that made it so we couldn’t really afford to expand the way we wanted to expand, so it just all collapsed and it was really bad because it impacted lots of people.  We had all these work plans and all of a sudden, we had to let a lot of artists and writers know, hey, we don’t have any work for you.  It only lasted about three months, but we had material for six months.  There were tons of stories that ended up as backup features and stuff like that.  I think most of the stuff we produced later on was published, but not in the formats originally planned. 

Stroud:  More inventory than you knew what to do with.

Harris:  Exactly, so there were people not getting regular work.  “We have a monthly book, but we have three months worth of work already, so we’re not going to talk to you for three months while we publish this stuff.”  It was upsetting. 

Stroud:  Did any careers end over that to your knowledge?

Harris:  I don’t know that any out and out ended, but a lot of them were altered.  Most people went off and did other things for other people.  There were other companies and other things they could do. 

Stroud:  I don’t know that it was the same timeframe, but I recall hearing about people like Mike Sekowsky and Alex Toth taking off for California to do animation work.

Harris:  Yeah, but overall, I think it was more career altering than career ending. 

Stroud:  One of the titles you were editing was rather groundbreaking:  Black Lightning.

Black Lightning (1977) #1, cover by Rich Buckler & Frank Springer. Edited by Jack C Harris.

Harris:  Did that one die in the implosion?  I can’t remember.

Stroud:  I think so.  I seem to recall seeing it on the cover of one of the Canceled Comics Cavalcade issues.  Not to mention Firestorm and Shade the Changing Man.

Harris:  You’re right.  Black Lightning was fun.  I liked working on Black Lightning.  I liked working with Trevor (Von Eeden).  Trevor was actually my discovery.  As a kid of maybe 13 or 14 years old he sent in some drawings done in ballpoint pen and they were like the best thing we’d ever seen.  (Chuckle.)  He came in with his father, I think it was, and we gave him work almost right away.  When Black Lightning came out, we said, “Hey, let’s have Trevor do it.” 

Stroud:  What was the response to the book at the time?

Harris:  It was popular.  People liked it.  I got a lot of good mail on it and people thought it was great.  It was not quite as edgy as I wanted it to be, but I think it was the times.  We were trying to tread very carefully because I didn’t want the racial thing to be the main point of the story.  I wanted it to be incorporated into it, but not to be the main focus of the story.  For instance, when we were first discussing it, we had the name first, and I asked the question: “Do we really want “Black” to be referring to his race?  Couldn’t it be something else that’s black?  Maybe he shoots black lightning out of his hands or something?”  It didn’t work out that way, so it does look like the name “Black Lightning” was because he was black and I didn’t necessarily think that was the best idea in the world.  But the best part about that was introducing Trevor to everybody.  I thought he was terrific and that it was a great beginning to his career.  Later on, he did some Green Arrow work for me and he really did a great Green Arrow, too. 

Stroud:  I note that you’ve done work on humor, horror, superheroes and adventure.  Any preferences?

Kamandi (1975) #59, written by Jack C Harris.

Harris:  The thing I had the most fun with, strangely enough, was Kamandi because it was unique.  He wasn’t a superhero and it was sort of science fiction, but it was sort of this primitive thing, too.  It was weird.  Almost unclassifiable.  So, I could do just about anything I wanted to, and what I did, based on a lot of what (Jack) Kirby had already done... I remember in one of the early issues he had drawn a map of Earth after the disaster and noted a number of different things along it and I picked up on all of those.  I said, “As Kamandi moves across this world, we’re going to talk about every one of those things on that map that Kirby mentioned.” 

The one that sticks in my mind was in Africa and it was called The Valley of the Screamers.  I said, “What the heck is that?  What could he have been thinking about?”  I had no idea what he was thinking about, but here’s what it’s going to be…we never got to write this story, but this is what it was going to be:  It was going to be evolved elephants.  Evolved elephants that had gained human intelligence, but the problem was that they didn’t evolve physically.  They never developed opposing thumbs and so they couldn’t pick anything up.  They still had the flat elephant feet.  So, they could think of all these great ideas and use their trunks, but it wasn’t enough.  They didn’t have enough articulation to create the things they were thinking about, so they all went mad and they would scream a lot.  (Mutual laughter.)  Something like that.  Just something bizarre and out there.  I had a lot of fun with that book because those are the sorts of things you could do with that format.  The most outrageous stuff you could think of would not be out of the realm.  Kirby had such a wealth of stuff going that I had that ammunition along with my own wacky sense of adventure and I could get anything I wanted. 

Stroud:  I was kind of impressed, speaking of maps, that you produced a map of Rann in one of the issues of AWODCC.

Map of Rann by Jack C Harris, appearing in Amazing World of DC Comics (1974) #8 pg.24-25.

Harris:  Oh, yeah.  I did that back in college.  We were doing the science fiction issue and I said, “Hey, I’ve got a map of Rann.”  “Really?”  “Yeah, let me show you.”  I redid it for that issue of Amazing World.  I’d done it for fun on my own.  I think I’d actually gone back and gone through the stories where there were segments of maps in Adam Strange.  It seems like in one of the Showcase issues you could find one and I incorporated that exactly into the map that I drew.  That little segment of the map is accurately reproduced into the Rann map.  I drew that and pasted the whole thing up.  That whole two-page thing I did all by myself.  I got the artwork out of the library and did up some stats and got the lettering and everything.  It was great.  I think John Workman did the lettering, but the rest of it was mine.  I’ve still got that paste-up somewhere in my storage unit. 

Stroud:  When you were picking up on a long running series like Wonder Woman, how did you go about tackling something with such a long history?  Did you pay much attention?

Harris:  Yeah, I was very interested in that.  Strangely enough, I went back and thought; “Now when did I start buying Wonder Woman?”  Because when I was a kid that was a “girl’s comic.”  Why did I start buying it?  So, I tracked it back and found the first issue I’d bought.  What else was going on at the time?  Well, the Justice League had just come out, and of course Wonder Woman was in the Justice League.  So that had to have been the reason I started buying it.  Because of the affiliation with the Justice League.  So, I remembered reading it and I thought, “This is the strangest book I’ve ever read.”  Because it was Bob Kanigher doing some really bizarre stuff.  If you read some of those early issues, he was doing stories that were coinciding with the Justice League’s debut. That year Wonder Woman was full of just really, really bizarre stuff.  Crazy stuff.  I just thought it was a little too much.  (Chuckle.) 

Wonder Woman (1942) #250, written by Jack C Harris.

But what I liked about it for instance was, and I know some later editors sort of disagreed with this, but I liked the fact that the Amazons were technically advanced along with everything else.  They had great advanced science.  They had time machines and all kinds of advanced weapons and I really liked that technological aspect.  My other things was that, since if you remember at the time it was the Woman’s Movement, Wonder Woman had sort of been tapped as a spokeswoman for the feminist movement, which I thought was a great idea.  My take on it was this.  Let’s treat it like this:  Let’s treat it that she’s already totally accepted in everything she does.  Which basically is part of the fantasy.  But that’s how I worked it.  She never really ran into any problems because she’s a woman.  Everything was just accepted.  And it worked out very well.  Then I wanted to play around with the Amazon legend.  My favorite time was when she was challenged in her role of Wonder Woman.  To give it up.  I think it was in issue #250 when they had a big tournament and she lost the right to be Wonder Woman.  That was one of my favorite stories.  The other one came from the notion that she never teams up with anybody.  She never had any guest stars.  So, I had a story where she met Hawkgirl.  A Hawkgirl team-up with Wonder Woman.  So those are my two favorite Wonder Woman stories that I wrote.  One where she loses the right to be Wonder Woman and then the one where she teams up with Hawkgirl

Stroud:  Julie would be proud.  Those were original ideas.

Wonder Woman (1942) #249, written by Jack C Harris.

Harris:  I think the cover of the one where she’s with Wonder Woman was by Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano where they did this really nice full-figured shot of Wonder Woman which I think has been used innumerable times for different licensing things, that particular drawing.  I think maybe in Les Daniel’s book one of the end papers is that picture of Wonder Woman

Stroud:  So, an iconic image was created.

Harris:  Exactly.  I was very proud of the fact that that cover has seen a lot of action after the fact.  I loved the fact that I was able to do that story with the tournament.  It was just pure fantasy.  It all takes place on Paradise Island and the gods are involved.  Neptune is involved and then it gets technological when they actually go into space for the final part of it. And then Hawkgirl, which was cool because at the time the only two female members of the Justice League were getting together in an adventure of their own. 

Stroud:  You served as editor for the Legion for a while and based on the popularity of that book and the passion of their fans did that set you back at all?

Harris:  A couple of times.  I got people hating me and people loving me.  (Mutual laughter.)  For instance, I had Ditko do a couple of issues, and boy, did they hate those.  They didn’t like those at all.  But the real reason I did it was that Steve worked so fast.  So, in a deadline pinch if I had him do a story, he could do it really quickly.  I kind of liked his take on the Legion.  I thought he had a nice feel for the characters and everything, but a lot of fans really had a problem with it. It was funny.  It was the opposite ends of the spectrum.  Some of the fans loved it and some hated it.  Nobody was lukewarm about it.  It was a very Ditko type of feeling.  You hated it or you loved it and there was nothing in between. 

So, it was kind of tough on me.  The Legion fans were kind of tough on me, but I don’t blame them.  When I was growing up, one of the things that I noticed, and you had to experience this for yourself, was that there was a generation gap when the Justice League was out.  The older fans, and I’m talking about the ones in high school or older were Justice League fans, but the kids just getting into comics were Legion fans.  I think there was a big difference in the complexity of the stories.  The Justice League stories were very complex and you had to sort of be up on all the characters in their own books in order to properly follow the Justice League.  You had to know what Green Lantern was all about, for example, because they didn’t go into a whole lot of characterization and background on the characters in the Justice League.  They just assumed you, as a reader knew the characters. 

Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes (1981) #3, cover by Jim Janes & Dick Giordano. Edited by Jack C Harris.

But in the Legion, everything was in the Legion.  Anything you wanted to know about the characters was in that story.  You didn’t need to read three other books to know what those characters were all about and the stories were rather straightforward and easy to follow compared to the more complex Justice League.  So, you had this generation gap and I, of course, was in the Justice League camp and I just sort of looked down on the Legion.  I just didn’t read the Legion a lot when I was into comics.  It was only later that I started reading it.  When I became the editor of it I had that thing where, “Oh, what do I know about this?  I don’t know that much about it.”  Even though I was the assistant editor on it when I was working with Murray.  So, in going back, if I had to do it over again, I remember Gerry Conway was writing it for me and Gerry knew about as much about it as I did, so we had this sort of feel our way along going on and I don’t think we quite hit on what the fans wanted as often as we should have.  If I had to do it over again, I’d have had Paul Levitz write it from the beginning.  I would have said, “Paul, you write this.”  Then we’d have been okay, because no one knows the Legion better than Paul

Stroud:  Well, he is at the helm again.

Harris:  As a matter of fact, I’m sitting here looking at this Legion #1 that Paul autographed for me, which I’m happy to have.  Anyway, that was kind of a tough period for me.  I think of all the Legions I did I think the only one I was really happy with was when we did a mini-series called Secrets of the Legion and that’s where we established that R.J. Brand was Chameleon Boy’s father.  I thought that was a wonderful surprise and that, I think was the best moment I did in the Legion.  Otherwise I wasn’t too happy with what I did with it.  Although some of the covers I thought were kind of nice. 

Stroud:  Yes, in fact, it looks like you worked with Mike Grell not only there but on his Warlord series, too. 

Warlord (1976) #35 pg.16 - featuring Jack, Mike, & Joe.

Harris:  Yes.  Warlord and he did some Green Lantern covers for me, too.  Grell and I had a great relationship.  We had a wonderful time.  I enjoyed the Warlord.  It was just so different.  We gave him sort of carte blanche on that.  The only time I ever did anything with that was we did a story once where the Warlord goes into a sort of parallel world where it’s like a Dungeons & Dragons game and at the end of the story we pull back and the two guys playing Dungeons & Dragons are me and Grell.  Which I thought was great and as we’re playing the game this other guy comes in to scold us for not doing our work and it’s Joe Orlando.  That part of the story idea came from me and I remember that I actually dreamed it and I called Grell up and told him about the dream and he wrote that story based on my dream and then wrote that part in at the end of the story.  I forget what issue it was, but the Warlord is on the cover fighting (I think) with Tweedledum who has a chainsaw.  It was just a really wacky story. 

Stroud:  I used to get the biggest kick out of Gardner Fox’s stories where he’d incorporate himself or Julie into them. 

