An Interview With Alex Ross - Martian Manhunter and Other Influences

Written by Bryan Stroud

Alex Ross, 2014.

TV Guide, Dec.8-14, 2001, cover by Alex Ross.

Nelson Alexander Ross (born January 22, 1970) is an American comic book writer and artist known primarily for his painted interiors, covers, and design work. He first came to prominence with the 1994 miniseries Marvels, on which he collaborated with writer Kurt Busiek for Marvel Comics. He has since done a variety of projects for both Marvel and DC, such as the 1996 miniseries Kingdom Come - which Ross co-wrote. Since then he has done covers and character designs for Busiek's series Astro City, and various projects for Dynamite Entertainment.

His feature film work includes concept and narrative art for Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, and DVD packaging art for the M. Night Shyamalan film Unbreakable. He has done covers for TV Guide, promotional artwork for the Academy Awards, posters and packaging design for video games, and his renditions of superheroes have been merchandised as action figures.

Ross' style has been said to exhibit "a Norman Rockwell-meets-George Pérez vibe", and has been praised for its realistic, human depictions of classic comic book characters. Because of the time it takes Alex to produce his art, he primarily serves as a plotter and/or cover artist. Comics Buyer's Guide Senior Editor Maggie Thompson, commenting on that publication's retirement of the Favorite Painter award from their CBG Fan Awards due to Ross' domination of that category, stated in 2010, "Alex Ross may simply be the field's Favorite Painter, period. That's despite the fact that many outstanding painters are at work in today's comic books."

In case I'd not mentioned it before, the catalyst for my renewed interest in comics several years ago was due to a gift from my life-long best friend.  He sent me a copy of Mark Waid and Alex Ross' Kingdom Come and the fire was reignited in a big way.  I'd never seen the like of Alex Ross' work and was absolutely mesmerized with the story.  It started me on this journey and there's been no looking back for over a decade now and I have often marveled at my good fortune.  Well, a few years ago I was given a fabulous opportunity to interview THE Alex Ross!  How could I possibly pass that up?  The problem, of course, was what on Earth to talk about that he hadn't discussed in detail many times over?  I thought and I thought and I came up with the fact that it was the 60th anniversary of the Martian Manhunter, a character Alex had portrayed masterfully in his oversized JLA book.  I had an absolute ball speaking with the master painter and got to tell him just what his work meant to me and...well, you'll get to read his response.  From the latter part of 2014, Mr. Alex Ross!

The Justice League of America by Alex Ross.

Bryan Stroud: Some factions believe that the debut of the Martian Manhunter was actually the first new hero of the Silver Age, while others maintain that it’s the Flash in Showcase #4. Then again, is the first character of the Silver Age a superhero or a science fiction figure?

Alex Ross: He would be both, realistically. He’s a character that distinctly belongs to the Silver Age, and he’s definitely a superhero, even if his costume looks like a leftover remnant of the S-F/pulp construct costume. But he…I know when you first read those original stories it doesn’t really read like a superhero story. It reads more like science fiction, but there’s definitely the superhero aesthetic.

JLA: Liberty and Justice (2003) 1 pg66, art by Alex Ross.

Stroud: Precisely, not to mention that he started out being a gumshoe, hence his placement into Detective Comics.

Ross: In a way I have a special connection to him because it was a unique thing in my own collaboration. I kept him largely out of Kingdom Come because initially the story needed to come down to this final showdown between Superman and Captain Marvel. Those two counterpoints. If you add in more power on the Superman side of the equation, in the form of the Martian Manhunter, in that final conflict, it’s not really going to work. So Mark Waid and I had sort of a disagreement about it initially and I had to sort of talk him into it - that he was being used by Batman and his team, but not in the sense of what you thought of for him.

He could still read minds and provide intel to Batman, but he wasn’t really up to being the superhero he’d been all this time. He’d been more affected by his time with humankind. That was a diversion from Mark’s ambition for the character to use him more ambitiously as part of a true unification of a classic Justice League hanging out with Superman in the Kingdom Come series.

My thought was that if you add him with Superman it’s almost like you’ve got two heads of the team and I always saw him as much more associated with Batman, especially because of the length of his tenure with the group. All of this sort of prompted me for when I got around to doing the one shot for Justice League and that I’d make it all from his point of view as the preeminent sort of narrator/character for the story. Because I had skipped using him.

He’s a character I’ve loved, but I just didn’t want to throw off Kingdom Come for all that it had been conceived to be. Plus what Mark didn’t appreciate or maybe see the same way as I was that in many ways Kingdom Come was itself an analog of the entire DC history rather than an approximation of the DC Silver Age that he was most fond of because when Superman defines his sort of Justice League kind of team, it truly was a snapshot of the Justice Society. As per the comics of the 70s and 80s where you’ve got Power Girl in there and the version of the Flash and Green Lantern are clearly much more the originals than the Silver Age versions. So throwing in Martian Manhunter is not really what I’m doing here. It’s not what I wanted to do.

Superman: Peace On Earth (1999) 1 Alex Ross

Many people have called out Kingdom Come as being a tribute to the old Earth 2 Superman up against older versions of DC characters in many cases. That was the thing I was trying to pay tribute to.

I didn’t really have a visual in mind, particularly as a shape shifter. He wouldn’t be older. So you wanted to have some sort of visual. His was more of an intellectual and had been damaged by his experiences. Sort of like David Bowie in “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” He’s still connected to his inherently alien roots and it left him as a compromised figure.

Stroud: Differences between Superman and J’onn. Physicality? Did that cause one to take off and the other to be somewhat sidelined?

Ross: One thing about John Jones is that he doesn’t have the iconography of a symbol that everyone can grab onto. He doesn’t have a complicated, romantic subplot in his background. His time in Detective didn’t involve any real romance. So these human connections that we make and the iconographic connections are missing. Maybe if he had some sort of stylized “M” on his belt or something, but because he’s a mostly nude figure running around, it sort of throws off what people use to identify him with.

While he’s absolutely essential to the group dynamic of the JLA, perhaps more so than Superman and Batman, because he was in the first adventure while they were not. It began with 5 characters rather than 7.

Intellectually he kind of inherited the role of the Spectre from the old JSA when they revitalized the whole Justice League concept.

I always for some reason, even as a kid, held this connection to the character and maybe it was just prescience on my part that one day I, too, would be bald.

Marvels (1994) #3, cover by Alex Ross.

There are a handful of characters that have this kind of look, so I had a passion for them. So, you’ve got Martian Manhunter, you’ve got The Vision, you’ve got the Red Tornado. They’re all this certain type as a sort of detached bald guy. I don’t know why.

Stroud: Detached is probably the ideal descriptor, too, He’s kind of Spock-like.

Ross: You mention Spock and there’s such an appeal for that. The world understands, because the world is in love with Leonard Nimoy. When you have these characters, and the impact they have in the world of comic book stories, they become the most interesting, sometimes main character in those books. Because they become unique as fundamental parts of teams. They’re the character holding down the book. The guy who’s just always there. They’re often the character that the writer of the book can make the most hay with. In writing the story they can extrapolate and built that character and develop it, whether it’s the Vision getting married, or the Red Tornado’s ultimate human development.

In the storylines the authors were building these team books and no one was competing with those main heroes or those who couldn’t do the same kinds of things as Superman or Batman.

Stroud: Whose idea was it to use him as the narrator?

Ross: The genesis of the oversize books was something I was building up to doing from coming off of Kingdom Come. I’d made a short detour to a Vertigo series for a year, but knowing I had this burning desire to return to Superman above all, I put together this pitch that was based around what I felt were the four icons of DC that I wanted to do the one-shots of and that were approved. Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman.

Beyond that there was nothing on the schedule or nothing predicted or nothing expected (by myself included) so when I got to the end of going through the Wonder Woman book, I knew I had this burning desire in me - this thought that I would rebel against this typical version of DC which is always mired in specific versions of their lead heroes. I thought, “Could I actually take this further by doing a full-on, Silver Age Justice League?” Which in my mind would be the most eternal version of the group because if you check back in a few years later, they’re going to most resemble the original version of the group. What they might have been if given time.

Batman: War On Crime (1999) #1, cover by Alex Ross.

You had the heir apparent to the Flash character, you had the guy who would be Green Lantern, you had Aquaman, who was still Arthur, but he was the most tripped-out, revisionist version of the character. He was unrecognizable to most people.

So not wanting to really play with those versions because they don’t inspire me, I wanted to rejuvenate through this little corner of DC that I was carving out. And part of the carving out that I was doing here related to illustrations I did for both the Warner Studio Store and the version of Justice League I did or even the covers I did for Wizard Magazine. I was bringing in the classic versions of these teams.

On the one hand, I felt like I was getting away with something. I was working against the editorial tide. Even though I may look like the most obvious company guy by the way I was embracing this company’s characters, I was actually being something of a rebel against editorial dictates. *chuckle* And that’s only continued.

I had done many illustrations that he was part of (John Jones, that is) and the idea of eventually building this one shot based around the Justice League, which, at the time... Remember that Barry Allen was still dead, Hal Jordan was still dead, Aquaman was still missing a hand. All these things were different with these main characters. But Paul Levitz had no editorial revisions that he had in mind. Everybody just sort of thought, “You’re off doing that crazy thing over there that nobody cares about.”

The truth was, at least at the point that I was doing the project, there was a feeling that I could get as much attention as anything else that was being published. And maybe that was true of other things that I just didn’t realize, but there was a sense that the audience was open to special projects and whether or not you had a story that was worth telling. Whereas it appeared after a certain point after the story was out that the audience was more properly trained to shy away from caring about special projects. They were more likely to concentrate on how the top talent in the business were only producing work that was more the mainstream from what was showing where the characters were now.

Marvels (1994) #0, cover by Alex Ross.

In some cases that was almost weirdly disconnected as far as having something like the Ultimate’s line from Marvel and their eccentric indulgence beyond normal continuity, but because it was fully embraced by the company and was of course conceived by one of the publishers, it had all the company support that other stuff, whether it was my tabloid books or other things like it, it did not come from the publisher or the company and they had no vested interest in it, so it couldn’t get the same kind of push upon the market or the audience.

So for the period of time I worked on those tabloid books it felt like I could get as much attention for these things as I could achieve. The hope was that you could check in on these things years from now and they would still be readable in whatever context.

Stroud: Why the original Martian design rather than the more humanized version?

Ross: Well, realistically, what I was exposed to in the late 70s, around ’76 and ’77, at that point, when he was being brought back into storytelling the artist that was working with him, I think it was Mike Nasser, who did a backup in Adventure Comics where he had a fight with Supergirl and that was probably my first impression with the character. He had the prominent brow and looked very interesting and unique.

Now, as to whose idea was the stupid thing. It was basically…and it will look like I’m grabbing glory for myself in some ways here, when the pitch was made to DC, I was actually wanting to pitch it myself. Mike Carlin was not exactly encouraging. He was editorial overseer of pretty much everything at that point. I didn’t have any of that kind of writer credibility yet. They would have had me go through a series of hoops to prove I could actually write something. And they may still be doing that with lots of people, but my Hail Mary was to reach out to my recently made friend, Paul Dini and say, “Hey, what do you think of this?” And he jumped on board and what that meant was that largely they would build from the concept, especially from the Superman story, the concept that I had an outline for early in the story and then he expanded upon it with a much more elaborate outline.

JLA: Secret Origins (2002) #1, cover by Alex Ross.

The way that we worked on the four books was that Paul would write a lengthy outline. He wouldn’t break down the pages or write out any dialogue. I would break down the full story in…it was very Marvel style. I’d never worked Marvel style, where I would lay out the whole thing and then his text would be provided after the layouts had arrived. So he could see where everything was going to go. That was the four books. Then with the one shot which was Secret Origins which we sold the Justice League for, and then the sixth book was the Justice League one shot.

That was one where I got it in my head the idea which I had to defend over the years. In a way the book itself was my 9-11. My reaction, because I wanted to build a story out of the issue of hysteria. I basically wanted to have the Justice League facing off against a hysterical public, and that was based upon what seemed to be an oncoming, arriving disaster of biological proportions.

Of course my biggest inspiration in the story, and it’s pretty clear when you look at it, is The Andromeda Strain. Because when I was a kid and I saw that movie, I thought it was the most realistic way you could ever do aliens, because you’re going to find that there’s microscopic life in the universe. The idea of toxic stuff was interesting for whatever reason, but think of how realistic that movie plays. Now that’s not quite so sexy placing it against a superhero group who punches things, but I had my reasons. It was a story that I grew up with and ---- most stories drawn by Dick Dillin. One was the two-part storyline in Justice League that was called “Takeover of the Earth Masters” and it’s from issues #118 and #119. It had the Justice League fighting a larger kind of biological threat. It looks like giant single-celled organisms that fall from the sky. They attack and sap the strength of the Justice League members, much like we had in the story.

But also there was a World’s Finest issue that had the Atom going inside of a human body and he was fighting some kind of malignant force that was in the story. Inside this body that Atom was trying to save. Basically I adapted both things in this one graphic novel. He does the whole Neal Adams Batman thing going inside of Flash’s body. Then there was the rest of the whole biological phenomenon in Africa. It was basically taking the two inspirations that go from that story to Dick Dillin’s Justice League story. It has its relevance also to me in that it was the very first Justice League comic book that I ever got. I was 6 years old and I think this was 1976.

Wonder Woman: Spirit Of Truth (2001) #1, cover by Alex Ross.

So it was so important to me that I was plotting this extensive storyline so that I could literally block out the entire story, wrote an extensive outline that covered all the points of the whole thing and handed it off to Paul for him to essentially compose the final dialogue. So this was much more…

I didn’t write it out the typical way where Paul would write it first. I basically handed him the story and Paul would, as I would hear about it later, would openly complain to our circles of people like Bruce Timm and Chip Kidd and our editor - basically kvetch about how his story had germs that the Justice League gets to fight and other stuff that I’d worked on like the short stories with Chip Kidd with Superman and Batman fight cool stuff, where people fought against things bigger than germs.

Now again I point this out because Paul never said any of that stuff to me while we were working on it. It’s not like I even got a fair shot to defend or even accommodate. It was just simply one of those things. Several people I talked to over the years asked why I formatted it toward that direction rather than something like the Superman/Spider-Man crossover or the Superman/Muhammad Ali book. Of all the things that were simply the greatest influences of my life, the major feeling I had was, you know I don’t need to create more fights where there’s a marketplace flush with material that contains that.

I just wanted to create something that felt sort of like it was something that would appeal to a kid as well as to an adult. I wanted to create this hybrid art form. Almost a children’s storybook where the hero can still be consumed by a kid.

It never really seemed to take off in any great way like say Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch did one oversized story of the Justice League that had more of that kind of level of action in it. Unfortunately that must not have performed as well as what would have opened up a whole market of people doing it. I’d have liked to have seen that. I mean it just didn’t have anybody’s real support.

I remember when I had to sit down with the art director Gil Posner with a pitch and he said it had to be better than Dick Grayson stops being Robin. That was my pitch! There was a whole lot more to it, but… He didn’t know what I was going to be pitching other than, “I have an Elseworlds idea.”

Shazam: Power of Hope (2000) #1, cover by Alex Ross.

Stroud: I guess you didn’t read a lot of the old Silver Age JLA stories.

Ross: I have all that stuff, but my major exposure to that had to be simply the tabloids released in the 70s which had those stories in it and I find the charm in it that certainly leaves a deep impression on my mind because I love the origins of things. But of course being much more a child of the 70s it was more Dick Dillin’s run and George Perez’s run and the Super Friends. A lot of what I was doing was a hybrid of all these things. The common ground. When you showed Martian Manhunter it showed appreciation for the Silver Age beginnings because he was there for the first many issues and then when he leaves it’s more of the 70s era. Because he’s ultimately replaced.

Then there’s the impressions of the world made from the cartoon, Super Friends. That’s where the group is led by a very active Superman and Batman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman. I can easily brush off Robin. But even when they expanded it later and added other members to the Justice League they left out the Martian Manhunter. So in my mind he was just removed from the general public so they couldn’t fully appreciate and understand and in part some confusion about his definition and that there is so much more overlapping with what you already have in Superman. That’s why of course you wouldn’t necessarily put him into the cartoon. The main reason they had Aquaman in the show was that he was somebody who did something fundamentally different than the other guys.

They could have included Flash, but essentially it’s one of the powers that Superman has. That was kind of my mindset. I wanted to bring all these guys together under the same roof. A lot of the illustrations I did for the Justice League. The Martian Manhunter was someone I almost discounted until I fully realized how important he was to the formative unit of the Justice League.

He never had heat vision did he? I get upset when I see them portray him with that and it’s, “When did he get that?” It would seem like if fire is a problem for him, he wouldn’t want heat vision. (Mutual laughter)

Marvels (1994) #2, cover by Alex Ross.

Bruce Timm will tell you that he’d rather work with Marvel characters, but this is what he was given, so he’ll work with the Justice League, but I think he was trying to put Marvel powers into the mix a little bit. It becomes very convoluted because the people that were taking charge of the stories weren’t actually the editorial overseer, but the talent. “Whatever you want. You’re in charge.”

While I always felt like whatever I was doing with the character, at least I could be consistent with what I understood. If you look at any of the stuff I did, not counting Kingdom Come, but the Justice League one shot and the Justice series that I did, you will never see Wonder Woman flying. Because in my world she should never have done the exact same thing as Superman. There shouldn’t be that overlap in power and by the same token, Martian Manhunter would never have heat vision.

Stroud: That would go far in explaining how you focused more on the telepathic abilities and the shape shifting.

Ross: Right and during the Grant Morrison run they were really exploring those sorts of things, whereas the guys in the 60s didn’t understand all the ramifications of what he could do. In the 70s when he was no longer part of the Justice League and then in the tumult of the 80s there was much more effort put into the capabilities of the character. You could get more of an idea of how different and alien he could be.

Stroud: Do you think that the fact that he didn’t have a stand-out foe diminished his potential?

Ross: That’s correct, other than a whole planet of white Martians, but there was never much done with that. That was something that was only teased out in the 70s and then they would build upon that in the 80s and then in the 90s it seemed like such a pivotal part of his past.

JLA: Liberty and Justice (2003) #1, cover by Alex Ross.

What used to bother me was when people would take the character and be completely indifferent to what had happened in the past with him. I would even have to correct this with Paul Dini. He would write that he was a sole survivor. He’s not a sole survivor! When he came here from Mars it might have been a desolate planet, but there were other Martians. He wasn’t the only one, he was just trapped here. He was stranded in the first established adventures, and eventually he would get reunited with his fellow Martians and I certainly didn’t notice any kind of reboot that completely wiped out the Martian race.

Eduardo Barretto/Gerard Jones series. One of the best works ever done with the character.

That really grounds what I thought of the character more than anything else.

Stroud: (This is where I tell him how profoundly Kingdom Come affected me.)

Ross: It’s always really nice to hear, but when I’m told I’ve rekindled something for the art form that someone once loved I wonder if that should come with an apology from me. Basically I just helped you get back on the drugs you were on before. So much of this business and the fandom we bring to this art form is a corruptive one because it starts overtaking your attention, your passion. If you’re a collector like I am, suddenly you’re getting stuff that you wouldn’t have…

It also dovetails nicely if you’ve read Darwyn Cooke’s “New Frontier.” For the stuff where he used Manhunter in that, it feels very much like a kindred project, because the story is entirely set in the 50s and so what he’s dealing with, with his own way of living in this society is very true to the roots of the character.

The goofiest thing that has built throughout my career is that I’ve made models out of friends of mine. I’ve got a particular friend I base my version of Superman on and so forth and so forth and I would usually be the guy behind the camera. In unique points, idiosyncratic points, I would put my face more in the character. So when you saw a couple of times in “Marvels” the Vision, well, that was me, being the Vision. So even in Kingdom Come when I had the character of the Martian Manhunter appear, by the time I did my one shot it was like, “Eh. Let me stand in for the Martian Manhunter.”

Kingdom Come TPB cover by Alex Ross.

Now after all these other books based on the likeness of friends of mine, I make this guy look a little bit like me. But that was more a functional thing of the fact that I didn’t have anything better who I could get to do the posing. The Martian Manhunter is just more of an expression with that down, kind of morose looking face and the exaggerated features that anybody can do to some degree. So, the ironic thing is that in a way this is the character who is ultimately me played on film.

JLA: Secret Origins (2002) Superman, written by Paul Dini with art by Alex Ross.

JLA: Secret Origins (2002) Martian Manhunter, written by Paul Dini with art by Alex Ross.

JLA: Secret Origins (2002) Batman, written by Paul Dini with art by Alex Ross.

JLA: Secret Origins (2002) Plastic Man, written by Paul Dini with art by Alex Ross.

JLA: Secret Origins (2002) Wonder Woman, written by Paul Dini with art by Alex Ross.

JLA: Secret Origins (2002) Wonder Woman, written by Paul Dini with art by Alex Ross.