Harris:  Remember when I said I used to correspond with Sid Greene?  When Sid Greene did his pencils and inks, he had Julie in every story he ever drew.  I used to have fun going through the old Star Rovers stories trying to find Julie.  He’s in every one of them.  He always characterized Julie somewhere in the story.  Therefore, I knew Julie years before I knew who he was.  “This guy always appears in every one of these stories.  This guy is always there.  Who the hell is he?” 

Stroud:  It sounds like you were kind of the go-to guy for TV series adaptations.  You did Shazam and Isis at least. 

Warlord (1976) #35 pg.17.

HarrisIsis was my first assignment.  Actually, it was the first series that I had.  I remember that Steve Skeates had plotted a story that I then dialogued and the other book I did myself.  That was the first assignment they gave me, was Isis.  That was a lot of fun.  At one point, and I don’t know why this happened, I was doing every DC super heroine at the time.  I was writing Isis, I was writing Batgirl, I was writing Supergirl, I was writing Wonder Woman and I was editing Starfire.  Those five female characters I was doing.  Plus Hawkgirl and Hawkman that I was writing.  All at the same time.  For some reason I was the guy who writes the female characters.  I don’t know how it happened.  I thought it was kind of cool. 

Stroud:  Between your two primary assignments is it safe to say you got the most satisfaction out of being a writer?

Harris:  Yeah.  When you’re totally in control of something like that it is more satisfying.  When editing you had to let people do their own thing.  You didn’t want to get too heavy handed on them.  So, they came up with the ideas and they presented them to you.  Writing was a lot more completely satisfying, and the best surprise was when you wrote something and you envisioned it in your mind’s eye and then the art comes back and it’s either exactly what you envisioned or better than what you’d visualized.  That was always the greatest thrill.  The one guy that used to do that with me most was when Dick Ayers was drawing Kamandi.  I would think up something and I would write it and then he’d come back and the artwork would be better than I had envisioned.  That just blew me away.  It was amazing.  He would do that all the time.  I would go, “My god, that’s better than I imagined.” 

Stroud:  Someone had told me that Dick Giordano was a beloved editor because sometimes things would come back not exactly as he’d expected, but he liked it as much or more than what he’d had in mind. 

Batman: Castle of the Bat (1994), by Jack C Harris & Bo Hampton.

Harris:  He did one or two of my Batgirl stories and no one could draw women better than Dick Giordano.  So, I’d have these scenes and Dick would turn in his artwork and it was always just astounding.  The other one was when I did a series of Robin stories that Kurt Schaffenberger drew.  I was a big Kurt Schaffenberger fan and when he turned artwork in it was like, “Holy Moses!”  Although the best one might have been when I did the Batman graphic novel, “Castle of the Bat” that Bo Hampton painted.  He took a sabbatical from his teaching job to paint that book.  I remember at the time I was laid up with a broken leg.  I’m sitting there in my living room and my kids are bringing the mail in to me and what Bo would do is that he would color Xerox the pages for me and send me the pages that way.  As he’d finish them, I’d get two or three of the pages to see what they’d look like. 

So, I remember sitting there one day with my leg up in a cast and I got a package from Bo and it had a few pages in it and I pulled them out and looked at them and I thought, “These are great.  Hey, wait a minute.  I think he already sent me this one.  This looks really familiar.”  I looked at the pile I had and he hadn’t sent it to me.  It was my mind’s eye vision of the page.  He had nailed it so exactly, that I actually thought I’d seen the page before.  Either he was really good about painting the pictures or I was really good at describing it, but it was exactly what I’d envisioned.  It was truly amazing. 

Stroud:  I was a little surprised to see you’ve done a little bit of work for Marvel.

Harris:  Oh, yeah.  I did a couple of things for them.  I created the Annex character for one of the Spider-Man annuals.  It was Spider-Man Annual #27 from 1993.  During that year they decided they were going to introduce a new character in all the annuals.  Either a villain or a superhero in every one of the annuals, and of all the ones that they did, Annex was the only one that got his own mini-series later.  I did a four-issue mini-series of Annex as well.  So, I was very happy with that.  Plus, I did a Spider-Man mini-series called Spider-Man: Web of Doom.  Then I did a couple of other short stories.  I did a Cat story that was published and I also did a couple of stories that weren’t published.  I did a Marvel Team-Up that Ditko drew that was The Hulk and Human Torch team-up that never saw the light of day.  I also did another story where the guy who drew it murdered his girlfriend or something and of course that particular story was never published. 

Amazing Spider-Man Annual (1964) #27, featuring the first appearance of Annex.

Stroud:  Oh, boy.  Did you use the Marvel Method on those stories?

Harris:  Yeah, that’s how I did them all.  I like doing full scripts, though, because you have more control.  I like to write in such a way that I describe the scene and sometimes also explain what not to do.  “This, by the way, is the most important thing on the page.”  I felt like I had to emphasize things or invariably they’d pick the wrong thing.  I tell my students that any mistake you make as a writer will be accentuated by the artist’s mistake.  And they’ll always pick up on that one thing that you don’t want them to pick up on.  You have to be very specific and tell them exactly what to do, otherwise…well, here’s my worst experience:  It wasn’t a comic book, so I can tell the story.  It was a children’s book.  In fact, it was a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe story.  The scene is that this character, a bad guy, is trying to convince He-Man and his friends that he’s a good guy.  So, they’re walking through the jungle and suddenly these two jungle cats run out.  I’m envisioning a tiger and a lion.  While they don’t exist in the same jungle, in the fantasy world, they do.  So, the scene was that the hero was holding these two jungle cats by the scruff of their necks, holding them back so that the heroes can go by without being attacked, which I think is a very exciting, dramatic scene.  You can picture it in your mind, can’t you?

Stroud:  Easily.

Harris:  The hero holding the lion and the tiger back.  So that’s what I wrote and I remember what I described.  I said, “Jungle cats.”  Now the guy who painted this was an awful, awful artist.  Just dreadful.  And the editor was just as bad because he’d let him get away with it.  The scene depicted in the book ended up being the character holding two house cats. 

Stroud: (Laughter.)

Harris:  And that’s how it went through!  They’re in the middle of the jungle being attacked by two housecats.  The guy’s holding them by the scruff of their necks. 

Masters of the Universe: New Champions of Eternia (1985) pg.15, written by Jack C Harris.

Stroud:  What a disaster.

Harris:  It was a total disaster.  And the whole artwork in the entire story is awful.  The story opens after a battle and they’re all supposed to be bandaging their wounds and recovering and this scene of carnage after the battle.  The way it was drawn the scene looks more like a cocktail party.  They’re all standing around and one guy has a bandage on his arm.  That’s it.  The rest of them look like they’re having a cocktail party.  It was the most awful, worst piece of crap I’ve ever seen in my life.  And of course, my name is attached to it. 

Stroud:  The last thing I wanted to mention before I let you go is that one of the reasons I was particularly interested in talking with you is that you unknowingly brought some joy into my childhood.  Our Comics Club back in grade school, (membership:  three) once wrote a letter to DC and we were thrilled beyond all words to get a reply in the form of a postcard that showed Superman flying with a mail sack and it was signed by Jack C. Harris.  So, it’s something we’ve treasured ever since.   

Harris:  Good.


Masters of the Universe: New Champions of Eternia (1985) pg.1-2, written by Jack C Harris.

Incredible Hulk & Human Torch: From the Marvel Vault (2011) #1 - written by Jack C Harris, penciled by Steve Ditko.


Jack Harris, Christopher Reeve, & Todd Klein in the DC offices - 1978.


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.

An Interview With Jay Scott Pike - Penciler, Painter, Pin-Up Maker

Written by Bryan Stroud

Jay Scott Pike, standing with an oil painting of his creation - Dolphin.

Jay Scott Pike (born September 6, 1924) was an American comic book artist and commercial illustrator known for his work with Marvel and DC through the 1950s & '60s as well as his advertising and "good girl" art. He co-created the Marvel character Jann of the Jungle with author Don Rico and  created the DC character Dolphin. As an advertising artist, he worked on campaigns for clients including Borden, Ford Motor Company, General Mills, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, and Trans World Airlines.

After a long hiatus from comic books, Pike returned in 1993 to draw layouts and some pencils for Scarlett (1993) #12–#14 from DC Comics. He also penciled the 58-page story "All Good Things" in DC's one-shot comic Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Series Finale (1994).

Mr. Pike passed away on September 13, 2015 - one week after his 91st birthday.

Scott Pike's comic book work wasn't the be-all and end-all of his career, but he sure did some wonderful stuff while he pursued it.  A very nice, humble guy who had a true mastery of the female form, Scott was an enjoyable interview and I wish he were still with us.

This interview originally took place over the phone on August 20, 2010.

The Bride Almost Wore White, a painting by Jay Scott Pike.

Bryan Stroud:  You must have had a very early interest in art.  I understand you enrolled in the Art Student’s League at the age of 16.  Is that correct?

Jay Scott Pike:  Yeah, it is.  I was 15 or 16.  I know I was partway into high school.  I wasn’t a junior or senior yet. 

Stroud:  What spurred your interest?

JSP:  I always liked to draw, and when I was a kid the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves movie was out in the theaters and I used to draw the dwarves and even tried to draw Snow White.  I don’t know that I was any good at drawing her, but I can remember doing that and I just really liked to draw. 

Stroud:  I think probably Walt Disney started some careers whether he knew it or not. 

JSP:  Probably so.

Stroud:  Apparently you also had other training at the Parsons School of Design and the Ringling School of Art?

JSP:  That’s right.  I went into the Marine Corps in ’42 and I got out in ’46 and I went to Parsons I guess in ’46 on the GI Bill for one year.  I wanted mainly to do illustration and Parsons didn’t seem to give me what I wanted, although Parsons is a good school.  So, I took a semester at Syracuse and didn’t like them much better, and then heard about Ringling and the idea of being down in the sunshine seemed good to me. So anyway we were married in ’48 and we came down here to Florida - where we live now - and I went to Ringling for a year and a half. 

When I got out, we went back up to northern New Jersey, near enough to New York so I could get in and out every day.  I was hoping…really expecting to find that New York would have been just waiting for me to get there.  (Mutual laughter.)  But by golly, they weren’t.  In fact, I couldn’t get any work at all.  I wanted to get work without actually working in a studio in New York.  I wanted to work at home where we lived in New Jersey.

Black Rider (1950) #12, interior story “Hot Lead Reunion” - penciled by Al Hartley & Jay Scott Pike.

Somebody said, “You ought to go talk to Al Hartley.  He’s a comic book artist.”  I thought, “Gee, that’s probably the bottom of the barrel,” but anyway I did and met Al and Al was doing very well.  He had a beautiful home and a brand-new car in his circular driveway with a private pond in the back, and a pretty good-sized pond at that.  He was obviously making plenty of money.  So, I went into drawing comics with Al, but we just didn’t get along - so by the time we decided to split I’d gotten to know Stan Lee and Stan said that he would give me work of my own.  So, I got started with what was then Timely Comics and then drew comics for the next 7 or 8 years.  The bulk of my comic career was in the 50’s. 

Stroud:  The earliest credit I could find for you was in 1951 on a western comic book.

JSP:  That sounds right. 

Stroud:  Since you started at that point and also did some a little bit later it sounds like you did work both before and after the Comics Code was instituted.  Did that have any effect on your work, Scott?

JSP:  Yes, it did, because at that time, when I first came out, I was drawing jungle girl comics.  Jann of the Jungle and Lorna the Jungle Queen, and it seems like another one, too. And I can remember I got a whole book back and had to make the bosoms smaller on the jungle girl, whichever one it was, and when she was flying through the trees on a vine or something her skirt couldn’t go above her knees.  I can remember having to go over the whole book and having to fix those things. 

Stroud:  Censoring to meet the standard.  I remember when I spoke to Russ Heath about it he was kind of cussing the Code, saying that if you showed someone sweating it was too violent. 

JSP: (Chuckle.)  Well, it did get ridiculous.  When did you last speak with Russ?

Stroud:  About a week ago, in fact.

Showcase (1956) #79, cover by Jay Scott Pike.

JSP:  I haven’t seen him for about 50 years, I guess, but his Dad was actually a neighbor of ours when we lived in Montclair, New Jersey.  That was how I got acquainted with Russ

Stroud:  He’s a great talent and still knocking out work, like yourself.

JSP:  Well, I haven’t done any comic work in decades, but I have done recent paintings of Dolphin, a comic book character that I created.  It was an oil painting of her.

Stroud:  I’m glad you brought that up, as I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about Dolphin.  It looks like that was a one-man show.  You scripted it and illustrated it all in one.

JSP:  Yeah, it was all me.  I did that and I decided that if I was going to keep doing it I wanted part of the copyright, so I went in to talk to [Irwin] Donenfeld about it and he didn’t even give the idea a glance.  It just wasn’t done at that time.  So, I said, “Hell, I’m not going to write this thing and draw it, too.”  It was too much work.  So that was really the end of Dolphin as far as I was concerned. 

Stroud:  I was curious about that very thing.  Showcase, of course, was used to preview potential new characters for a series tryout and Dolphin was just a one shot and I thought it was odd and wondered what happened.  I guess now I know. 

JSP:  I felt that the people and talent that worked on the books should at least have the right to work out some kind of a copyright deal.

Stroud:  Absolutely.  At least that’s been one positive development (at DC at least) where they make certain to compensate the creators for reprint royalties when the old stories are reproduced. 

JSP:  Good.

Adventures Into Terror (1951) #3, interior story “The Living Dead” - penciled & inked by Jay Scott Pike.

Tales of the Unexpected (1956) #97, cover by Jay Scott Pike.

Journey Into Mystery (1952) #2, interior story “Don't Look”- penciled & inked by Jay Scott Pike.

Stroud:  It looks like you never really did any superhero work.  Was that by choice?

JSP:  No.  (Chuckle.)  I’m really sorry I missed out on that.  I think I started out doing Westerns and then I did a general collection of Weird stuff and I did a few war books - and then I realized that I’m very much against war and I told them I wasn’t going to do any more war stuff. So I didn’t do any more from that point on. 

Battleground (1954) #18, interior story “Platoon Trapped” - penciled & inked by Jay Scott Pike.

Stroud:  I appreciate where you’re coming from, but the couple of examples I’ve seen of your war work was simply stunning.

JSP:  Really?  I don’t know about that.

Stroud:  The one example I’m thinking of sure looked like it was on a par with Russ Heath or Joe Kubert.

JSP:  That’s quite a compliment.  I really don’t remember it that way, but those are certainly kind words. 

Stroud:  Between your jungle books, pinups and romance books you’re a great friend of the female form. 

JSP:  It’s my favorite subject.  (Mutual laughter.)  I did pinup calendars back in the end of the 50’s and Marianne O. Phillips got a hold of me - I guess about 15 years ago - and asked if I wanted to do any more. Ever since then I’ve done…well I haven’t done a lot, but every once in awhile I’ll do one and send it to her and she sells them. 

Stroud:  I can see why.  It’s beautiful stuff.  Did you use models?

JSP:  I did do some nudes that Playboy had in their resorts and those were sold for me for a while.  It didn’t last too long because it came down from Playboy headquarters in Chicago that they didn’t want any more artwork.  Only photographs of the Playmates.  Anyway, I had a bunch of photographs from those days and now of course it’s so easy to get photographs off the Internet.  Most of it is absolute garbage, but once in awhile you get some shots that are well lighted and are useable and I swipe them. 

Stroud:  When you worked on the romance books at DC comics you worked with the only female editor at the time, Dorothy Woolfolk.  Do you remember anything about her?

Heart Throbs (1949) #102, cover by Jay Scott Pike.

JSP:  You know I remember the name, but can’t even put a face to it.  I'm sure I did, but I’m sorry, I just can’t remember her.

Stroud:  When you’d pencil a story, did you prefer the full scripts at DC or the Marvel synopses to work off?

JSP:  To me they weren’t that different.  I would get a script and I’d pencil it and send it back to them and they’d letter it and put lines around the panels and send it back and I would ink it and then return it to them.  It worked that way with both publishers.  I always did my own inking.

Stroud:  That must have been satisfying to finish it off yourself.

JSP:  It was, in that I could make the pencils pretty rough. I know the guys who later on would do just the penciling would do these beautiful pencils - and they’d really bone them out, but I was able to make a fairly rough pencil drawing and then ink it myself knowing pretty much what I meant with a pencil line; what I had in mind when I penciled it.  So, it sped things up for me.  I went to romance comics mainly because of the speed at which I could do them.  You know a lot of times you could get away with things like a close-up of an eye with a tear coming out, whereas if you do a western you have a posse of guys riding around on horses and it would take me maybe twice as long to do a book other than a romance. 

Stroud:  Of course.  All the backgrounds and details.

JSP:  I had trouble with horses to begin with.  (Chuckle.)  I really think horses are beautiful, but I really don’t know that anatomy of them very well. 

Stroud:  What was your typical production rate?

A nude by Jay Scott Pike.

JSP:  The way I remember it was that I figured I had to make $500.00 a week and I think most of the time I was getting $35.00 a page.  Rarely it would be $40.00.  So, whatever that works out to.  I know I’d keep working through the weekend until I figured I’d made 500 bucks and then I’d relax until Monday morning.

Stroud:  The freelancer’s life is not an easy one.  You did pull off what many in the industry would call the brass ring when you went into advertising work and what an impressive list of clients:  Ford, General Mills, Pepsi, Procter and Gamble.  Was that an enjoyable time in your career?

JSP:  When the comics began to go down the tubes in the mid to late 50’s, Timely had quit buying and DC wasn’t doing anything.  I got associated with Charlie Biro, but he couldn’t pay anything.  At that time we had 5 kids and I couldn’t support the family and somehow I’d got in contact with a friend in New York who was getting illustration jobs - but there again it wasn’t enough to keep going. So we had to come up to the New York area and I went to work for an ad agency in New York as a T.V. art director, which really was a snap for me, because going from doing comics into doing storyboards was really the same old thing.  It was like a continuation of the comics almost. 

Stroud:  Better pay, though, I guess.

JSP:  Well, it didn’t start out that way, but it got better.  I think I was making $12,500.00 a year when I first started with them.  I stayed a year and went to another one and they paid something like $16,000.00.  I was there a little less than a year and then I went to a third agency and got up to $20,000.00 and was also a producer there.  By then I realized I could probably make a heck of a lot more money freelancing, which is what I did after about a year at the third agency.  I did work for all those companies, - sometimes when I was working for an agency - but more often than not I would get freelance work, mostly doing storyboards for the agencies. 

Young Love (1949) #55, cover by Jay Scott Pike.

Stroud:  It seems like a lot of people don’t realize the demand for that kind of work, although of course you’ve got examples like Neal Adams’ Continuity Studios pursuing storyboard work among other things.  Your fellow romance artist Ric Estrada did different types of assignments, too.  He even worked for animation studios for a while.  It always fascinates me to realize how flexible a good artist can be if you look around a little bit.

JSP:  That’s true.  Sometimes you’ve got to do different things.  I actually knew Neal Adams.  I was in a movie he made.  I never saw it.  I played a bad guy.  (Chuckle.) 

Stroud:  I have a hard time featuring that, Scott.

JSP:  I made a good bad guy.  (Chuckle.)  I haven’t talked to Neal for years.  I essentially retired in ’83 and have been pretty much out of touch with these folks since then. 

Stroud:  You do some teaching?

JSP:  I do.  It’s enjoyable. 

Stroud:  I’ve appreciated your time.

JSP:  Well, it’s pretty easy to talk about yourself.  (Chuckle.)

Girls' Romances (1950) #125, cover by Jay Scott Pike.

Jungle Tales (1954) #1, interior story “Rampage” - penciled & inked by Jay Scott Pike.

Weight For Me, a painting by Jay Scott Pike.


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.

An Interview With Paul Levitz - A Name Synonymous With DC Comics

Written by Bryan Stroud

Paul Levitz in 2010 at a Midtown Comics signing.

Paul Levitz (born October 21, 1956) is an American comic book writer, editor and executive. The president of DC Comics from 2002–2009, he has worked for the company for over 35 years in a wide variety of roles. Along with publisher Jenette Kahn and managing editor Dick Giordano, Levitz was responsible for hiring such writers as Marv Wolfman and Alan Moore, artists such as George Pérez, Keith Giffen, and John Byrne.

JSA (1999) #82, written by Paul Levitz.

During the course of his research for his fanzine (The Comic Reader), Levitz became well known at the offices of DC Comics. In December 1972, editor Joe Orlando gave him his first freelance work - initially writing text pages and letter pages, and later working as a per diem assistant editor before moving on to writing stories.

Levitz eventually became an editor for DC Comics and served as vice president and executive vice president, before assuming the role of president in 2002. In 2006, Levitz returned to writing the Justice Society with issue #82 of JSA, completing that volume before writer Geoff Johns' relaunch.

On September 9, 2009, it was announced that Levitz would step down as president and publisher of DC Comics to serve as the Contributing Editor and Overall Consultant for the newly formed DC Entertainment, and become the writer of both Adventure Comics vol. 2 and Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 6.

Levitz received an Inkpot Award at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2002 and the "Dick Giordano Hero Initiative Humanitarian of the Year Award" in September 2013 at the Baltimore Comic-Con.

From fan to fanzine writer to Woodchuck working on DC's prozine to writer, editor and ultimately president of DC Comics, Paul Levitz's career has had some amazing turns.  Through it all, he never lost sight of how fortunate he'd been.  See for yourself.

This interview originally took place over the phone on July 9, 2010.

The Comic Reader (1962) #100. This September 1973 issue featured a cover by Jack Kirby.

Bryan Stroud:  You’ve arguably had the ultimate internship over the years, going back to when you published one of the first widely read fanzines until Joe Orlando gave you your break.  It was Joe, wasn’t it?

Paul LevitzJoe was definitely the one who gave me my first assignment and was a wonderful mentor in many, many ways. 

Stroud:  I’ve heard so many great stories about him.  It made me sad when I actually began this little odyssey about 3 years ago when I realized he and a handful of others are forever out of my reach.  How did it feel to work with Joe and others?

PL:  I’ve had a great deal of luck and as I once joked with Mark Evanier when we were bemoaning someone’s death, it’s very rare in life that you get to make friends of your parents or your grandparent’s generation.  Just by the nature of life if you know folks that old it’s almost inevitably family members who you know mostly with sort of a specific, formal relationship: an uncle or whatever.  Mark and I and a handful of others of us, the fans of a certain generation, really got to know some fascinating people who became friends across the generational barrier, aside from our love of their work.  The joy we took from that, merely getting to know people whose life experience of a whole other era has been one of the fascinating journeys. 

Stroud:  Well said.  I know some of the follow up conversations I’ve enjoyed with my interviewees have taught me so much.  Learning from what I fondly refer to as the Old Guard has been particularly instructive and enjoyable.  I could talk to Jack Adler for hours…

PL:  That’s the only way to talk to Jack.  (Mutual laughter.)

Stroud:  He’s still very sharp.

PL:  Good man.

Stroud:  Lew Sayre Schwartz, who has good things to say about you, by the way, Joe Giella, Gaspar Saladino

Adventure Comics (1938) #462, cover story written by Paul Levitz.

PLGaspar.  I haven’t heard much of him in a long, long time. 

Stroud:  Gaspar seems very content in his semi-retired state and seems baffled as to why anyone makes a fuss over him. 

PL: (Laughter.) 

Stroud:  A very unassuming man.  You mentioned Joe (Orlando) being a mentor.  What sort of things do you recall learning from him?

PL:  It’s way too long a list for an interview, but let me mention lots of editorial tools and tricks that I still use; using what I call editing art for the art blind.  In working with some of the newer artists that I’ve worked with for the last six or seven months that I’ve been back writing, I’ve had occasion to pull those back out of the Fuller Brush case and suggest things like, “How about this?”  It’s wonderful to be able to do that, and just fundamentals about how to approach creative work, how to approach plotting, how to work with creative people.  Stuff I’ve used my whole life.

Stroud:  Tony DeZuniga in particular said that Joe taught him a great deal from an artistic standpoint and said something to the effect that Joe always had time to teach.  A born teacher.

PL:  Absolutely. 

Stroud:  I can’t imagine you expected to go as high as you managed.  What was your goal when you started at DC?

PL:  To pay my way through college, basically.  Get a real job.  One that would be around for a while.  I was in a five-year Bachelor’s/Master’s program that NYU offered in Business and I figured that I could pay for it by working at DC a couple of days a week and taking my classes for a couple of days and put my skills to work probably in something in the business side of the technology world.  I was a science geek as a kid and I thought that was an interesting part of the world.  But I knew about as much about what my future would be like as the average 16-year old…nothing. 

Amazing World of DC Comics (1974) #6, featuring an interview with Joe Orlando given by Paul Levitz.

Stroud: (Chuckle.)  Some of us are still trying to figure it out.