JLA: Secret Origins (2002) Captain Marvel, written by Paul Dini with art by Alex Ross.

JLA: Secret Origins (2002) Green Lantern, written by Paul Dini with art by Alex Ross.

JLA: Secret Origins (2002) Aquaman, written by Paul Dini with art by Alex Ross.

JLA: Secret Origins (2002) Flash, written by Paul Dini with art by Alex Ross.


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 Howard Chaykin - Hanging Out With the Continuity Crew

Written by Bryan Stroud

Howard Chaykin, 2018.

Howard Victor Chaykin (born October 7, 1950) is an American comic book artist and writer best known for his American Flagg and Black Kiss comic series. Chaykin was first introduced to comics by his cousin, who gave him a refrigerator box filled with them. After high school, Howard hitchhiked around the country before (at age 19) becoming an assistant to comic artist Gil Kane.

Black Kiss (1988) #1 by Howard Chaykin.

In 1970 he began publishing his art in comics and science-fiction fanzines, and (leaving Kane) started work as an assistant to Wally Wood. In 1972 Chaykin began working with Neal Adams, a move that would lead to his first work at DC Comics.

Howard found steady work with the "Big Two" throughout the seventies, working on projects like the first Star Wars comic adaptation for Marvel or penciling World of Krypton (1979) - the first-ever DC Comics mini-series. In 1983, First Comics launched the American Flagg! series with Chaykin as both writer and artist. The series was successful for First and proved a highly influential mix of Chaykin's ideas and interests — jazz, pulp adventure, science fiction and sex. In 1988, Howard created perhaps his most controversial title: Black Kiss. The 12-issue series (published by Vortex Comics) contained his most explicit depictions of sex and violence, matching a story of sex-obsessed vampires in Hollywood.

Mr. Chaykin's distinct straight-to-inks style set his work apart from that of his contemporaries and through the years he worked on comics from just about every major publisher. He continues his comics career to this day and recently wrote & drew the War Is Hell (2019) one-shot for Marvel Comics.

I got to meet Howard at the Denver Con a few years ago and we chatted for a little bit and I bought a piece of original art from him.  I also asked if he'd consider being interviewed and he agreed, giving me his card, an elegant little thing with his e-mail and phone numbers, which I thought was a nice touch.  So, I called him up, thinking I'd learn a lot about his time at Continuity, but he explained he wasn't really part of the group - just a guy who would come around to the studio from time to time.  Still, we had an enjoyable chat and I look forward to seeing him again.

This interview originally took place over the phone on June 5, 2015.

Secrets of Sinister House (1972) #17 pg11, art by Howard Chaykin.

Bryan Stroud: What led you to Continuity in the first place, Howard?

Howard Chaykin: I didn’t work there. I’d been Neal’s assistant before the studio was open. Many of us had spent time in his office, but I’d never worked for Continuity. For me, Continuity was a place to spend some time before I got on the train to go home to Queens. So if that’s the extent of our relationship, good talking to you. Goodbye.

Stroud: (Laughter.)

Chaykin: The fact is, I never had studio space up there, I don’t think I ever did a lick of work in that office, but I was there, almost every day, while I was living in Queens. I’d stick around there and I’d go have drinks with Sergio (Aragones) or Gray (Morrow) or (Alan) Weiss or one of the other guys and kill a little time before I had to get on the train to head back to Queens, but after I moved there was no point in going, so I stopped.

Stroud: Okay. I’d heard before that it began more or less as a hangout because Continuity was located sort of between the Big Two office buildings.

Chaykin: Neal (Adams) and Dick (Giordano) opened Continuity as a place to work and also to have an actual, serious company, which was a really good idea. In retrospect, I think what they were trying to do, consciously or not, was to recreate something like Johnstone & Cushing, a company that used comic strips for advertising back in the 40s and 50s. To a great extent, Neal introduced a lot of the Johnstone & Cushing techniques to comic books. Lou Fine was there and I’m pretty sure the Mr. Coffee stuff that Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff collaborated on were produced for Johnstone & Cushing. I think Neal was looking to recreate that same sensibility. And of course they did enormous amounts of board work. Just endless storyboard stuff.

Stroud: That sounds consistent with some of the other stories I’ve heard. Even though a lot of comic work was cranked out, advertising was the bread and butter.

Chaykin: Pretty much - and you must understand that in those days, comics pay was just awful. Anybody with any skill sets would go out and some would try to become painters while others (like me) who had studied with Neal, turned to storyboards. I loved doing this sort of stuff for him because he was a terrific board man.

American Flagg (1983) #1 by Howard Chaykin.

Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion (1972) #7 pg1, penciled by Howard Chaykin & inked by Tony DeZuniga.

Accident Man (1993) #1, cover by Howard Chaykin.

I did work for him on storyboards, then I went out and did my own stuff with a partner and on my own as well. Before everything went digital, these jobs were a very nice way to generate some income. Any way you could make between $150.00 and $200.00 a day back in the 70s was really good money.

Stroud: Sure, and the cost of living wasn’t what it is today, either.

Green Lantern (1960) #196, cover by Howard Chaykin.

Chaykin: No, not at all and I had a good time doing the work. I did a lot of storyboarding and enjoyed the process. It was interesting too to watch what they got right and what they got wrong.

Stroud: That is precisely what Joe Barney was telling me or perhaps it was Steve Mitchell. They said that if you wanted a real insight as to what it was like, go catch a few episodes of Mad Men. It was very, very close.

Chaykin: Very much. It really had that kind of sensibility. The only difference is that in the real world guys like Pete Campbell had hair down to their shoulders like Sonny Bono. The freak look was much more prevalent in advertising than the way the show portrayed it.

Stroud: Based on a few of the photos that Larry Hama and some others have shared, I can see exactly what you’re talking about.

Chaykin: No question.

Stroud: Even Walt Simonson was practically unrecognizable in a couple of those shots.

Chaykin: We were all long-haired freaks at the time.

Stroud: All in all, how long would you say you spent time up there with Neal and company?

Chaykin: Like I said, I never worked there, but during the first two years of its existence I was there frequently. It was just a place to screw around at the end of the working day.

Stroud: Did anyone serve as a mentor or was there someone you learned something from?

Chaykin: Well, of course I worked for Neal directly. I was his assistant in the days before Continuity and it was a good thing. I learned a great deal. I don’t see much of him now, but to tell you the truth he’s one of the five most influential men in my life.

Weird War Tales (1971) #9 pg1, art by Howard Chaykin.

Stroud: I’m assuming the others would be Gil Kane and Woody and…

Chaykin: Gray Morrow and Joe Orlando. Joe was my rabbi at DC my first couple of years in helping me to learn how to work with a corporate client.

Stroud: I’ve heard so many good stories about Joe.

Chaykin: He was one of the best guys ever. Just an absolute prince. A true great man in the business. An unacknowledged giant. What a great guy.

Stroud: Absolutely. Tony DeZuniga couldn’t say enough good about him.

Chaykin: Joe was Tony’s primary contact up there, so that’s right.

Stroud: Someone else was telling me he had a real gift for showing you how to do a layout without making you feel like an idiot.

Chaykin: Joe was a prince. He was also really funny. Just one of the great guys.

Stroud: Another person I enjoyed very much was Nick Cardy.

Chaykin: Nick was one of my favorite artists. A really talented guy that no one seems to remember.

Stroud: He did tell me that when he was working, he felt like he never got a pat on the back from some of the editors he did work for.

Chaykin: Whenever Alex Toth described the way he was treated by Sheldon Mayer it sounded like abuse. I never understood how these guys could continue to function treated that way. There seemed to be this measure of contempt from editorial. I ended up moving to California because I was never going to make enough money in comics to support my lifestyle. I’m grateful for that because if I’d stayed in New York I would have had to work in editorial and I’d be very difficult to work for. I’m not a very nice person. I’m not particularly interested in people’s feelings, but I’m not abusive. I believe that a lot of these guys were abusive.

G.I. Joe (2008) #7, cover by Howard Chaykin.

I’ve heard the stories from some of these older guys and it sounds like it was just awful.

By the way I’m sorry I can’t be much help to you on the Continuity stuff, but it really wasn’t a big part of my life. Again, I was Neal’s assistant before the studio and when Neal opened the shop he had (Alan) Kupperberg and (Steve) Mitchell. Alan and Steve knew each other from high school. They were among the very first along with Larry (Hama), me, Ralph (Reese). These were the guys who were in comics at our age.

Stroud: Not to mention a few Detroit imports like Greg Theakston.

Chaykin: Right, but Rich Buckler was in that Detroit crew first. These were the guys from out of town who became New York émigré’s. So anyway, Neal had Alan and Steve working for him in those days. I hung around more than anything else.

There was a great bookstore downstairs called Scribner’s and a saloon called Nemo’s, which was a great place to pick up stewardesses. There was a coffee shop called Kenby’s where we ate and hung around. That block is now gone, replaced by corporate high-rises.

Back then 48th street was filled with the 5-story office buildings that were so prevalent in New York from the end of the 20th century. A lot of them were remade in condominiums.

Stroud: It seems a lot of your peers spent time with Wally Wood. Did he just have a rotating cast of assistants?

Chaykin: I was there, Larry and Ralph preceded me. There was also John Darryl Smith, a guy who got out of comics early and is now an antique weapons designer in Boston. He was there very briefly. Kupperberg was there for a while as well. Paul Kirchner, too.

These days I live in a small town outside Los Angeles, so I’m not really in the loop. In fact at this stage, my career is functionally done because the commercial stuff has reached a point where I’m too old school for this shit. I can live with that. I’ve done enough.

The Flash (2016) #63 Variant cover by Howard Chaykin.

Stroud: You’ve had a pretty long career…

Chaykin: That’s true, but I speak a language that contemporary comic books don’t understand or care about. One thing in particular that has happened to comic books in general with the diminution of narrative is that the concept of actual consistent continuity seems to be fading. You take a television show like Glee, a series filled with contradictions and that sort of narrative inconsistency has spilled over into comics where a specific continuity, which should be a valid form of narrative, is no longer being used.

Stroud: Well here we are in the age of texting and tweeting and I sometimes think that attention spans have diminished.

Chaykin: I think you’re mistaking that for stupidity and willful ignorance.

Stroud: (Laughter.)

Chaykin: But I sometimes sound like the cranky old man in the corner. It wasn’t really different when I was a kid. It just seems different.

Stroud: You’re a quadruple threat, Howard, between penciling, inking, scripting and painting.