PL:  It’s okay.  The journey’s part of the fun. 

Stroud:  You got to be part of that gang of “Woodchucks.”  What was that like when you were helping to produce The Amazing World of DC Comics?

PL:  It was wonderful fun to be surrounded by young people who were basically at the same stage of life.  We were all kids.  Some of the guys were a little older, married, but everyone was really starting out.  We were all passionately interested in comics, so in those days it was a physically fairly tight community because in the business everyone was pretty much in New York.  If you worked in comics you could really count the exceptions on a couple of hands.  We were the new kids, and it was, “Who did you meet?”  “What’s going on?”  You’d find this old stuff that had never been thought about before.  What can you learn from that?  It was a great series of discussions and people were paying us for learning which just seemed ridiculous.  Not paying us well…but certainly paying us as much or more than we were worth. 

Stroud:  Did you work most closely with Sol (Harrison) or Jack (Adler) or…

PL:  It was a small place.  There were 35 guys on staff at DC, so you worked with everybody to one extent or another.  Sol and Jack were both energetic teachers of the art forms.  Amazing World was Sol’s pet project, certainly.  Jack would be stoving your head in teaching you how to do something whether you wanted to know it or not, or if you were ready for a discussion of how to best wire a stereo, he’d give you an education on that subject.

Stroud:  As I looked at some of the articles you’d written in Amazing World it almost seemed like you were being groomed for the production process whereas you had guys like Guy Lillian doing the interviews.  Were you fast-tracking that direction?

Showcase (1956) #99, written by Paul Levitz.

PL:  I don’t know that it was fast-tracking.  It’s just that the business side of the field interested me more than most of my peers.  I wrote hideously simplistic articles on things called “Comic Economics” for somebody else’s fanzine at some point:  Joe Brancatelli’s  when I was just a kid.  All sorts of foolish little analyses of how many pages you got for how many cents and what type of effect that had.  It was a time when the comic business was waking up and perhaps considering coming back to life and most of the New York kids who were interested in comics got a chance to play in the game and if you had any skills to offer or were willing to work hard there was a reasonable chance you’d get to play for awhile.  They’d see what it is you were good at and maybe get a chance to do some more of that. 

Stroud:  I realize the world has changed, in some ways quite radically, but it almost seems sad to me in retrospect that there’s no longer some of the opportunities that there were when some of your peers went to the weekly open houses at DC or the opportunity to interact through the lettercols.  Do you think there are opportunities like that any longer?

PL:  It’s a different world.  You can’t separate the good and evil of a time.  It’s a wonderful thing to live in the 21st Century and to have modern medicine keeping us alive for so many years and to be sitting here comfortably in air-conditioning doing my work this afternoon despite the fact that it’s 900 bazillion degrees on the streets of New York…

Stroud:  With the humidity.

PL:  With the humidity.  But the air smells of hydrocarbons rather than smelling of horseshit, and I don’t know which of those two things is better.  There’s a wonderful book by William Manchester called “A World Lit Only by Fire.”  Manchester is just a great historian looking at the world as it existed in the early Medieval Period, I guess.  If I remember correctly about the year 1,000 or 1,100, and he very vividly captured not the lives of the Kings and Queens, but what the world was and there was some wonderful, simple things in all of that, and there was the simple fact that you really weren’t going to stay up long after dark because candles cost money, and each time and each period has its glories and its challenges. 

Legion of Super-Heroes (2010) #1, written by Paul Levitz.

Overall, I think most of us would rather be born in this time with the life expectancies and the sciences that exist now than we would a thousand years ago.  I think that applies to all the little micro areas, too.  It’s a delightful thing to be working with an artist in Istanbul and to pop open my e-mail in the morning and there’s the latest page Yildiray (Cinar) has done the day before that he’s scanned and sent to me.  That was an un-dreamable possibility in the industry that I came into.  And if the tradeoff for that is that we’re not all sitting around at the Brew Burger on Friday night shooting the breeze about which editor is an idiot to work for, or how we’re going to figure out how to make this a better industry in some fashion or another, those are just the tradeoffs of life.  Now, do the internet use groups and message boards provide an adequate replacement for the letters page?  In a lot of ways, yeah.  In others, you give up some stuff, but the world is what the world is at any given time.

Stroud:  You certainly can’t turn back the clock, and while I appreciate nostalgia as much as the next person, I don’t want my high-speed internet taken away.  (Chuckle.)

PL:  Yeah.  And I don’t think you want your measles shot taken away either. 

Stroud:  I’ll have to check out that book.  It sounds interesting and seems to be reminiscent of a book I read by Michael Crichton along those lines set in Medieval France.  He did a great job of researching the era. 

PLCrichton did a great job on that stuff. 

Stroud:  He made you understand just what it was they were dealing with in traveling back through time to that era.  Doublets because there was no elastic, for example.  Little things you don’t think about.

PL:  Exactly.  You don’t walk out and think that 150 years ago the dominant smell in any city was excrement.  That was just it.  End of the day. There wasn’t any place to get rid of it fast enough.  I think it’s probably a significant improvement.  A wild guess on my part…

Stroud:  (Laughter.)  I certainly wouldn’t disagree.  As I was looking over your voluminous credits at the Grand Comic Database I see you did quite a few jobs of answering letters in the columns.

Phantom Stranger (1969) #40, cover story written by Paul Levitz.

PL:  I think I did more of that than anybody alive in the business.

Stroud:  Was it at all tedious?

PL:  I generally enjoyed the forum.  If you were writing one that got mail.  The mystery titles tended to not get much mail.  If you didn’t get much discursive mail it tended to get a little more tedious than a superhero book that got lively and intelligent letters.  I got a couple of lifelong friends out of people who were just regular letter writers on books I did, so there’s always that. 

Stroud:  As a kid I dismissed the horror books.  They didn’t interest me, but as I’ve gone back and looked at House of Secrets and House of Mystery it’s remarkable how much great talent worked on them.  I think they got overlooked unjustly sometimes.

PL:  Well, I’m not sure that most of the guys look back on what we did in those books as shining moments in our career, but it was a learning thing.  As an editor on those titles I bought the first work in the business for people from Marc DeMatteis to Michael Golden to Mark Bright.  The first work for DC from people like Frank Miller.  He’d done one or maybe two stories for Gold Key before that.  I don’t know that if you piled up all those stories or my first handful of stories that appeared in those kinds of books as well that there’s anything that’s in danger of winning the “This is the moment of your career; you’re going to look back on it with pride” prize, but we learned how to do our craft.  And that was pretty cool.  It paid dividends in the long run. 

Stroud:  Absolutely.  And I don’t know who to thank, maybe you, but these Showcase Presents reprint editions have been just a treasure trove in my opinion.

PL:  Whoever at Marvel came up with the Marvel Essentials line gets the credit because we basically just knocked that format off from what Marvel had done.  It was a very cool format and George Brewer and his team figured out how we could modify that so that we could do it within DC’s standards of paying royalties or percentages or whatever.  It’s a lovely book. 

Tales of Ghost Castle (1975) #1 pg5, written by Paul Levitz. (featuring Rover & Lucian)

Stroud:  I’ve enjoyed them no end and it’s a very cost-effective way to get my hands on stories that I probably couldn’t have managed any other way.  Also, I know first hand from speaking to several of the older generation of creators that they’ve been more than grateful for the policy that they got the reprint fees.

PL:  It’s a lovely thing when you get a note back on that from somebody whose work you enjoyed when you were a kid.  The first generation of creators in this business got very little economic reward and got very little recognition and to the extent that I and others were able to reach back and help them through programs like that were very good for the soul. 

Stroud:  Again, I can speak with some authority that it’s appreciated.  Your name has come up more than once in my conversations with a great deal of gratitude, and when Neal Adams goes as far as to post a photo of he and you shaking hands on his website that says something as well, I think.

PL:  That was a fun moment. 

Stroud:  I recently discovered that in addition to Stalker you came up with the Huntress.  Are there other characters that I don’t know of that you’ve produced?

PL:  In terms of my “enduring contributions” to the DC Universe probably reduces itself to Lucian (the librarian who runs around in the Sandman mythology) and I created a very simple version of him as mystery host for Tales of Ghost CastleNeil (Gaiman) really made him into a real character when he adopted him for the Sandman universe.  He added so much dimension to him.  And I guess the third of the many Starmen of the DC Universe that I did with Steve Ditko for a couple of years for Adventure.       

Stroud:  You’ve had a number of well-known artists interpret your scripts.  Was there anyone in particular you felt really got the way that you envision things?

Stalker (1975) #1, written by Paul Levitz.

PL:  Bowing to the public judgment, clearly the most successful collaboration over the years has to be the one with Keith Giffen on the Legion.  That’s the one people point to.  I’ve had enormous fun with a range of other people I’ve worked with over the years.  Guys who were either my generation that I enjoyed working with such as Joe Staton or the fun of having seen my scripts brought to life by a collection of people as amazing as practically a you-name-it of the first generation of guys:  Ditko, Kirby, (Joe) Kubert, Gil Kane, Curt Swan, Irv Novick, Dick Dillin, Bob Oksner.  So many of DC’s best.  I got Joe Orlando to do one of my stories once as a Legion fill-in.

Stroud:  That’s certainly a who’s who of talent…

PLJim Aparo.  I’m doing any number of people a disservice because there literally are too many to name. 

Stroud:  Sure.  Even though you began after the Silver Age ended, nearly all those guys were still there.  I always looked with particular fondness on Stalker because I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to have the team of Ditko and Wood work on a story for you.

PL:  At 17 years old it’s just outrageous.

Stroud:  It’s kind of funny.  Jim Shooter made an interesting comment to me that the advantage to being a writer over an artist is that over time you tend to get better whereas an artist runs the risk of losing motor skills or eyesight or other physical drawbacks. 

PL:  That’s an interesting argument.  I don’t know if it’s entirely fair to the artists.  I think it is probably an accurate assessment for someone working exclusively or primarily in the idiom of comics.  I think that writers have a couple of advantages that Jim is folding together there.  One is because it is not a very physical profession.  You don’t have nature working against you in the sense that your hand gets less steady or something like that.  There are certainly enough guys like Al Jaffee who, at 85 or 86 or whatever the heck he is now, defies all laws of probability as he still does those MAD fold-ins and other beautiful, incredible kinds of work where, in his personal life his hand feels his age, but when he goes to the drawing board it just turns into magic. 

All-Star Comics (1940) #62, written by Gerry Conway & Paul Levitz.

But the other thing that’s conflated in there is writers can do more kinds of work, generally.  When you set out to be a professional writer, you can go on a journey where you do comics, and you do prose and maybe do some animation or a guy gets to go on to film or you do kid’s books or trade magazines or other sorts of arguably less creative writing, but things that can help you make a living.  I think as an artist, many more artists become an artist of a very specific thing, and that may also account for a type of a wear-down effect after doing 10,000 pages of comics or some frightening number like that.  But there were artists who kept learning and kept thinking and growing all along.  You look at Joe Kubert and you look at Will Eisner, both of them doing amazing and interestingly different kinds of creative work in their 80’s and there are writers who ran out of ideas in their 40’s, or their 30’s.  Jim may be absolutely right statistically, but I don’t know that it’s a law of nature so much as how it’s worked out for a lot of people. 

Stroud:  Well, I’m not the sort who looks on the world as having a lot of total absolutes, but I thought it was an interesting observation.

PLJim’s a very smart guy. 

Stroud:  As I think about it, Len Wein has been doing a lot of work in the animated arena and it didn’t even occur to me until he mentioned he was doing work on video games and I’d have never considered needing a writer for that. 

PL:  He and a couple of the other guys of that generation made that as a very successful transition to something that didn’t exist when they were writing comics. 

Stroud:  As a matter of fact, Len was another who commented about your role in his collecting a tidy sum for his Lucius Fox character after you insisted he get a creator’s equity.

PL:  He’s very kind to share that story a number of times now. 

Stroud:  Was anyone a particular influence to you to become a writer or was it something you aspired to on your own?

Worlds' Finest (2012) #1, written by Paul Levitz.

PL:  I didn’t really expect to be a writer.  Going back to that first conversation with Joe (Orlando) when he called me and asked me to work on his letter columns, I very vividly remember that the remark was, “Me?  I’m not a writer.”  He replied, “I’ve read your fanzines.  You write well enough to do letter columns.”  If I expected to be anything in the business, I would have expected it to be much more likely that I would have been in an editorial role or something like that along in the process.  So, a lot of the credit for that really goes to when I was working with Joe.  He was teaching me by my doing rewrite work on scripts that were in other kinds of editorial work and just learning the ropes that way.  You rip apart something that has problems; learn what’s right or wrong with it and take it from there.  “Oh, I could do this, I think,” or sometimes, “I could do it better than this.”

Stroud:  And obviously you made that transition to editor.  Was that a natural ascension?

PL:  You know, when you’re that young you don’t have a really great sense of how outrageously lucky you are, I think.  Its kind of like, “Oh, you want me to do that?  Okay.”  That’s why they send 18-year olds out to war.  They believe they’re invulnerable.  You probably haven’t realized yet that it’s great that you woke up in the morning breathing. 

Stroud:  It appears over the last several years that the business has become more about licensing than anything else and it is, of course, first and foremost a business and obviously you do the sorts of things that generate revenue most efficiently.  Is the publishing aspect getting short shrift or is it one of those normal cyclical things?

PL:  Well, if you look back over the history of the business there have very rarely been any moments when publishing was profitable collectively for people in the business as it has been for the last 5 or 6 years, so I think a lot of that is the fairly short-term point of view.  It’s rather reminiscent of the moment in Casablanca when he walks into the casino and says, “Gambling?!  You mean there’s gambling in here?”  Probably from 1940 onward, maybe without a break unless I’m forgetting some year in there, but I don’t think so, the net profits for the industry were more from licensing than they were from publishing. 

Legion of Super-Heroes (1980) #294, written by Paul Levitz.

So, it’s not either a new development or a surprising development if that’s going on.  It has happened most of the time.  There have been occasional moments when nobody was making any money in publishing and the only thing keeping the industry alive was licensing revenue.  When I came into the field in the early 1970’s that was a fair description of the circumstance.  By the mid-1970’s at least.  So, the fact that in the last handful of years publishing has been a reasonable profit center of its own is really delightful and impressive.  In terms of my career it was one of the things that was a goal for me to try to get the publishing side of the company I was working with to be a significant contributor.  It’s something I’m very proud of.  But it wasn’t ever going to be in danger of beating the licensing end on any regular basis.  I think licensing is a lovely business.  You stand there with a bucket and money comes into it because of something that has previously existed that you have connected to the public.  There are costs attached to that, both money that has to be paid to the original creators of the properties, legal costs, certainly, to a very significant degree, some marketing costs, but you’re not bringing a product to market and taking a risk with it the way you are publishing.  So you ought to get into that racket.

Stroud:  What with all the popularity of the movies it seems to be a major trend lately.

PL:  It’s a good one.  It helps pay the rent.

Stroud:  When you see a credit for plotting vs. actual scripting, what is the exact distinction?

PL:  There are a wide variety of possibilities.  I would occasionally give a plotting credit or a co-plotter credit to artists I was collaborating with who had offered a lot of ideas into the process.  Keith Giffen is a good example, I think.  I credited Keith as a co-plotter on a lot of the Legion work that we did together because Keith would pop up with an idea.  There might be a series of issues that he didn’t, but there would be other issues he’d add an idea to.  When you see it in a more rigorous fashion, such as when there are two separate writers and one is credited with plot while the other is credited with script, most often that will represent that the first writer has developed the idea for the story, possibly outlined it for an artist to draw and the second writer has come in and done the final dialogue.  But in every variation, there were periods on the mystery stories where you’d sell a one paragraph plot for fifteen bucks and it would be given to another writer to do completely from there.

Legion of Super-Heroes (1980) #294 interior splash, featuring co-plotter credit for Paul Levitz & Keith Giffen.

Stroud:  Have you done any writing outside the comic field?

PL:  Not a lot.  Little bits and pieces early on in my career.  Hopefully now I’ve got a little more time and freedom to do so. 

Stroud:  I noticed that you’ve been exclusive to DC but did contribute to Mike Friedrich’s Star*Reach for a while.  Was it a chance to do something a little different?

PL:  It was a different time.  It wasn’t perceived to be particularly competitive to the mainstream comics of the period.  What Mike was doing was in many ways the precursor to the independent comics as they exist today, but in a time when there were very, very few comic shops and the major publishers didn’t perceive this as a part of their business model even.  So there wasn’t a problem in doing that while you were working at a larger house.  Mike was an old buddy of many years and had a lot of fun doing it.  We played around with an original character and did things you couldn’t have possibly done at DC at the time. 

Stroud:  When you worked with some of the other editors, I noticed you listed as assisting Gerry Conway, Murray Boltinoff, Ross Andru…

PL:  Not Ross.  By the time he was an editor I was long since doing my own books.  I may have even moved out of the editorial department.  I did work on Murray’s reprint books for a bunch of years, the reprint material in the backs of his books and worked with Gerry pretty much the whole time he was a freelance editor for DC.  He was a good teacher and a good guy. 

Stroud:  What do you think is a good, concise description for what make a successful editor?

PL:  Someone who makes their creative people do their best work. 

Adventure Comics (1938) #443, cover story written by Paul Levitz & David Michelinie.

Stroud:  So, kind of an inspirer, perhaps?

PL:  Everybody’s done it differently.  I got in a long discussion once over a hamburger with Stan (Lee) about that late one night.  What a great editor did.  I had a good laugh with him convincing him he was one. 

Stroud:  What does the term “editorial consultant” mean?

PL:  Any time they’ve got a question they can pick up the phone and call me.  Whatever they want it to be. 

Stroud:  Do you think fandom is still a viable force after all these years?

PL:  Define fandom.

Stroud:  There are still a few fanzines out there, but they seem to be darned few. 

PL:  Well, there are 4 million websites.  What’s a website besides a digital fanzine?

Stroud:  You wrote the introduction to Darwyn Cooke’s excellent book “The New Frontier,” and you mentioned with regard to characters, “A wise man taught me that the reader can tell which are placed in the mosaic with sincerity and only those can endure.”  Would you care to reveal who that wise man was?

PL:  That’s one of Joe Orlando’s old lines.  Joe always said that the reader can smell sincerity.  They’ll forgive sincere bad work, but they won’t forgive insincere mediocrity. 

Stroud:  Lew Schwartz told me once that one of the reasons he loved drawing Bill Finger’s scripts was that he wrote very visually.  Do you feel you have that ability?

PL:  If I write very visually, I don’t know that I’d dare compare myself to Bill because he was really one of the guys who had a great gift for it.  I’m confident based on the reactions I’ve had from artists over the years that I write scripts that artists find comfortable to draw. My learning to write comics from an artist had something to do with the fact that I communicate well with them and give them tools to work with.  There are wonderfully talented writers in this business whose material is just a bitch for an artist to draw because their communication process with the artist is not necessarily as good as their internal creative process.  And thankfully I’ve never had that as a problem. 

Stroud:  Do you provide much in the way of reference or is that a good tool?

PL:  It depends on the situation.  These days it’s a lot easier than it was years ago because you have the internet to pull stuff from.  Now all you’re doing is giving them a URL.

Stroud:  You’re one of the most renowned of the Legion writers and are back on the gig again.  Based on some of the postings I’ve seen you make you’re having an absolute ball at it.  Any comments?

PL:  It’s fun to be back in the game and to have people enjoying what I do. 

Stroud:  Is it difficult to write for a group that large?  How does it compare to writing for say an Aquaman title?

PL:  It’s different.  There are different sets of skills you have to exercise in order to keep track of everything.  But on the other hand, you have in many ways much more potential available to you because you can screw around with so many more character’s lives.  I probably have to do a little more work on the “where is everybody this issue” keeping track process than I would have to do writing Aquaman, but on the other hand with Aquaman, as with any other single superhero character, a big piece of the challenge is just finding something new that you can do to them within the strictures of keeping the characters alive and happy and available for product licensing and whatever other means of exploitation are necessary.  All tradeoffs. 

Stroud:  Deadlines, friend or foe?

PL:  Not a problem.  Just not a big deal.

DC Special Series (1977) #10, cover story written by Paul Levitz.

Immortal Doctor Fate (1985) #1, main story written by Paul Levitz.

Doctor Fate (2015) #1, written by Paul Levitz.


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.

An Interview With Tom Palmer - 50 Years of Inking Heroes & Horror

Written by Bryan Stroud

Tom Palmer on the Dare2Draw podcast, 2016.

Tom Palmer Sr. (born July 13, 1942) is an American comic book artist best known as an inker for Marvel Comics. Although he has done a small amount of penciling work (as well as some cover art and some coloring), the vast majority of Tom's artistic output since the 1960s has been as a comic book inker. Particularly noteworthy in Palmer's extensive work for Marvel Comics are well-remembered runs paired with pencilers like Neal Adams on The Avengers and Uncanny X-Men; Gene Colan, on  Doctor Strange, Daredevil, and Tomb of Dracula; and John Buscema, on The Avengers. He also inked the entire run of John Byrne's X-Men: The Hidden Years. Palmer's brushy, detailed, and illustrative inking style hearkens back to vintage newspaper comic strips, and has influenced later generations of inkers for years.

When you learn that an inker is held in high regard by no less than Mike Esposito and, Gena Colan and that Neal Adams lists him as his favorite (after himself) on his work at Marvel, it tends to pique your interest.  I'm glad I sought out and got to speak with the great Tom Palmer, whose career is still going strong.

This interview originally took place over the phone on November 8, 2009.

Avengers (1963) #384, cover by Tom Palmer.

Bryan Stroud: How's your day?

Tom Palmer: Busy, but it's always fun.

Stroud: In the life of a freelancer, busy is always good.

Palmer: True. I've been freelancing for quite a while, since I was a teenager, and keeping busy is always satisfying.

Stroud: I think I understand. Tom Orzechowski was telling me that he was happiest when he had a full load and maybe just a bit more than he could handle.

Palmer: Yeah. If I have a project and it's nearing completion and there's nothing waiting I tend to slow down. It's a mental thing and I try to overcome that, if I have deadlines and there's something behind it waiting, I speed up.

Stroud: It's interesting how that works. I think it was Len Wein who told me that deadlines are crucial to his work or he'd just never get a script done.

Palmer: It's true. I had a couple of commissions to paint, and I love to paint, there are no deadlines on commissioned work when it's a side venture, and I tend to work on the projects with deadlines when they come in. I will take on projects without deadlines but it's tough finding those moments to work on them and moments to finish them. Guess it's the nature of the beast.

Stroud: I'm not artistic at all, but I'm reminded of years gone by when I'd have to do year end overtime for my job and after a while, I found I could easily squeeze 8 hours of work into a 10-hour day.

Palmer: I've never had an office job but I did work in a hectic advertising art studio early on and found a similar experience. We would stay as late as we had to for finishing up a deadline project and it was amazing how much work we got done in one long day. I got an hourly rate but the studio made some nice money when a job went out the door that fast.

War is Hell (1973) #12, cover penciled by Gil Kane & inked by Tom Palmer.

I was out of high school and decided I wanted to become an artist. I wound up in art school and working in an art studio as a “gopher”, go for lunch, go to pick up work, etc. That first studio job didn't last long and I found a freelance position in an advertising art studio at 40th and Madison Avenue in New York City. I've been freelancing ever since.

I had a job or two in high school but not art related, I've gone to enough advertising agencies to pick up work to see how people react to a 9 to 5 job and I never was drawn to that kind of life. Freelancing, weekends and holidays mean little to you. On the big holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas you do celebrate them, but if I have work to get done, I'll find time later in the day to do it.

Stroud:  You do what must be done.

Palmer: Yeah. I've met artistic people deep into a career outside the art field with responsibilities like family, and mortgages, who dreamed of becoming an artist but leaving that secure job and flying that freelance trapeze without a net can be scary. Guess I was lucky, I started young and foolish, without fear and responsibilities.

Looking back, if I had a salaried position somewhere with all the perks like medical coverage, paid vacations and sick days, and a pension, it would be difficult to leave all that for a freelance career in a competitive field that you may not be successful in. I wonder if the passion I seem to have to be an artist would have been strong enough to take that leap if I was faced with that decision. My guess is that we're destined to be what we will be, artists or firemen, and if we're lucky making some of life's early choices events just fall into place. I never look back wishing I made different choices, I've had a wonderful life doing what I love to do and you can't beat that in the end.

Stroud: Spoken like a true artist.

Palmer: You have to enjoy what you're doing and I did from early on. It's good that I went to art school, though. Art school doesn't make you an artist, it does open up another world to your eyes and allows you to begin developing skills to become an artist.

Young Justice (1998) #42, cover penciled by Todd Nauck & inked by Tom Palmer.