Chaykin: I don’t paint anymore and there’s no difference between penciling and inking for me because I draw in ink. I never learned how to ink the way comic book inkers ink and it kept me out of the big time for a long time until I realized it wasn’t necessary. I could find a stream to lead right to finished artwork. It didn’t necessarily look like anyone else’s work and that was an eye-opening experience for me and a very valid one.

I spent a lot of time just trying to turn my liabilities into assets. I suck in a lot of ways and I’ve had to learn how not to suck. So learning how not to suck has been a very valuable lesson.

War is Hell (2019) #1, cover by Dan Panosian.

Stroud: What can you tell me about being Gil Kane’s assistant?

Chaykin: I met Gil when I was thirteen. He was one of my heroes as a cartoonist and later I got word through the grapevine that his assistant had died, so I got in contact and became his assistant around the age of 18. He was one of the most influential men in my life. He was a liar a cheat and a thief in many ways, but I learned a great deal from him about how to do what I do.

All too often I open my mouth to speak these days and I feel I can hear Gil speaking from beyond the grave. Some of the things that he believed in and talked about inculcated themselves into my beliefs as well. He was a hugely influential figure and I’m glad I got to be part of his memorial. As morose and moribund as most memorials are, the fact is he was great and fun to be with and yet a difficult piece of work. He was no walk in the park.

Stroud: Clem Robins told me that if he liked you, you had a lifetime relationship, but if he didn’t it was all over.

Chaykin: I couldn’t have put it better myself. Quite right.

Stroud: He also said he could never figure out the Kane/Toth feud.

Chaykin: Oh, I can help with that. Toth was a Jew-baiter, another only child of that generation. They knew each other from the time they were kids. They met when they were 14 or 15 and they hated each other from the minute they met. Gil, to his credit, was able to put aside his personal loathing for Alex to describe him as the greatest cartoonist of his generation.

Alex, on the other hand, was a miserable f*** who couldn’t see past his own prejudices and small-mindedness. I believe that Alex Toth was the finest cartoonist of his generation. He was insanely influential. But an absolutely impossible person. An unbearable guy. To describe him as difficult would be to diminish the meaning of difficult. He was just impossible, but again, an astonishing talent. His genius has taken my breath away at times. Yet for all that he was just a complete wreckage of a human being.

Stroud: To wrap things up, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Chaykin: I live a pretty boring life. I’m a movie-goer, a reader and I hang out with my wife. She is my boon companion and we travel quite a lot, which we enjoy.

Wraparound cover for American Flagg: Hard Times HC by Howard Chaykin.


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 Angelo Torres - A Comic Artist Designed To Drive You MAD

Written by Bryan Stroud

Angelo Torres at his drawing table.

Angelo Torres (born on April 14, 1932) is a cartoonist and caricaturist whose work has appeared in many comic books, as well as a long-running regular slot in Mad Magazine. Torres was friends with artist Al Williamson in the early 1950s and occasionally assisted him on work for EC Comics with fellow artists Frank Frazetta and Roy Krenkel (known as the Fleagle Gang). A story (which was to be Torres' first solo at EC) titled "An Eye for an Eye" in Incredible Science Fiction (1955) #33, was rejected by the Comics Code and did not see print for the first time until 1971. When the E.C. comics line failed after the enforcement of the Comics Code, Torres (and several other E.C. alumni) went to Atlas Comics and drew a number of short stories for their mystery series in 1956-57 - titles such as Astonishing, Spellbound, Uncanny Tales, Marvel Tales and many others. Torres later worked for Warren Publishing under editor Archie Goodwin. He contributed art on 20 stories for Creepy, Eerie and Blazing Combat from 1964 through 1967. From October 1969 until April 2005 he drew the satires of contemporary U.S. television shows (and later movies) as the penultimate feature in Mad Magazine (whereas Mort Drucker drew the movie parodies in its opening portions). He was named #61 in Atomic Comics' (retailer) list of The Top 100 Artists of American Comic Books.

I think it was because I located that copy of All Star Western #2 containing the El Diablo backup story that nudged me to contact Angelo Torres, who was depicted in the tale, along with Dick Giordano and Gil Kane and even though it was another short and sweet exchange, Angelo was friendly and kind and I still get a kick out of sending him birthday greetings each year.  Enjoy learning a little about one of the famous Fleagles.

This interview originally took place via email on January 26, 2015.

Creepy (1964) #1 pg47, art by Angelo Torres.

Bryan Stroud: How did you become interested in art?

Angelo Torres: Growing up in the 30s with the great Sunday funnies being drawn at that time and with so many great comic book titles filling every newsstand, I began copying the characters and attempting to create my own. My school notebooks were full of drawings which didn’t help my grades and by the time I got to high school all I wanted to do was draw a newspaper syndicated strip.

Stroud: What was your training?

Torres: I attended the School of Industrial Art, a vocational high school in New York City where I got my first formal art training. Graduating in 1951, I went into the Army for the next two years after which I used the GI Bill to study at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (now the School of Visual Arts).

Stroud: You have a very realistic style. What led you to comics?

Torres: My dream had always been to do another “Terry and the Pirates” or “Steve Canyon”. I loved Milton Caniff’s work and tried to emulate it. I was also a huge fan of Alex Raymond and Hal Foster, so even though I loved almost every strip appearing then, I wanted more than anything to draw in a realistic style. Attending classes at C&I, I found that my fellow cartooning students had no interest in doing a syndicated strip but dreamed instead of breaking into the comic book business - with EC Comics as their main target. I found myself going in the same direction.

Stroud: You’ve done nearly every genre, from crime to Adventure, War to Western, Science Fiction and even a little romance. Where did you feel most comfortable?

Mad Magazine (1952) #150 pg43, art by Angelo Torres.

Torres: I have always felt most comfortable and gratified doing historical work. My work on Prehistoric World and World War II for Classics Illustrated, the war stories for Warren and the Civil War book for Marvel are still some of my most satisfying work.

Stroud: Tell me about the Fleagle Gang.

Torres: Ah, the Fleagles. A couple of us from the art school, led by Nick Meglin (who in later years would become an editor of MAD Magazine) had become regular visitors to the EC offices in lower Manhattan. Always welcome by Bill Gaines and to some extent Al Feldstein and Harvey Kurtzman, we also got to know some of the artists. Al Williamson became a close friend and on one of his trips to EC to deliver work, Nick, George Woodbridge, yours truly and Roy Krenkel tagged along with him. As we entered the office, somebody, they say it was Harvey, called out “Here comes the Fleagle gang” or words to that effect. It stuck, the fans got hold of it and the rest is history.

Stroud: Most of your stories in the comics were 4 to 5 pages. Was that your sweet spot or just what was assigned?

Torres: I did whatever was assigned to me. If it was a subject I liked I didn’t care about the number of pages.

Stroud: Did you have an editor you particularly enjoyed working with?

Torres: Archie Goodwin at Warren stands out and of course, the guys at MAD, Al Feldstein, Nick Meglin and John Ficarra, my editors for so many years.

Mad Magazine (1952) #369, cover penciled by Mick McGinty & inked by Angelo Torres.

Stroud: You were at it before the Comics Code. How do you feel that affected your work?

Torres: It never affected my work except for the one story I did for EC, “An Eye For an Eye”. It kept being rejected and Gaines was forced to shelve it.

Stroud: You’ve done work for many, many publishers: EC, Archie, Warren, Prize, Marvel, Charlton, Classics Illustrated, Sick, Harvey, DC and even Bongo. Any preferences?

Torres: How can I choose? They all hired me and liked my work. But if I had to, it would have to be EC. There was no one like William Gaines.

Stroud: You’ve done very little superhero work except for special projects like

the Supergirl promotional comic from Honda and the “Celebrate the Century” super heroes stamp album. Is it your preference to do other styles besides superheroes?

Torres: Ironically enough, one of the first characters I ever attempted to draw was Superman. My comic book collection growing up was comprised mostly of all those superheroes of the late 30s and 40s but for some reason, my drawing interests were elsewhere.

Stroud: You also did an “Epic Battles of the Civil War” project for the Historical Souvenir Co. How did that come about?

Torres: The Civil War project began with a phone call from Marvel. After learning that the other sections would be done by George Woodbridge, Gray Morrow and Richard Rockwell, I decided I had to do it. I have never regretted it and think of it as one of my better efforts.

Worlds Unknown (1973) #1 pg10, art by Angelo Torres.

Stroud: I see you had some work in the first issue of Witzend. Did you work directly with Woody?

Torres: I can’t remember what work of mine appeared in the first issue of Witzend and I never worked with Woody on anything.

Stroud: You seemed to find your home with MAD. Was your work at SICK a precursor?

Torres: Absolutely, as was my earlier work with Bob Powell. It was great fun being in at the inception of Sick and working with Joe Simon.

Stroud: Do you prefer penciling or inking?

Torres: I have always preferred penciling and inking my own work and have always done so with very few exceptions.

Stroud: Are you still doing work?

Torres: No big projects any more but, yes, I still do a piece here and there.

Stroud: Do you do commissions?

Torres: Only those I feel comfortable doing and that look like fun to do.

Stroud: Do you think Gray Morrow did you justice in the El Diablo story?

Torres: Gray Morrow was a dear friend and I loved his work.

Stroud: What else can you tell me about that story? I believe Gil Kane, Al Williamson and Dick Giordano and Phil Sueling were also characterized?

Torres: I know little about the story but it was always fun to throw your friends into a job. We all did it at one time or another.

Superman: Bradman Commission (1988) #1, cover penciled by Curt Swan & inked by Angelo Torres.

Frankenstein Mobster (2003) 5B, cover by Angelo Torres.

Supergirl (1984) 1 Honda-Safty Campaign, cover by Angelo Torres.

Lenny Brenner, Bill Gaines, Antonio Prohias, Angelo Torres, and Nick Meglin.


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 Sal Buscema - Helping To Define Marvel's 70's Style

Written by Bryan Stroud

Sal Buscema poses with a Defenders piece done for charity.

Western Gunfighters (1970) #1 pg1, penciled by Werner Roth & inked by Sal Buscema.