Joe Jusko put me onto a blog site that has a “Daily Inspiration” filing on illustrators from the 1950's and 60's and examples of their work. Many are gone now from the pages of magazines where they did editorial and advertising illustrations due to changing times, but their craft endures and some of them, like Howard Terpning, have gone on to even greater success in the fine art field. Once bitten, you can't just stop doing art work, no matter what form, it provides a lifetime quest of improving your craft that is never ending. If you love your work and work hard at it and don't get too complacent, you can survive in an ever-changing field.

Stroud: Unquestionably, and I can't help but wonder at the fact that just shortly after announcing he wasn't going to be doing any more commission work George Tuska passed away. 93 years and still going nearly to the end.

Palmer: Wow, funny you should mention that. This is going off the beaten path a bit, comic art is something I always loved to do along with painted illustrations that I've done for editorial and advertising clients. I enjoy and collect the work of many past illustrators like Tom Lovell.

Tom Lovell started his career in the 1930's doing art work for the pulp magazines, interior black and whites first and then painted covers. He was doing art for the slick magazines by the 1940's, leaving for a few years to serve as a Marine in WWII. He returned and continued to paint illustrations for the magazines, rising to be one of the top talents in the field. Tremendous artist, fantastic painter.  When the market for magazine illustrations started to dry up in the early 60's he went out to the southwest to paint for the fine art western market. I followed his work still, picking up catalogs of his work along with a huge hardcover of his illustrations published by the Greenwich Workshop in 1993.

Tom Lovell built a whole new career and following, he was now in his 90's living in Arizona and continued to paint, having exhibitions of his work. He had his daughter drive him to Texas for a gallery showing of his new paintings, I even got an early catalog, when they had a head on collision on route and both were killed. It took a horrible accident to snuff out Tom Lovell's creativity at age 94.  He had a great life and absolutely loved what he was doing.

Marvel Preview (1975) #16, cover penciled by Gene Colan & inked by Tom Palmer.

Stroud: The fruits show that. It was the same with Creig Flessel who was at it right up to the end and I believe he was 96.

Palmer: That is a full life. Many people reach that age to retire and their working life is usually over. What do you do? Golf? I played golf twice in my life and I was bored. Guess I have nothing to retire to!

Stroud: Oh, exactly. I read a comment by Arnold Drake where he said, “Work is life.”

Palmer: I'm reminded of the old saying if you do something you love you'll never work a day in your life. It's simple but true. And it doesn't mean you have to be an artist, do anything that requires passion to pursue.

Stroud: Whatever your passion may be.

Palmer: Exactly. I think that's the true elixir of life, is having a reason to live.  I've put in a lot of long days and nights in my studio keeping things going and helping to raise a family. Not just in comic books but doing advertising and editorial illustrations. The comic book industry changed in the 90's and allowed you to make a better living. I always continued to work in comics because they were a great source of enjoyment and satisfaction, I found them to be an oasis when the stressful demands of advertising work got to you.

I grew up with comic books, learned to read with them, even did some of my own when I was a kid, but I wanted to be an illustrator and paint covers for the Saturday Evening Post like Norman Rockwell. I did find a terrific art school with one teacher, Frank Reilly, where I took evening classes as I freelanced in a studio during the day. The studio's resident illustrator was Jack Kamen who was one of the artists working for EC Comics years earlier along with Wally Wood, Al Williamson, and Jack Davis. They all worked on those comic books that got the industry in trouble with the Senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency in the 1950's.

Doctor Strange (1968) #171, cover by Dan Adkins. Tom Palmer penciled the interior.

Stroud: The Kefauver hearings.

Palmer: Yes. This was now in the 60's and Jack Kamen had been out of comic books for at least a dozen years and was making his way in the studio doing all sorts of artwork from line spots to full color advertising illustrations. A very versatile and good artist. Believe he took art classes with Harvey Dunn back in the late 30's. I walked into the studio as a very idealistic young man and we immediately bonded.  I sat a few feet away from Jack with my drawing board and I was getting an education equal or even exceeding the one I was getting in art school.

I was trying to make more money but Jack was reluctant to help me if it meant my getting into comics. He said that if I start doing comic books I'll stop going to art school and he didn't want me to do that. Frank Reilly died unexpectedly from a brain tumor and the school disbanded leaving Jack with no other choice than give me a little boost into comics to help my income.  He called up Wally Wood and I went to see Woody with my portfolio.  I spent some time in his studio helping out and he gave my name to someone else, Mike Esposito, who was working with Ross Andru at the time. I did some background work for Mike and he mentioned my name to Sol Brodsky at Marvel and I went up there for an interview.

My first assignment was penciling a 22-page Doctor Strange book and I was clearly out of my league. I had never penciled a comic book before and to top it off, Stan Lee acted out the plot in his office while I stood dumbfounded. Luckily, his assistant, Flo Steinberg, took notes while Stan performed the plot which she slipped to me after as I left the offices. Flo still works for Marvel by the way.  Stan did that kind of story plotting for Jack Kirby and John Buscema but I didn't know what he was doing or saying being awestruck by it all.

I went back home and penciled the 22 pages. Looking back, it was what it was at that point, but certainly not up to speed with anything that was being done at the time.  Roy Thomas then wrote the story and dialogue over my pencils, I doubt little of what Stan performed made it into my penciled version. It was lettered and given to Dan Adkins to ink and he really saved my butt with his professional inks.

Doctor Strange (1968) #171 pg12-13, penciled by Tom Palmer & inked by Dan Adkins.

I went back to Marvel the next month for another issue of Doctor Strange and was told they had another artist to pencil it but would I like to ink it? I said, “Sure.” They handed me 22 pages of incredible pencils by Gene Colan. This was Gene's first issue of Doctor Strange, #172, and my first inking assignment for Marvel. Gene's pencils were absolutely beautiful rendered in gray tones and little if any line work. I used whatever I knew at the time to ink the pages and Marvel seemed to like it because I was asked to continue inking the following issues.

You worked three months in advance then, and when issue #172 came out I didn't like the coloring and asked Marvel if I could color the next one. They gave you reduced photostats of the pages and you used Dr. Martin's Dyes to color them approximating what colors were on the guide sheet. Not too many colors to work from but you could create a mood and do a reasonable job. I was told that colorists could do a book in a day but I wound up spending three days on the coloring.

Nightstalkers (1992) #1, cover penciled by Ron Garney & inked by Tom Palmer.

Stroud: Oh, no.

Palmer: Well, I was doing little watercolor paintings, stuff that would never get into print with the process back then but it was a thrill finally seeing that issue in print.

Today, coloring is done on a computer and digital scans are generated that really have become an important part of the final printed version.

Stroud: They are much more sophisticated.

Palmer: Well, the big reason is that they are magazines now. Also, the venues for illustrators have shrunk so very talented people have migrated into the comics and the quality has become very high.

Stroud: It's true. I was going to ask your opinion, too, Tom about digitally produced comic books. Over the course of your career you've seen a lot of changes in how they're produced, so how does a digital product stand up in your opinion?

Palmer: I've had a computer for over ten years and use it in all my work in one way or the other. It's only a tool but a very valuable one. Without it you really can't compete in the business. You're able to do so much more with the artwork now and use different mediums to render with, things you couldn't do before when the art was just line. The coloring has become limitless also, far beyond what was possible just ten years ago.

Stroud: It's the way the world has gone.

Palmer: Right. The printing end dictates what you have to supply to get on their presses and they've been digital for close to 20 years or more. Not everyone has embraced the computer but you can still function well without it, I just enjoy having some control over what I do when it gets to the printed page.

Stroud: I think I understand. I have friends who haven't fully embraced the technology and I don't know whether it's due to discomfort or what.

Superman Monster (1999) #1, cover penciled by Anthony Williams & inked by Tom Palmer.

Palmer: I think it's the fear of the unknown. You look back about 10 years or so, comic book sales had dropped after that speculation boom, Marvel had declared bankruptcy and I went up to DC Comics for a few years.  Someone there mentioned that the business had been reviving itself every decade since it's beginning just before WWII, when sales were probably the greatest they have ever been. Sales waned in the 50's after their content attracted criticism and then outright banning of some titles. The industry established a comic code to survive but that only reduced the comic books to pablum. Stan Lee, along with Jack Kirby, revived the industry with their brand of superheroes in the 60's which is still going strong today with some bumps along the way. Who would have thought that the movies, and more importantly, the CGI advancement, would raise comic books and superheroes to a whole new level today. I suppose this is the new revival.

Stroud: Right. And after all, this uniquely American creation of the comic book is still relatively young with DC coming up on it's 75th anniversary. It will be interesting to see how far this run goes.

Palmer: Well, it has to evolve and we'll have to see how it evolves before we can predict the future. I think a big key for the publishers will be in letting creative people be creative. If writers and artists find creative freedom in comic books they will instinctively be drawn to them.

Stroud: That's logical. You've got to find new ways to breathe new life into scenarios or characters to keep it from going stale.

Palmer: True. Comic books don't have to follow what's in the movies. Iron Man was not a high-profile Marvel character but it shows how a well made creative and entertaining movie can instill new life into an old Marvel superhero.

Stroud: Sure. Ghost Rider wasn't exactly a household name before the movie came out.

Palmer: I really enjoyed that movie. A lot of critics didn't like it but it had a certain charm that made it work. It may have been Nick Cage in the lead role. I enjoy Nicolas Cage in just about every movie he does, same with Robert Downey, Jr., they have a presence on the screen that draws you in.

Marvel Preview (1975) #22 pg49, penciled by John Buscema & inked by Tom Palmer.

Silver Surfer (1982) #1, cover penciled by John Byrne & inked by Tom Palmer.

Punisher (2004) #2 pg8, penciled by Lewis LaRosa & inked by Tom Palmer.

Stroud: Which is what you need.

Palmer: Exactly. Robert Downey, Jr. was just perfect as Iron Man, he pretty much played himself but captured the Tony Stark character perfectly.  I understand that he does his best work when he has the freedom to have input into the character's development and the director, Jon Favreau, did just that. That really made a difference in the movie's huge success.

This goes back to what I was saying earlier, don't confine creators, give them the freedom to soar to new heights.

Chamber of Chills (1972) #1, cover penciled by Gil Kane & inked by Tom Palmer.

Stroud: Your point of being stifled reminds me of a comment Bernie Wrightson made when I asked if he did commissions and he said, “Not really. It's not that I don't like doing them, but I don't like being art directed.”

Palmer: I do commissions but have fun doing them. I treat them like the commercial assignments I did for years and expect the same mutual respect between client and artist. I provide sketches for approval, and with a painted commission, color sketches, so the client can see what they're getting and it also helps me with the finish. I've had changes in the sketches but don't really mind them, better than in the finish, which I won't do unless the client pays for it.

I think Bernie is speaking of people who want some crazy composition with Frankenstein fighting Captain America or something, and that I would also avoid. You have to enjoy doing a commission to do your best work and not have arbitrary changes or direction.

Stroud: Right. Second and third guessing.

Palmer: Accepting a commission doesn't mean you're being paid to do what the client dreamed up one night and is almost impossible to duplicate on board or canvas. Let the artist have some input and suggest a composition that will make them both happy. Again, you get the best work from the artist if he's enjoying the work.

I've heard the comment, “I don't know what I want but I'll know when I see it.” I've learned to close up shop and leave when I hear that, the only way you can keep your sanity.

I was invited to attend a party Roy Thomas was having right after I started at Marvel. The apartment was packed with well known comic book artists and writers but I was unaware who they were because that world was so new to me.  I met both Bernie Wrightson and Neal Adams that night and enjoyed pleasant conversations with both of them. That relaxed friendship endures to this day. Haven't seen Bernie for a few years but Neal and I keep meeting in assorted places it seems and it's always good fun.  They're both good guys as well as most of the people I've met in the business.

Detective Comics (1937) #711, cover penciled by Graham Nolan & inked by Tom Palmer.

Stroud: To quote Shelly Moldoff, comic book people are usually good people.

Palmer: I agree. I suppose we're all kindred spirits in some way and that that helps to bond.

Stroud: At the risk of embarrassing you I thought I'd share the comments a couple of other professionals have made about your work. Mike Esposito said this:

Some inkers were so frustrated; they felt they had to make it look like their stuff. Well, I was trained by Ross to make it look like his stuff. You get a guy like Tom Palmer, who is very good. Tom Palmer I always thought was a genius. I got him his first job up at Marvel. He was just a background man. When I saw his stuff when he was working for me a couple of times, I said, “You're too good for this.” I called up Sol Brodsky up at Marvel Comics and I said, “I've got a guy that shouldn't be doing backgrounds. He should be doing features.” So, I sent him to him and he got the job and he did some great stuff in the black and white magazines. The vampire stuff, you know? And he did a great job inking. The only guy I thought could ink Gene Colan the right way was Tom Palmer. Gene Colan used to pencil like a photograph. He'd use an outline of it. But he knew how to take that photographic look and make it unbelievably crisp. Whereas Frank Giacoia and I would ink him and we'd do it as an outline, because he didn't work in lines. So, you'd destroy his soft pencil sketches by putting a hard outline. And the only guy that really knew how to do him was Tom Palmer. You look up the stuff and you'll see how beautiful those black and white vampire books and Dracula books turned out.

Palmer: You know, that's very nice of Mike, he was one of those great people who really impacted my life and career and he just did it out of the kindness of his heart. Another great guy.

Stroud: Gene said the very same thing. He said a lot of inkers had trouble with his work, not being able to see what was in there and he told me that you were his favorite inker and then said this:

Tomb of Dracula (1972) #70, cover penciled by Gene Colan & inked by Tom Palmer.

Stroud: You mentioned your preference for penciling. Did you have a favorite inker on your work?

Gene Colan: Tom Palmer. Eventually I got to meet him and he did all the Dracula work. The Dracula series ran the longest for me. It must have been a good ten years of a once a month book. Can you imagine all that work?

Stroud: That's a lot of pages.

Colan: Yes, it is. I believe it was a monthly and Tom wasn't there at first. I inked one or two and there were a couple of other inkers, but when he came in the whole face of it changed for the better. Tom is a first-class illustrator and painter so he knows a lot about a lot of stuff and he came along and made the work look great. You know a great penciler can put his work in the hands of just a fair inker and the work will come out fair, but if you're not the best penciler and you put your work in the hands of a great inker it can look much better than you can usually do. It will wind up looking even better than what you did.

Palmer: Wow. That's very nice of Gene, he is always the kind gentleman and his flattering words are very heart warming. I always enjoyed working with Gene, he loved what I did and was a constant support. No one in the field penciled like Gene did, he loved the cinema and film noir and brought all that to his work. Comic books were printed in line and his penciling was way beyond that, as Mike Esposito said, “Like a photograph.” Gene's pencils on that first Doctor Strange were my test to get work from Marvel and I worked hard trying to capture the look of the pencils. It took some time, probably when I was working on Dracula with him, to finally realize that you had to work into the shadows and bring out the nuances and drawing that Gene did. Back then your options were limited but with a little dry brush, zip-a-tone, and some cross-hatching you had a variety of gray tones to work with.

Doctor Strange (1974) #13, cover penciled by Gene Colan & inked by Tom Palmer.

I worked with Neal Adams right after I started with Gene and that was a whole different experience. I was impressed with Neal's pencils, they had an illustrative look to them and he used a pencil with a chisel side so he had broad strokes and a thin line in one tool. Something you learn in art school and find hard to retain. His pencil lines went thick and thin around a form and showed how mature an artist he was. Working with Neal opened up a new chapter in my learning process.

That lead into working with John Buscema, one of the finest artists I've met. I didn't recognize how talented he was until he started doing breakdowns for me to work over. This was on the Avengers. He used a minimal amount of lines but everything you needed was there, all you had to do was build on them and then add light and shade. One of the most rewarding collaborations I have ever had. John spent years in an illustration studio and his talent ran deep, deeper than what the comic book pages he did showed.

Getting to know the man was the most rewarding. He was your dad, big brother and best friend all rolled up into one. Loyal, generous, and another great guy. Still miss him.

Stroud: I read somewhere that your work has the mark of maybe being influenced by the old dailies by Foster and Caniff and so forth. Any truth to that?

Palmer: I did know of Hal Foster and Prince Valiant when I was young and studied his work closely. Never saw Milton Caniff's work though, he wasn't in the newspapers my family bought. Never knew who Alex Raymond was until I met Wally Wood who had this big book of his Flash Gordon Sundays in black and white. I was struck by Raymond's work at the time since it was all new to me. Both he and Foster have influenced just about everybody in comic books and probably beyond.

I always felt that the first 18 years of my life were some sort of prelude to the new world that opened to me when I simultaneously entered art school and the art field. I grew up in New York but I was the one who hung out with the guys and liked to draw.

Any of my influences after came at me in a torrent of images from every medium, illustration, comic books, and even fine artists like John Singer Sargent. It was overwhelming at times trying to sort it all out. It may have helped me see all of art expression as one and not try to categorize one from the other. An artist can paint an advertising illustration and a piece of fine art. An artist who can do both can also work in comic books; it's just another artistic expression.

Where Monsters Dwell (1970) #4, cover penciled by Marie Severin & inked by Tom Palmer.

Fallen Angels (1987) #1, cover penciled by Kerry Gammill & inked by Tom Palmer.

X-Men (1963) #65, cover penciled by Neal Adams & inked by Tom Palmer.

Thor (1966) #274, cover penciled by John Buscema & inked by Tom Palmer.

Tomb of Dracula (1972) #50, cover penciled by Gene Colan & inked by Tom Palmer.

Avengers (1963) #273, cover penciled by John Buscema & inked by Tom Palmer.

Daredevil (1964) #93, cover penciled by Gil Kane & inked by Tom Palmer.

Avengers (1963) #293, cover penciled by Neal Adams & inked by Tom Palmer.

Star Wars (1977) #1, cover penciled by Howard Chaykin & inked by Tom Palmer.


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.

An Interview With John Workman - The Letterer Behind Morrison's Doom Patrol & Simonson's Thor

Written by Bryan Stroud


John Workman

John Workman

John Workman (born June 20, 1950) is an editor, writer, artist, designer, colorist and letterer in the comic book industry. He is known for his frequent partnerships with writer/artist Walter Simonson and also for lettering the entire run of Grant Morrison & Rachel Pollack's Doom Patrol for DC Comics. Workman did his first comic work in the late '60s as an adman - often drawing his ads in comic form. After receiving encouragement from the legendary Basil Wolverton, John tried his hand at comics and by 1974 he had written, penciled, inked, and lettered various stories for Mike Friedrich's Star*Reach. His work for Star*Reach caught the eye of DC editors, and it was not long before he had steady jobs flowing in from First Comics, Marvel, Topps, and Image. Workman was also the art director for Heavy Metal magazine from 1977 to 1984.

Well, by now you know I've got a soft spot for letterers and I got to enjoy a nice, long conversations with one of the premiere guys, the wonderful John Workman.  Not only does he have a long and impressive resume, but he continues to do stellar work and as recently as the new 80-year tribute to Superman in the flagship Action Comics, John has some of his wares on display.  He's also a tremendously nice guy, very approachable and friendly and he's helped me out on a couple of BACK ISSUE articles.  I just love the guy!

This interview originally took place over the phone on May 5, 2010.

A profile on John Workman written during his time at Heavy Metal magazine.

Bryan Stroud: It looks like you’ve done a little bit of everything. I’ve found listings for you as an editor, writer, artist, designer, colorist and of course letterer. You’ve probably done more lettering than anything else. Is that how you’d label yourself primarily?

John Workman: No, not at all. I settled into lettering because it was easy to do. I almost feel ashamed that I haven’t done more writing and artwork. When I was still out in Washington State years ago and had been doing comics material for several years, I got some good advice from Basil Wolverton. This was when I was going to school in Vancouver at Clark College. He told me to learn to do everything. My worst stuff at the time was my lettering. It just really stunk, and I took calligraphy courses and that didn’t really help an awful lot, so finally I just sort of started stealing. I would look at what Ben Oda and John Costanza and Gaspar Saladino and other guys had done and try to emulate them. I remember taking a 1946 issue of Comic Calvacade and going through it and just copying the letterforms. There’s one thing that I’ve always loved to do that I felt helped the look of the page and the individual panels and that was breaking the border of the panel with the word balloon. There’s no actual border there. The border line comes along and then it sort of becomes the word balloon. I stole that from Al Williamson and Carmine Infantino and different people who were doing that sort of stuff.

Stroud: That is a unique touch, and speaking of Carmine, that reminds me of his little “helping hands” gimmick that he used to do on some of his caption boxes. I think he told me he actually did that portion, because I was uncertain where the artist left off and the letterer took over.

Workman: I remember him doing that. It was always sort of a visual extra that helped move the narration along. Carmine was great. He had a wonderful sense of design. I used to like when he inked his own pencils. I liked Murphy Anderson inking him too, but Carmine when he did his own stuff on the Elongated Man or some of the science fiction things that he did or Detective Chimp ... it was just wonderful.

Stroud: It sounded to me like he enjoyed doing that, but Julie, for whatever reason, didn’t typically allow it. Probably for purposes of increased production.

DC Super-Stars (1976) #5, cover by Dick Giordano, lettered by John Workman.

Workman: It surprised me back in’64 when the early Elongated Man stories in Detective featured him penciling and inking those. I was real happy with it. There was a story that Julie commented on, called “Yes, Virginia, there is a Martian.” It was in Strange Adventures. Carmine did both pencils and inks on it. I seem to remember a later letter column wherein Julie said something about how he had allowed Carmine to do the whole art job. I loved the combination of Carmine and Murphy and I liked Joe Giella and even Sid Greene on Carmine, but Murphy I thought was the best inker for Carmine.

Stroud: I fully agree. You can’t beat those old Adam Strange stories, for example, although interestingly enough when I asked Carmine who his preferred inker was he said Frank Giacoia.

Workman: Yeah, I’ve got several old things from the 50’s that Giacoia had inked over Carmine and there was a Western comic I have that Carmine and Joe Kubert collaborated on and, of course, Joe Kubert also inked the first Showcase Flash stuff that Carmine did.

Stroud: He sure did.

Workman: I wanted to specialize in inking at one time and, I’ve inked various people. One of my favorite inkers for John Buscema was Alfredo Alcala. He did this beautiful stuff on some of the early issues of Savage Sword of Conan and he added so much to the look of it. It was as if Joseph Clement Cole had returned to life and suddenly started drawing comics. But he didn’t take away from the dynamism of Buscema’s artwork. It was just gorgeous, and I found out later on that Buscema hated it. He thought it was way too busy, and he preferred the inks that Ernie Chan did a little later on.

Stroud: Isn’t that funny? He didn’t come right out and say so, but Carmine left the impression with me that Murphy was not his favorite inker.

Workman: It’s amazing. Sometimes the artist is terrible as far as commenting on his own stuff and how things progress in comics from the penciling to the inking. One thing I’ve noticed about my own stuff is I’m rarely happy, whether it’s lettering or artwork or anything that I’ve done. Then time will pass and I’ll look at this stuff and it’s almost as if someone else had done it. I can look at it more objectively and think, “Well, that’s pretty good,” or “Boy, that stinks. 

The Flash (1959) #241, cover by Ernie Chan, lettered by John Workman.

Stroud: (Chuckle.) We do tend to be our own worst critic and to a very, very minor extent I think I know what you’re talking about. I obviously try to dabble as an amateur writer and I’ve looked at some of my older stuff sometimes and thought, “Gosh, did I write that? That ain’t half bad.” (Laughter.) As I look back a little bit it looks as if you got started in advertising work, is that right?

Workman: Yes, when I was still living out in Aberdeen, Washington. I lived there from 1958 until 1975 when Bob Smith and I came back here to New York. I guess I was 17 when I first did some outside-of-the-area fanzine work. There was a fanzine out of California called “Voice of Comicdom” and a lot of interesting people were popping up in it. Bill DuBay, Rudy Franke, and … I think, Marv Wolfman and Len Wein, and all kinds of other guys, and they would do interviews with Al Williamson and other big-time pros, and it was amazing for me to be doing these things with those guys when I was 17. I look back on it now and the stuff I did was pretty lousy, but they were nice enough to print it anyway. On a local level, I also started doing advertising work. I went around to various printers in the area and the first thing they told me was, “Well, we’ve got these clip art books that we use.” I would say, “Well, yeah, but in those books is there a drawing of this local restaurant here or the guy who runs the restaurant or anything like that?” I always tried to personalize it, and so I did okay. I wasn’t making a fortune, but I was making something of a living doing artwork on a local level and learning all the time. But I kept trying to get into regular comics. In 1965 I remember my Dad helping me and giving advice and even wrapping up the package when I sent a two-page Blue Beetle story to Charlton Comics. Then I began to collect a series of rejection slips from the various companies, but I got good comments from people such as Richard Hughes at ACG who was very nice. And when Carmine became editorial director at DC, I sent him a 28-page story about a group of characters that I’d created called “The Futurians.” I actually sent the original artwork to him. (Chuckle.) It was terrible, wretched stuff, of course, but he sent it back to me and said to keep at it. Over the years Joe Kubert and various other people were very encouraging. Paul Levitz was very kind to me. Their comments kept me going.