Silvio "Sal" Buscema (born January 26, 1936) is an American comics artist, primarily known for his work at Marvel Comics - where he enjoyed a ten-year run as the artist of The Incredible Hulk. He is the younger brother of comics artist John Buscema. Like John, Sal attended the High School of Music & Art, graduating in 1955. He got his start as a comic-book inker in the early 1950's when his brother agreed to let him ink some comics pages. After high school, Buscema was drafted into the peacetime U. S. Army in 1956. Classified as an "illustrator", he served with the Army Corps of Engineers stationed at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

In 1961, a call from his brother brought Sal to New York City to work with John at the advertising agency Alexander Chaite, Inc. After a year-and-a-half, John returned to the comic-book industry while Sal waited until 1968 - when he began working for Marvel Comics. In June of 1968 Sal got his first assignment - inking the the 10-page Western feature "The Coming of Gunhawk", by writer Jerry Siegel and penciler Werner Roth. Though that story was eventually published in 1970, Sal's first (credited) published work was penciling the cover to X-Men (1963) #48 and inking over his brother's pencils in Silver Surfer (1968) #4. Within a year Buscema was penciling the team book The Avengers, and for the next thirty years he was one of the most prolific artists at the company. From December 1975 (#194) to July 1985 (#309) Sal was the series penciler for The Incredible Hulk (1968). After working for DC shortly in the late '90s, he returned to Marvel in 1999 for the Spider-Girl Annual.

In 2012, Buscema inked IDW's G.I. Joe Annual and the ongoing Dungeons and Dragons: Forgotten Realms series.

"Our pal Sal" is proof that the talent gene can indeed be found in more than one family member.  Sal was a very enjoyable guy to speak with and by all accounts, he's popular enough that his commission list stays pretty full.  If you happen to be interested, he's represented by the fine folks at Catskill Comics. Meanwhile, here's the man himself:

This interview originally took place over the phone on July 6, 2012.

X-Men (1963) #48, cover penciled by Sal Buscema & inked by John Romita Sr.

Bryan D. Stroud: Do you remember what your first published piece of art was?

Sal Buscema: That would have to be in 1959 as far as commercial work, but actually as I think about it, I’ll bet it was something I did for the Army because believe it or not my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) in the Army between ’56 and ’58 was as an illustrator for the Engineer Corps, which surprised the heck out of me. So I couldn’t tell you precisely what it was, but that would probably be the first professionally published thing I ever did. I was attached to the Engineer School at Fort Belvoir and worked there for almost two years doing those illustrations for the Engineer Corps.

Of course I worked with John (Buscema) on comics before I got into them myself. He was working for Dell Publishing at the time and occasionally when he got into deadline problems I would work with him doing backgrounds, inking them and that kind of thing in order to help him out.

Stroud: Did you have any formal training?

Buscema: My only formal training was where both John and I attended, which was the High School of Music and Art. Are you familiar with the movie and T.V. show “Fame”?

Stroud: I am.

Buscema: Well, that was the school they were talking about. Of course at the time they were doing “Fame,” the movie and the television show, it had expanded to not only music and art, but had expanded to the performing arts also. So it is now the High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. It was quite a school that was established by the Mayor of New York, Fiorello LaGuardia. He thought it was necessary to have a school that dealt with the fine arts and serious music and it really was quite a school. We had 4 symphony orchestras, believe it or not and the art curriculum was pretty difficult. I was commuting from Brooklyn and would leave my house probably about a quarter to seven in the morning and take a subway to the school. It was actually located pretty much in the heart of Harlem on 135th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in New York City just on the other side of CCNY. The art curriculum was extensive and very, very good. Unfortunately, being a kid and not being too bright I just didn’t take full advantage of it, but I guess enough of it rubbed off on me so that I could at least try to make it a career.

Silver Surfer (1968) #4 pg1, penciled by John Buscema & inked by Sal Buscema.

That was the extent of my formal training. John went on to Pratt Institute for a year or two, I think, which was a very, very fine school at the time. I wanted to get right into the business and am not sorry that I did. It was probably one of the best decisions I ever made. And that’s at an age where you’re not usually making very many good decisions, but it worked out for me and I’ve never regretted it. I had the opportunity to go to Cooper Union in New York City which was a very fine art college, but it dealt primarily with fine art and I wanted to get into the commercial end of the business, so I declined that and got a job as an apprentice and as they say the rest is history. So aside from the training I already mentioned, I’m primarily self taught.

Stroud: I’m genuinely surprised that you didn’t have more formal training. Your work has always been lovely.

Buscema: Having been doing this now for nearly 60 years, I developed the belief that no one can teach you to be an artist. You have to learn on your own. You can get guidance, which is essentially what you get in school. Unfortunately there are some schools that misguide you, which is just an unfortunate fact of life. There isn’t much you can do about that. At the period of time when I was looking for more extensive training there really weren’t very many good schools to go to, so I just jumped right into the business and learned right on the job. In that respect it was a very good beginning for me.

Stroud: So, you were in the commercial side of the industry to begin with?

Buscema: Yes. My first job was in a commercial art studio and for the first 13 years of my career I was a commercial illustrator, graphic designer and whatever the rest of it might entail.

Stroud: That’s usually the goal of many artists, and yet you went into comics. How did that come about?

Buscema: It was my desire to do comics initially, but when I was ready to do comics the comic book industry was pretty much dead. We’re talking about the 1950’s. I graduated in ’53 and in the early ‘50’s you may remember the big scandal about comic books back then. Of course if they compared them to what they’re doing today they would be like children’s stories. It’s amazing how the times change. The industry was so depressed that John had to get out of it also and go into other areas of commercial art because there just wasn’t any work available, much less so for a beginner like myself. This is why I was forced to go into other areas of commercial art. It was wonderful, wonderful training for me. I was very happy with the results and if I had to do it all over again I would not change a thing.

Silver Surfer (1968) #4 pg20, penciled by John Buscema & inked by Sal Buscema.

Stroud: Do you recall the page rates when you were getting your start?

Buscema: Let’s see, I always use John as kind of a yardstick because he was 8 years older than me and got started in the business with Timely and Stan Lee when he was 20 years old. That would have been 1948. He started working for salary, but as things began to deteriorate somewhat in the industry he went on to become a freelancer and I would say that the page rates were, for the top people, and of course he went on to become one of the better known people in the business, probably in the area of $35.00 to $40.00 a page, perhaps as much as $50.00 penciling and inking.

If you had enough work and a reasonable amount of speed you could make a living. Of course salaries back then were much lower than they are today. He did all right until the bottom fell out of the industry.

Stroud: When you made the transition to comics did you start at Marvel?

Buscema: Yes. I was very fortunate. Is’ a funny story, actually. John accidentally met Stan Lee in Manhattan one day. They just bumped into each other on the street. They got to talking, discussing the old days and this was years after John had left Timely and went into other areas of commercial art and Stan was asking him about his desire to do comics because he said the business was coming back. This was probably right around the late ‘50’s or early ‘60’s.

He said, “John, we’re looking for people, so if you want back in, just say the word. We can pay better rates and business is really picking up and we need good people.” So that’s what he did. He was commuting from pretty far out on Long Island to Manhattan with the commercial art job that he had and while he was making a good salary it was really a burden for him because he was commuting 4 hours a day and it was just killing him. So when this opportunity presented itself where he could be a freelancer and work at home, he jumped at it.

Now when I heard about that and heard that the industry was doing well again I decided I needed to take a crack at it. He’d mentioned it to me because we communicated by phone and I worked for about a year because I had to learn how to do comics. I’d never really done them except for the little bit I’d done with John.

Our Love Story (1969) #12, cover by Sal Buscema.

The big thing was superheroes by the likes of Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, John Romita, Sr. and their peers and they were flourishing. Marvel was doing very, very well and so I decided to take a crack at it. I worked up a 6-page story, just in pencils, I really wanted to ink. That was my first love. I just wanted to be an inker, but John said they were looking for pencilers, so I thought I’d try that and then adjust from there.

I made up the samples, Stan saw them and he liked them and consequently I worked for Marvel for over 40 years.

Stroud: Wow! You can’t ask much more than that.

Buscema: No. I’ve been very blessed. It’s been a wonderful career and I’m still doing it. I will continue to do comic books as long as people want me to do them, although now I’m just doing inking and have been for the last several years. I enjoy that thoroughly. It’s a lot of fun. All you’re doing is finishing the work, to be blunt about it, as opposed to a penciler where you’ve got to put in a lot of thought into the storytelling. The pacing, the design of the story, page and panel layout, breakdown, it’s just so much more difficult and so much more work. As an inker, you get the stuff that’s already penciled and finish it off and have a great time doing it. To me it’s just a lot more fun.

I enjoyed penciling very much. I did it for many, many years and worked on just about every character that Marvel had and I did enjoy it a lot, but it is a lot of very hard work. It requires a lot of thought, effort and energy and comparatively, inking is a blast. I could do it in my sleep. There’s a little hyperbole there, but that’s the way I look at it. Inking is just a lot of fun and that’s why I enjoy it so much, because to me it’s really not work.

Stroud: What more could you ask? According to another friend of mine who is an industry pro, he’d seen your pencil work before and said it looked like your primary method was breakdowns. Was that your usual approach?

Captain America (1968) #137, cover by Sal Buscema.

Buscema: I was asked to do breakdowns. One of the things that I was blessed with was strength in my storytelling ability and I was pretty fast. I was able to crank out stories at a pretty good rate of speed. It took me a few years to get to that point, but once I got there it came fairly easily to me. Because of that ability, Marvel would come to me frequently and ask me to do fill-in jobs where they were having deadline problems on given books. So in order to expedite things and to get the stories done faster I would do what they called breakdowns, where pretty much everything was there. My breakdowns were fairly tight. The only thing that was lacking were the blacks and if you’ve got a good inker they know where to put the blacks and they would follow my stuff pretty well.

With breakdowns you could turn out a story a lot faster. Since Marvel came to me frequently and asked me to do this additional work, obviously I could not do really tight, finished pencils on all of them because the time just didn’t allow, so I would go with breakdowns and it got to be a pretty normal thing. I enjoyed that a lot better when I was penciling and inking my own books. I would just do breakdowns for myself because then I could do the finish work with the inking.

At one point for Marvel and I was penciling and inking two books a month. That was a real boon to me because the way we worked back then, rather than the computer driven world of comics today, I would pencil the book, or rather do breakdowns and then the dialogue would be written and the lettering would be done and then it would come back to me for inking. Then it was a matter of doing the finish work with the ink. I actually draw better with a brush than I do with a pencil. Why, I don’t know. It just seems to be the way things are. Anyway, that was a real boon to me because I enjoyed the inking more than the penciling, so it was just a nicer way for me to work. I did that for a lot of years at Marvel and of course a lot of other guys did, too.

Again, my breakdowns were pretty tight, so if another inker got a job to do on my pencils, everything was there for him. He didn’t have to do any guesswork or redraw anything. Essentially what breakdowns were in my case was just straight line. No blacks, no shading, nothing of that sort. What you saw in the comic book was what I did in pencil without any of the blacks that would appear in the finished product.