Stroud: I think that’s one of the things lacking on the modern scene. It seems like there were opportunities in the 60’s that are just long since gone like the weekly tours of the DC offices and the lettercol people writing in and getting a foothold in the industry just by virtue of getting acquainted with the editors.

Secret Wars II (UK, 1986) #44, cover by John Byrne & Al Gordon, lettered by John Workman.

Workman: I almost hesitate to compare the time periods because there are good and bad in every time period, but here’s a story that sort of illustrates what you said. When I was working at Heavy Metal I would sometimes pop into the DC offices just to say hello or sometimes just to use the bathroom. I’d be walking up 5th Avenue and realize, “Oh, geez, I’ve got to go.” There was DC, so I’d go over there to use their bathroom. You can’t even get into DC now. You have to call up and arrange a meeting and somebody has to come down to the lobby to escort you up to the offices. It’s so very different than it used to be.

Stroud: I seem to be getting to that stage in life when I wax nostalgic for the good old days and maybe they were or weren’t, but when I’ve talked to people like Len Wein or Mike Friedrich for example and heard about their starts it just doesn’t seem like that can ever happen again.

Workman: Yeah, it’s sad. The way Bob Smith and I got started in our jobs at DC was kind of a comedy of errors that could never be repeated. We talked to Neal Adams and Dick Giordano when they were running Continuity Associates and our champion was Mike Friedrich. I can’t say enough good stuff about Mike. In many ways we owe our careers to Mike. He liked what I was doing and published stuff by me and by Bob Smith in Star*Reach and he put us in contact with Dick, and Dick said, “Well, why don’t you guys come back here. We’ve got work for you.” So, in the summer of ’75 we drove across the country to New York. I remember that Monday after we got in to town, we met Mike and Neal and Dick and Larry Hama and the whole crew there at Continuity. We went to lunch with them, and then Larry took us to Marvel where we met Archie Goodwin and Marie Severin, two of the most wonderful people ever. At first, they didn’t really have any work for us, but we hung around and talked to them for awhile and we managed to get some work from Marvel. Then Larry took us on down to DC and we talked to Sol Harrison and Joe Orlando and neither of them really had anything to offer us, but I made an appointment to come back and see Gerry Conway who was editing Plastic Man at the time. I’d started writing a Plastic Man story, and Bob had started drawing the story, and we thought we’d show it to him and see what might happen. So we came back on the day of the appointment and the receptionist told us that Gerry was in with a writer and asked if we could wait awhile, and we said, “Okay.”

Thor (1966) #357, cover by Walt Simonson, lettered by John Workman.

We were sitting there, and Bob Rozakis came around, and he and Jack Harris had also seen our stuff the week before when we’d come in, and they liked our work and thought we might have possibilities. Bob said, “Oh, you guys are back again. Who are you here to see?” I have a tendency to mumble sometimes, so I said, “Uh, Conway.” Bob said, “Oh, he’s not doing anything. Come on.” So, we followed him down the hallway right past Gerry Conway, who was in with a writer as the receptionist had said, and I wondered what was going on and I looked down to where Bob was leading us. There was an office door that read, “Carmine Infantino, Publisher.” Then it dawned on me … when I said, “Conway,” Bob thought I’d said, “Carmine.” And I stopped in the middle of the hall and Bob said, “Aw, he’s not doing anything, come on in.”

So, we went on in and were introduced to Carmine and we sat down and started showing him our stuff. Carmine had been one of my heroes since I saw the first Adam Strange stuff by him. I just felt that he was THE artist for me in many ways, and here I was sitting across from one of my heroes and he was looking over our artwork. At first, I thought he was just going to dismiss us and send us on our way, but he started looking closer at our artwork, and he told us that we reminded him of he and Frank Giacoia when they used to go around in the 40’s from place to place trying to find work. I don’t know exactly what happened. Looking back on our stuff at the time I can’t imagine he’d been that impressed, but suddenly he started calling Sol Harrison and Jack Adler and Joe into look at our stuff, and he hired us on the spot. Bob as an inker and me for the production department. It was just incredible, but it couldn’t happen now.

Stroud: Not at all, and what a great story. Talk about being in a surreal position. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like.

Workman: It was strange. We knew, of course, that he was there, but we never expected to just go in and see Carmine.

Doom Patrol (1987) #26 pg8, lettered by John Workman.

Stroud: I had a slightly similar experience when I first worked up the nerve to call him on the phone. This is CARMINE INFANTINO and he’s answering the phone! (Laughter.) Still a wonderful gentleman, too, if you’ve not talked to him recently.

Workman: I talked to him last year in New York. I hadn’t talked to him in awhile before that and it’s always great talking to Carmine.

Stroud: The best. So, you got started in the production department and I presume someone must have been mentoring you along. Who did you work most closely with?

Workman: Jack Adler for the most part. Although the guy who had the most effect on the lettering I was doing was Sol Harrison. My regular lettering…I never thought it was all that great. I really learned a lot later on from Moebius when I was at Heavy Metal. Not really trying to emulate him, but trying to get a feel of the lettering that he was doing. But Sol showed me something about display lettering. He had gone to a school called Franklin K. Lane High School. I think both he and Jack had gone there, and he said one of the projects that they had to do … and this was back in the 30’s … was to do a logo of Franklin K. Lane and he showed me how if you do the thing mechanically the space between the “L” and the “A” is enormous as opposed to the space between the “A” and the “N” or the “N” and the “E,” and he told me, “Stop being so mechanical and mathematical about things. Just eyeball it. If it looks right, it is right.” And it was incredible. It really opened up a lot for me.

Stroud: It sounds like it would be quite an epiphany and sometimes the obvious is so easily missed. It kind of caught me off guard when you said Sol, because I don’t think of him in any sort of context with regard to lettering.

Workman: Well both Sol and Jack and everybody I met through the years who really…sometimes they may seem like “the men in the background,” but they had the ability to do all this other stuff. Sol had actually inked and so had Jack on DC stuff. Jack had worked over Murphy Anderson and Gil Kane on some covers. He’d done them in wash tones.

Detective Comics (1937) #475, cover by Marshall Rogers & Terry Austin, lettered by John Workman.

Stroud: Yeah, I think Jack actually developed that process.

Workman: It was something that originated when he and Sol were working on the coloring of Prince Valiant in the 40’s. They tried to get painterly effects by using all kinds of different things. Pencil effects, air brush, and so forth, but yeah, Jack did all that and Sol did, too. Sol was a decent water colorist and he did a lot of coloring. Jack, of course, was a masterful colorist. There were times up there at DC when if you were really under the gun and something had to be off to the printers by the end of the day…well, I remember one issue of Warlord where Vinnie Colletta and Joe Orlando and Bob Smith were inking away and Paul Levitz was filling in blacks and (chuckle) anyone who could lend a hand on it was getting stuff done. But the ones that I admired, as I said, were the people who had a working knowledge of everything. Again, going back to what Basil Wolverton had told me to do.

Stroud: That would give you a broad enough perspective to be able to function and do those critical things that fly under the radar. Did you work much with Julie Schwartz?

Workman: A little bit. I remember the first time I actually saw Julie. He was another one of my heroes, someone I really had a lot of respect for. He printed several letters of mine over a period of years. I remember one in Green Lantern and Batman and various other titles, and when he first saw me up at DC he made a little pun of my name … Workman… something similar to what he’d done in this one Green Lantern letter column. I really liked Julie. And I really admired him. Years later, at the memorial service for Jerry Siegel, I got up and sort of nervously gave a speech there where I gently castigated DC for moving away from where I thought Superman ought to be, and almost treating it in sort of a fanzine way rather than aiming it at a mass audience. When I got down off the podium, Julie walked up to me and shook my hand and said, “How did you ever find the guts to say that?” It surprised me. I never got to know Julie as well as I would have liked, but whenever I saw him, we always had a little talk. A funny thing happened one time. Nelson Bridwell, who was a wonderful person, was Julie’s assistant when Marshall Rogers and Steve Englehart and Terry Austin were doing Batman in Detective and Nelson came into the Production Department with one of the recent Detective pages, and he said, “You see this cape on Robin? He’s just been in a fight, and the cape is torn. The cape really should be torn off, so I want you to white it out and draw in Robin’s costume there.”

Mister E (1991) #1 pg9, lettered by John Workman.

And I thought, “Oh, man, that’s a beautiful panel. Why would we want to get rid of that cape? It’s so nicely done.” And Nelson and I weren’t really arguing, but we were sort of bantering back and forth when Julie came in and he said, “What are you guys up to?” And we explained what was going on. Julie looked at the panel and he said, ‘Nelson, that cape is hanging by a single thread. See it? It’s right there.” And Nelson said, “Oh. Okay.” So, I didn’t have to take the cape off. I left it as Marshall had drawn it. (chuckle) It was Julie’s way of solving a problem. 

Stroud: (Laughter.) Masterful. I imagine Nelson enjoyed much more being Julie’s assistant. Jim Shooter was telling me some horror stories about witnessing the abuse Nelson endured at the hands of Mort Weisinger.

Workman: I was kind of lucky. I met Weisinger only once, just to say “Hi.” He popped into the office one day and that was it. He was another guy that I actually admired, although I’ve heard so many terrible stories about him. But I liked what he did with Superman in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

Stroud: You can’t argue with his track record, just his methods, although I’ve heard people make mention that at that point in time to be an effective editor you had to rule with an iron fist and make those deadlines or they weren’t going to happen. But I wasn’t there.

Workman: It’s the same with me. I can only go by what people have told me. I was at a convention one time and I was talking to Kurt Schaffenberger and Murphy Anderson. Somehow, they got onto the subject of Mort Weisinger. Now, Kurt, was one of the nicest people I ever met, and he couldn’t stand Weisinger. But Murphy couldn’t bring himself to say anything bad against him. He felt that anybody who was as big a fan of science fiction as Weisinger was couldn’t be all bad. (Mutual laughter.)

Stroud: Did you work very closely with Joe Orlando?

Tiger Ingwe (1975) #1, lettered by John Workman.

Workman: Quite a bit. I worked closer with Joe than I did with anybody else at DC. I really liked Joe. He was a wonderful person. Joe worked all the time. He freelanced constantly, and when Bob and I first showed him our stuff, he appeared to be half asleep. He really was at the time he was looking at our artwork, but I got to know him pretty well. He and John Albano made some sort of a deal with a publisher from South Africa and they were, on the side, producing comics aimed primarily at a black audience there. One of them was sort of a Tarzan character called Tiger Ingwe, set in the 1700’s or 1800’s. The other one was a modern-day superhero character. Maybe three or four times a month, I would meet Joe up at his mother-in-law’s place, along with John after a full day of working on-staff at DC, and we would put together these books. John and Joe wrote the stories and there were at least a couple of them where I did the layouts, and then they were sent to the Philippines where a lot of the artists who were also working for DC would do the art. Then they would send the finished pages back and Joe and I would do the art corrections on them and any lettering corrections that had to be done before they were sent off to the publisher in South Africa.

I remember one time when John got a little bit miffed at me and Joe because we got to talking about the old EC days, and John was trying to re-write a line of dialogue and make it better than it was. But every time he would toss out a line of dialogue to us, we’d say, “Oh, no, no, no, that doesn’t really work.” Then we’d go back to talking about Bill Gaines and EC and all that. Finally, John got so miffed with us that he uttered this expletive-not-deleted line of dialogue and it just cracked all of us up, and Joe laughed and laughed, and we actually got worried about him because he was turning red and laughing and he had heart problems and we thought, “Great Scott, he’s going to have a heart attack right here!” He finally calmed down, but the whole thing really caught him off guard, John coming out with this totally unusable line of dialogue. But it was really funny. Joe also worked, on the side, for National Lampoon during its early years. Jack Adler did, too and a lot of other DC people were involved with Lampoon. With Joe, there was one thing that was kind of sad. I think he was making…this would have been in the late ‘60s or early ‘70’s … he was making something like $16,000.00 or $18,000.00 on staff at DC as an editor, and then he made more money, of course, as a freelancer. But the Lampoon guys liked what he was doing so much that they offered him a share in the company if he would stay there. But because he had that definite money coming in from DC, he turned them down. Five years later what would have been Joe’s share was worth a million dollars, and he’d turned them down on it.

Mother Panic Gotham A.D. (2018) #1 pg18, lettered by John Workman.