ROM (1979) #1 pg1, art by Sal Buscema.

Stroud: What were your favored tools?

Buscema: At the time Windsor-Newton were producing the best brushes in the world, but their product really deteriorated in later years and frankly I’ve had a lot of problems finding good brushes. I switched to a pen for a period of years because I could not find good brushes that would work the way I wanted them to work. I was fortunate enough to find some brushes produced by a small company in Ireland. Apparently an elderly retired couple decided they wanted to have a little side business and became the American distributor for this company. The name of the brush is Kolinksky. They’re really good brushes, though not as good as the best Windsor-Newton brushes were years ago. Still, they do what I want them to do.

As far as pencils, I just use a good old HB or plain old No. 2 pencil. I’ve also used Pelican ink for years, but have found it difficult to get it from my distributor in large bottles. I have also had good luck with an India ink made in Japan. It’s good quality, a nice dense black and I’m delighted to have found it because I can get it in large bottles which of course reduce the cost by a considerable amount. Unfortunately I can’t tell you the brand name because it’s written in Japanese. (Laughter.)

Stroud: Who were your artistic influences?

Buscema: The old masters, of course such as Michelangelo, who was one of the greatest draftsmen who ever lived; Peter Rubens, who was another absolutely magnificent draftsman; the more modern classics, I just absolutely fell in love with the work of John Singer Sargent. Rembrandt, obviously was one of my all-time favorites.

Where commercial artists are concerned I would list Robert Fawcett, which is a name that’s probably not terribly familiar. He was with the correspondence course known as the Famous Artist’s School, which was started by Albert Dorne back in the ‘50’s and it became a really outstanding school for commercial artists. It was composed of the twelve top commercial artists of the day. Al Parker was one while Albert Dorne was the president and founder of the school. Robert Fawcett, probably one of the greatest draftsmen America has ever produced; his work was absolutely exquisite; he did story illustrations for Colliers Magazine and in fact all of the major magazines of the time which are now all defunct unfortunately. And of course Norman Rockwell was another member at the school.

Where Monsters Dwell (1970) #34, cover by Sal Buscema.

Defenders (1972) #1, cover penciled by Sal Buscema & inked by Jim Mooney.

Incredible Hulk (1968) #277, cover penciled by Sal Buscema & inked by Al Milgrom.

At any rate, I was greatly influenced by Robert Fawcett. His drawings and illustrations were just magnificent. He did a series for Colliers Magazine many years ago written by a descendant of Arthur Conan Doyle and they were about Sherlock Holmes. He did these absolutely magnificent illustrations that were just beautiful and what’s ironic about it is that the guy was color blind. His wife was also an artist and she would help him with the colors.

That’s a short list, but right now I’m just very much into John Singer Sargent. The man was an absolute genius. When I look at his paintings I just cannot believe the brush strokes. The control that he had and the mastery of color was simply unreal.

Action Comics (1938) #759, cover penciled by Ron Frenz & inked by Sal Buscema.

Stroud: You’ve had a lot of wonderful collaborations over the years. Does anyone particularly leap to mind as especially enjoyable to work with?

Buscema: As far as the guys I’ve been working with recently, Ron Frenz, who I think is probably one of the top five guys in the business today. He’s a tremendous storyteller and a wonderful draftsman. His stuff is so dynamic and powerful. Tom DeFalco. These are two very good friends of mine. We are not only colleagues in the business, but we’ve known each other for many years and they’ve been just a joy to work with. We did Spider-Girl together and the work has kind of petered out a little bit, but Ron and I are working together now for IDW Publishing in California on G.I. Joe and various other projects.

Before that, Mark DeMatteis, who is a terrific writer who comes up with just wonderful stuff. When I first started working on the Hulk I was working with Len Wein. He and I had a wonderful relationship and I think we did some good stuff together. You must remember I’ve been at this for over 44 years now and sometimes the names aren’t that easy to access, even though I had some terrific experiences with many, many good people.

I loved inking Herb Trimpe’s stuff. He and I collaborated on a recent job for IDW and it was the first time in about 35 years that he and I have worked together. I loved inking his stuff.

Stroud: I’ve heard only good things about Herb. He seems to be one of those salt of the earth guys.

Buscema: He really is and the funny thing about that is Herb and I communicated maybe once or twice over the years on the phone and that was the extent of it. We didn’t know each other except through our work. Recently Ron Frenz was attending a comic book convention in Baltimore and I told Ron that since it was convenient we were going to meet and have lunch together and come to find out Herb Trimpe was also there as a guest so for the first time in over 40 years I got to meet Herb Trimpe in person. He was just one of the finest gentlemen you’d ever want to meet. He’s a super guy and I’ve only heard wonderful things about him and it was just a joy to see him there. We talked for a while and it was just really a lot of fun meeting him after all these years of collaborating.

Captain America (1968) #154, cover penciled by Sal Buscema & inked by Frank Giacoia.

As a matter of fact, when I first started talking to Stan Lee about getting work at Marvel, the first guy that he showed me, whose work he used as an example of what he wanted in storytelling was by Herb Trimpe. Herb was a wonderful storyteller. It was very graphic, very simple and very straight forward and very well done. He was the first guy I saw up there at Marvel in person being utilized by Stan Lee.

Stroud: Did you have a favorite character you worked on over the course of your long career?

Buscema: Absolutely. My favorite would be the Incredible Hulk. Far and away. I love the character and did it for almost 10 years. As a matter of fact Herb did it for 7-1/2 years and I did it for almost 10 and what’s so funny is that there was a book produced a couple of years ago that was a history of the Incredible Hulk and neither one of us are in there. (Chuckle.) I find that really extraordinary since between the two of us we had 17 or 18 years’ worth of work illustrating that character. He and I had a good laugh about that. Maybe they were just highlighting the more recent talent. Just the nature of the business I suppose. Anyway, that is definitely my favorite character and I’d work on him in a minute given the opportunity.

Stroud: Do you feel like they’ve done him justice on the big screen?

Buscema: I felt like they finally captured him very well in The Avengers. Better than the first two films. The first movie certainly had its moments, but I just didn’t care for the movie that much or for the story that much. I think they really got carried away and never felt like Ang Lee had a feel for what the character was all about. I didn’t like the fact that he was 25 feet tall, for example and I really felt like they missed the boat. Now I thought some of the animation was excellent. He was a little too good looking for my tastes.

I thought the second movie was much better in terms of the story. In a lot of instances, I didn’t think the animation was that good. The drawing of the figures just wasn’t that good. It had its moments, too and was superior to the first movie, but in The Avengers I thought they really captured what the character was all about. It was a lot of fun and they even managed to inject some comedy into it and I really liked it. I just think they finally hit their stride. The first two movies, especially the first, just missed the boat. The second one was better and I thought The Avengers was excellent.

Incredible Hulk (1968) #278, cover penciled by Sal Buscema & inked by Al Milgrom.

Stroud: I’m with you. I was with everyone else in the theater audience laughing my head off at those two particular scenes.

Buscema: (Laughter.) They were hilarious and it was like he was a big kid. This 6 year old mentality with the strength of a billion guys was absolutely hilarious. I think it’s part of what makes the character interesting and so much fun to do. The possibilities are almost limitless with a character like that.

Stroud: You’ve worked both Marvel method and full script. Do you have a preference between them?

Buscema: Oh, yes. Marvel method far and away. One of the reasons I’d given up penciling was because first of all I’d had enough of it. I think I’d just gotten to the point where I was over-saturated. I didn’t want to do any more penciling. Essentially, I’d retired. Even though I want to continue working I was officially retired some 11 or 12 years ago.

Working full script is just an absolute bore. I think it was the genius of Stan Lee who came up with this concept of working by giving the outline of the story to the artists and telling them to flesh it out and this is what created the excitement of Marvel comics. It made them head and shoulders above anything else that was being produced in the ‘60’s, ‘70’s, ‘80’s and even the ‘90’s and made them the biggest selling comic book company in the world. I think it was because of that method. The stories were so much more dynamic. I mean who can tell a story better than Jack Kirby, pictorially speaking? Stan recognized that the gift these guys had and said, “Let me just give them their head. Let them do whatever they want to do.” The result as fantastic. To this day I cannot understand why it was abandoned.

I don’t even look at comic books any more. I was at Borders a month or two ago and out of morbid curiosity I walked over to the comic book end and picked up a couple of Spider-Man books and one or two others and leafed through them and I had to put them back on the shelf. I can’t stand looking at them anymore. I don’t know what’s happened to the medium of comic books, but that’s not what they’re doing anymore. They’re just not doing comic books anymore. They’re trying to reproduce movies in comics and it doesn’t work. It never will because it’s a completely unique and different medium.

The Buzz (2000) #1, cover penciled by Ron Frenz & inked by Sal Buscema.

They’re working on them full script. I speak with Ron Frenz frequently and he’s doing work for DC occasionally and doing work for Marvel occasionally and they’re all working from full script and he can’t stand it. He hates it and for the reasons I stated. It’s so restricting. It’s a case of the writer telling the story by telling the artist what to do, where to place the characters, what he wants in every panel. It just doesn’t work as well. We, as artists, think visually. I know they say writers think visually, too, but it’s just not the same. I think it shows in the difference of the product between today and the product of the heyday of Marvel. There is no comparison as far as I’m concerned.

It’s interesting. I don’t do conventions any more, but when I was, especially back in the earlier days, most of the attendees were children; kids or at least young people. Then there was this extraordinary change in later years. The last dozen or so conventions that I did revealed to me that the people waiting in line for drawings or autographs and so forth were 30, 40 and 50 year-olds. And every one of them telling me, “I don’t buy comic books anymore, when I want to read a comic I re-read my old ones. I just don’t buy them anymore.”

This is why the industry is about 20% of what it used to be. I don’t understand why this is not recognized by the powers that be. The only conclusion I can come to is that they are strictly trying to satisfy their own creative egos. That’s the only way I can put it. They’re not interested in selling comic books. When we were doing comic books, to us it was a business. We were in the business of selling comic books and we sold a ton of comic books. There was a time when Marvel had 50 or 60 titles a month and if a comic book was selling in the 40,000 to 50,000 range per month, it was on the bubble.

I just heard a story recently where the editorial staff at Marvel was all excited because their top Spider-Man book sold 50,000 copies. This is what’s happening now and I just find it extraordinary. When I was doing Spider-Man there were four separate Spider-Man books. Mine was in third place and it would sell anywhere from 220,000 to 230,000 copies a month. Combined, the four books sold over one million copies a month. Now they get excited over 50,000. And as I said, 50,000 in sales for a particular issue back in Marvel’s heyday, probably would have led to that book being canceled because the sales weren’t good enough.

Spider-Girl Annual (1999) #1 pg4, pencils by Pat Olliffe & inks by Sal Buscema.

So that’s where we’ve come and I don’t understand why. I don’t understand the thinking anymore. The comic books we used to do are being produced on film now. They’re certainly not being produced in the books. I have no idea what they’re doing and I just don’t even look at them anymore.

Stroud: The last new books I enjoyed were John Severin’s art on Dark Horse’s “Witchfinder.” John Severin was just the best at vintage western work and this was a showcase for him. I was especially impressed where some pages had no dialogue at all because it didn’t need it.

Buscema: Exactly. One of the nicest things that ever happened to me, pertaining to what you just said, when Mark DeMatteis and I were working together on Spectacular Spider-Man in the book where Harry Osborn dies, I got very emotional about that because Mark wrote a beautiful plot for me to flesh out the story with and the last couple of pages are the very emotional part where Harry passes away and Peter is overcome with grief and goes to Mary Jane about it and she’s overcome and it was just really an emotional trip for me and I guess I put a lot of that into the last two or three pages of the book and Mark wrote absolutely no dialogue. He called me up to tell me. He said, “Sal, those pages were so beautifully told that they didn’t need any dialogue, so I didn’t put any in.” That was one of my proudest moments in my career because coming from a guy like Mark DeMatteis, who is just an outstanding writer, it really moved me a lot. It was very touching.

Stroud: What higher compliment could you receive?

Buscema: That’s what comic books are supposed to be. Comic books are supposed to be pictures, telling a story. The ideal that we always worked for on a monthly basis was to tell the story so that it didn’t need any dialogue. And of course it’s a pipe dream, because you’ve got to have dialogue, you’ve got to have descriptions and so forth, but this was what we worked toward. I have no idea what they’re working for today. I look at pages of panels of heads talking to one another and I have no idea what’s going on and I don’t care. (Chuckle.)

It’s very sad. It’s a wonderful medium, but it’s dying a slow or maybe pretty rapid now, death. Thank God for the movies because we can kind of rejoice when we see these movies and most of them are wonderful. I never miss them and have frankly been disappointed in very few of them. Most of them have been very well done.

DC Retroactive Flash The '70s (2011) #1, cover penciled by Benito Gallego & inked by Sal Buscema.

Stroud: You did one recent project that was kind of interesting to me when you inked the Retroactive Flash from the ‘70’s for DC.

Buscema: Is that the thing with all the gorillas in it?

Stroud: That’s the one.

Buscema: Oh, yeah. The penciler was a guy from Spain, I believe and one of the reasons they asked me to ink it was because I think the guy was just very, very rushed. They must have given him a ridiculous deadline and if I’m not mistaken it was something like a 28-page story. It was more than 22 anyway. (26 in my copy.) Essentially what they wanted me to do was tweak it a little bit. It looked to me like the guy just banged out the pages because he had a ridiculous deadline.

He’s a pretty good draftsman and looks like he’s a pretty decent storyteller, but the pencils left something to be desired. So being a penciler myself I think they just wanted me to tweak it. It was somewhat of a fun job. I was very reluctant to do that to another penciler because I didn’t like it done to me when I was penciling, but in this case I think it was necessary because some of the panels just seemed to have a lot of stuff omitted. Let me put it that way. It was kind of an interesting job. I saw the finished product when I got my comps and it looked okay.

Stroud: I thought so and it was just interesting to me to see your work on a DC book, even though it’s far from your only DC work.

You mentioned your new work with IDW. How did that come about?

Buscema: The work at Marvel and DC kind of dried up and I just want to keep working. Not out of financial necessity, but I just happen to be one of those weird people. First of all, I enjoy what I do so much that I don’t even consider it work, but I’m also one of those individuals that think that work is good for you.

When you retire, what do you do for 24 hours? Well, you sleep for 8 and you recreate for 8. What do you do with the other 8? There’s just so much recreating you can do and I was climbing the walls after a while and I said, “I’ve got to get some work.” Keep busy. I decided I’ve got to keep working as long as people want me to work, if for nothing else to maintain my sanity.

G.I. Joe_ A Real American Hero (1982) #177, cover penciled by Ron Frenz & inked by Sal Buscema.

So I knew one of the editors at IDW. I had done a cover or some small work for him that he’d asked me to do and he used to work for Marvel, so I called his number and he wasn’t in so I left a message and told him what the situation was and I said I was trying to get some work because I want to work. I didn’t hear anything back and then I guess it was 5 or 6 weeks later when I got a call from Chris Ryall who was the editor-in-chief at IDW and they said they had gotten the message from this other editor’s voice mail and that he was no longer with the company and they just hadn’t changed the voice mail and they were really sorry that they didn’t get back to me sooner. So they had just discovered this message that I’d left and they said they’d be more than happy to have me do some work for them and I said I was delighted to hear that and here we are. I’m doing work for IDW now. I appreciate it and they’re a smaller company, but they seem to have their act together and I’m working with a good young penciler there along with working with Ron Frenz on G.I. Joe. I’m working with Lee Ferguson who is a very talented young man and we’re working on a book called “Forgotten Realms” where it’s actually a licensed product having to do with the Dungeons and Dragons game.

It’s good, solid stuff and I’m enjoying it thoroughly. I really am. It’s fun inking different people, too. My philosophy is that you’ve got to keep busy or you just sit and sign your own death warrant. The body and the brain need to be kept active.

Stroud: Do you do much in the way of commission work?

Buscema: Oh, yeah. I’ve got an agent and we’ve got a 25-year relationship and he comes through with commissions fairly frequently.

Stroud: Have you tried you hand at painting?

Buscema: It’s something I’ve tried in the past and it’s something that I always want to get to, but for some reason I just never get to it. But it will happen. I know it will because all I have to do is open one of my books on John Singer Sargent and I get inspired and I start to think, “I’ve got to do something. Paint a portrait or a landscape or something.” I’ll get around to it one of these days.

Stroud: I know that among your interests is something that two of your peers have also done, namely Frank Springer and Joe Rubinstein who have both hit the stage on occasion.

Buscema: Oh, you’re talking about Community Theater. I’m a ham from way back. I did stuff in school and then one year when I was well into my 40’s I decided it would be fun. I was looking for another activity and thought, “Why don’t I try Community Theater?” I wound up doing it for over 20 years.

It wore off after a while. It was fun while it lasted and I met a lot of wonderful people and made a lot of wonderful friends. It was just a really terrific experience. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

DMC (2014) #1, cover penciled by Sal Buscema & inked by Bob Wiacek.

Sal Buscema 1992 Creator Trading Card (signed)

Daredevil (1964) #69, cover by Sal Buscema.


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 Ken Bald - Golden Age Co-Creator of Namora & Sun Girl

Written by Bryan Stroud

Ken Bald signing in 2013.

Kenneth Bruce Bald (born on August 1, 1920) was an American illustrator and Golden Age comic book artist best known for his work on the Dr. Kildare and Dark Shadows newspaper comic strips. Ken was born in New York City and his first published work came early when comic-book fan art he drew at age 14 was published in More Fun Comics (1935) #9, from National Publications.

Captain America Comics (1941) #7 Pg45, penciled by Ken Bald & inked by Bill Ward. This was Ken’s first published professional work.

After finishing school, Bald joined the studio of Jack Binder - one of the early comic-book "packagers" who would supply complete comics on demand for publishers entering the new medium. His first known professional comics work (via Binder) was the seven-page story "Justice Laughs Last," starring the super-speedster Hurricane - in Captain America Comics #7 (Oct. 1941), from Timely Comics. Beginning in 1942, Ken (again via Binder) began drawing features including Golden Arrow and Bulletman for Fawcett Comics.

On December 7, 1942, Bald enlisted in the Marine Corps - serving with the 5th Marine Regiment-1st Marine Division and seeing combat in Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, and Okinawa. He served from 1943 to January 1946, rising to the rank of Captain.

In the 1940s, Ken drew stories featuring superheroes such as Captain America, Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Blonde Phantom, the Destroyer, and Miss America. He both wrote and drew a number of Millie the Model humor stories in the comics Georgie and Patsy Walker, and he drew the teen-humor character Cindy in Georgie and Judy Comics and Junior Miss.

Bald co-created and penciled the first appearance of the Sub-Mariner spin-off character Namora, in "The Coming of Namora" in Marvel Mystery Comics #82 (May 1947). He also co-created the Timely superhero Sun Girl, who starred in a three-issue series in 1948. In addition to his superhero work, Ken contributed several horror/suspense stories to titles such as Adventures into the Unknown, The Clutching Hand, Forbidden Worlds and Out of the Night.

In 1957, Bald transitioned to comic strips, beginning with art duties on Judd Saxon — about "an executive turned detective" for King Features. In 1962 Ken started drawing his next strip - Dr. Kildare (based on the T.V. show of the same name). He continued to draw the strip for 22 years, far outlasting the television show. In 1971 Bald helped to create a Dark Shadows comic strip (again based off of a T.V. show), though that strip ended in 1972.

With the end of the Dr. Kildare strip in 1984, Ken retired — although Guinness World Records in 2017 declared him the world's oldest comic-book artist and the oldest artist to illustrate a comic-book cover (both at age 96) when he came out of retirement to illustrate a variant cover for Marvel's Contest of Champions (2015) #2.

Mr. Bald passed away on March 17, 2019.

It's a rare and wonderful opportunity to speak to a Golden Age creator.  Nearly to a man, they were simply first-class gentlemen and Ken Bald was no exception.  He was a member in good standing of the Greatest Generation and as a Marine, saw action in Okinawa and Guadalcanal, yet he was gentle and kind when I got to speak with him and spoke briefly and fondly of his time in the service.  I wish I'd kept in a bit closer touch with him.  We just lost him a couple of months ago at the tender age of 98, holder of a couple of Guinness World Records for oldest living cartoonist and oldest cartoonist to have recently published work.  I hope you'll enjoy learning a little about him from this short interview.

This interview originally took place over the phone on June 11, 2012.

Bryan Stroud: You must have been a comic fan from the beginning based on that contest you won in More Fun Comics #9 as a young man.

More Fun Comics #9 pg17, featuring fan art from a young Ken Bald.

Ken Bald: Yes, but I was first impressed by Hal Foster. He had a Tarzan strip first before Prince Valiant and I thought that was great.

I went into comics when I graduated from Pratt because it was a job and there were 5 or 6 of us who graduated. There were illustrators and quite a few went into advertising bullpens in the big agencies. They started in the bullpen at $15.00 a week. We went out to Jack Binder’s studio where everything was piece work, but the first week I remember going home with $55.00. So it took off from there.

We didn’t make much per page. On the backs of those 17” boards we worked on we had a list of what you did. The layout guy who roughed things in had his name down and he got so much and the ones that did the secondary figures got so much, the ones that did the main figures, which was what I was mostly associated with got so much and this is all penciling mind you. The inking on secondary got so much as well as the main figures and the background and of course the lettering, so you had sometimes 6 or 7 guys working on the same page.

That was how it went for a while until Jack Binder made me the art director and that paid so much and after that I just did the covers. That was good work.

I enlisted in the Marine Corps December 7th , 1942, a year to the day after Pearl Harbor. So I really only worked for Jack from late May or early June of 1941 through 1942. We got so big that we moved to 507 5th Avenue which was between 42nd and 43rd which was great. We had 30-some guys working on the pages at that time. Jack Binder was great to work with. He and Olga his wife were wonderful people and he had a daughter that was awfully sweet, too.

We were great out there in Englewood, New Jersey where we started. There were maybe 10 of us when this all started in his living room which had drawing tables all around it and then we got so big he renovated this area above a barn/garage kind of thing. It was very nice, actually and that was when we’d grown to a group of 30-some odd and moved into New York City to be closer to our clients like Street & Smith and Fawcett. Most of the famous characters we did, such as Captain Marvel, Bulletman, Bulletgirl, Mister Scarlett, Spy Smasher and Captain Midnight were for Fawcett.

Sub-Mariner Comics (1941) #24, cover by Ken Bald.

Then for Street & Smith I know I did Doc Savage, Mandrake and some Ibis the Invincible. It’s been so many years now. It’s crazy. (chuckle) Then in December 3, 1943 they sent me overseas. I married Kaye October 30, which was a Saturday and that Wednesday we went back to Camp Lejeune where I was stationed and the following Saturday, one week after we married, they sent me to San Diego and Kaye followed me out as soon as she could, but by December 3rd I was aboard ship and I served for 25 months before I got back. I did well. We saw a lot of combat in the 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. I eventually ended up a Captain. Once a Marine, always a Marine.

But while we were at Binder’s it was great. We could take a 2-hour lunch and play 6 or 7 innings of softball right across the street. We were mostly young guys and then we’d work late into the night because it was piece work so it was all about how much you wanted to work and how long you worked as far as how much you made.

When I came back in the early part of ’46 I went to Timely and met Stan Lee and we really hit it off and became very close friends. He had a studio apartment in the Hotel Alamac up on 77th Street and Broadway and I’d meet him there and we’d go out in the evenings. He started me out writing and drawing things like Millie the Model and a whole slew of those girl magazines and then Captain America. Later it was Namora and Namor, the Blonde Phantom and Sun Girl. I did a lot of girl stuff along with Captain America and Namor.

I actually drew Millie the Model in Paris because my wife, Kaye, who performed on Broadway and had a wonderful career as a singer and actress, was invited to perform in France and she accepted with the stipulation that I could come along. So I was able to do my work and send it back to Stan during the period which was about six months. She sang all through France and Belgium. It was sort of a delayed honeymoon for us and it was delightful. As I mentioned before, we had a quick wedding and a week later I was shipped out overseas.

Kaye took a break from her career when the children began to come and later, after our third child was born she began to do so many television commercials they dubbed her the “Commercial Queen.” She did a large number of them and I believe she was in her 70’s when she did the last commercial.

Human Torch (1940) #34, cover by Ken Bald.

She also had a starring role in a movie she did in California while we were stationed out there. She stayed with my aunt and uncle in L.A. and signed with Columbia Studios and was in several movies there. Then she had the opportunity to star in a movie titled, “An Angel Comes to Brooklyn.” It was a musical and featured a great song called, “It’s a Great, Wide, Wonderful World We Live In.” She gave it up, though when we moved to New York to pursue my career.

She’s a Brooklyn girl that I met while I was at Pratt because my best friend was Vic Dowd, who is her brother and that’s how we met. It’s worked out beautifully and she’s still good looking at 88.

Stroud: Good for you! My brief chat with her on the phone made me feel like she was an absolute delight.

Bald: She is. Marrying her was one of the smartest things I ever did. I’m not giving you much except for the fact that I got to put Millie the Model in Paris while we were there. We lived not far from the Eiffel Tower and Paris was great. I was introduced to escargot and loved it.

Thinking back, we had no idea that we were in the Golden Age of comics at that time. Comics to me were a step toward illustration. I kept trying to do illustration and advertising while I was doing this stuff for Stan and while I was doing all the covers for American Comic Group. That included titles like Lovelorn and Romantic Adventures and western covers and scary ones; Adventures Into The Unknown - that sort of thing.

Eventually a fellow up in Boston had seen some of the commercial comics I’d done and he had an idea for a syndicated strip called “Three Against the City.” He came to see me and did a script for one week and I drew it up and we gave it to King Features and they had it for a month and then they decided that it was too much “big city,” to try to sell throughout the Midwest and so forth. But they did say they liked the artwork and when they had what they considered a saleable strip they would call me. Usually you think that’s a lot of bunk, but almost two years to the day they did call me with this idea for “Judd Saxon” who was a troubleshooter for a big, major conglomerate that would go one time to offshore drilling rigs and then to Asia for some other thing they were investing in. It was an adventure kind of strip that included business.

Adventures Into the Unknown (1948) #23, cover by Ken Bald.

At that time they had “Executive Suite,” and other big business themed things like that which had been popular in the movies so they were trying to capitalize on that and asked me to draw it. So I did that for 7 years, and it did okay but it never got a Sunday page. So then they came up with the possibility of doing “Dr. Kildare.” They said I would have a Sunday strip immediately and I think I did that for 23 years. There was one full year where I didn’t have a single day off. It was when I was doing “Dark Shadows,” which was a 7-day strip with the 6 dailies and the Sunday and “Dr. Kildare” which was 6 days and a Sunday.

Meanwhile I was still trying to do the advertising work that paid and so for one year I could not take off a day, it was so much work. So at the end of that year while “Dark Shadows” was really big in the bigger cities, particularly the East Coast and West Coast along with Chicago and Detroit; it didn’t do too well in the Bible Belt. They couldn’t buy into a vampire hero evidently. I liked doing it and the people at the Daily News in New York got more mail about when it got dropped than they ever had up to that time. People liked it, just not enough. It was not carried by King Features.

I had to sign the strip “K. Bruce.” My middle name is Bruce. King Features didn’t want me to sign it “Ken Bald” or whatever I was using on “Judd Saxon” and “Dr. Kildare. “ I hated in a way to give it up (“Dark Shadows”) but financially it wasn’t doing very well whereas “Kildare” always had a big overseas market in places like South Africa and Japan and at least one Chinese paper and of course Europe.

So I kept that up and also did some movie posters in the ‘50’s for films with Mario Lanza and “Frisco Bay” with Alan Ladd. In addition I did some book illustrations and of course the advertising work. Advertising work paid better than most anything else. Consequently I didn’t do any comic book work since the middle ‘50’s.

Stroud: So you missed out on all the backlash at the time.

Bald: And now with the website and all ( I’m back to doing the comic work again. (Laughter) It’s like I’m starting all over again. So far the most popular commission I’ve done is Captain Marvel, but I’ve been asked to do Sun Girl, Blonde Phantom, Namora, the Sub-Mariner, Doc Savage and of course lately there’s been a demand for the Dark Shadows stuff. I owe that to Johnny Depp. (Mutual laughter.)

The first week of Dark Shadows strips, with art from Ken Bald.

Stroud: That’s created new interest, I’m sure.

Bald: It certainly did. We got to see it at their invitation, Kaye and I, and it seemed like it couldn’t make up its mind if it was going to be campy or drama. That’s what I thought about it, so it was a bit of a disappointment in a way. It had a few good laughs, but I was disappointed. I preferred the way it was on the television series.

Stroud: My wife and I went to see it and I had a similar reaction. I didn’t dislike it, but I don’t think it will become part of my personal movie library.

Bald: I’d like to reiterate that everyone I worked for and with was very nice and kind. Stan Lee and his wife Joan are still some of Kaye and my closest friends. He just recently sent me a picture of the two of us at the last Comic Con in New York and it was the first one I’d ever attended. It shows the two of us sitting together and he’s doing his autograph and I’m still laughing in the picture because he’d just said, “Can you believe it, Ken? They pay $50.00 to stand next to me while I’m sitting for a picture, and they line up to get it autographed for another $50.00. Is that something else?” Anyway, we talk quite often and our wives talk more often than we do. He also sent me a photo of him signing when he got the star on the walk of fame or whatever it was just recently. I am very proud of that friendship. We go back to 1946.

Until just the last few years, where I’ve had to give up flying we used to go out there pretty much every spring we stayed with Stan and Joan both when they lived on Long Island and then when they moved to L.A. Unfortunately we don’t travel like that anymore. I played basketball until my 84th birthday, but my knees aren’t that good now, so I teeter and totter some, so I’m a lot more careful. It’s kind of a shame because I’ve been an athlete all my life and love football and basketball. In fact I’ve been a fan of the New York Giants since I was probably 17 years old.

Stroud: I see you’re going to be a guest at the Baltimore Comic Con in a few months.

Bald: Yes and Michael Finn put out a nice press release about it. This will be my second one since the one back in March that I mentioned earlier.

I wish I still had more of my originals. Syracuse University has over 1,000 of my Judd Saxon strips and a doctor who is a collector has all but cornered the market on my Dr. Kildare run.

The first week of Judd Saxon strips, with art from Ken Bald.

All the things now are new work and I just continue to think it’s funny that after 70 some years of being a working professional artist that I’m back to doing what I started with. (Laughter.) My memory may not be accurate, but it seems to me that back then, doing main figures was worth a dollar and a half or at the most two dollars for the pencil work. Inking was about the same. So I estimated that the total cost of a page to Jack Binder might have been $17.00 or $18.00 back in the day. But of course because it was piece work you tried to get it done as quickly as you could to get by. One of the things the artists, including myself, used to do was to put a lot of back views into the panels. Those were much easier to do, drawing the back of the head and the shoulders and such. But then I think it was Rod Reed at Fawcett who started saying, “Backside Binder.” We had to do less back views. (Mutual laughter.)

Oh and before I forget I wanted to mention another very close friend of mine, Kurt Shaffenberger who did Superman for a long time and Supergirl and Superboy. He remained for his whole life doing the comics. I think he stopped in his late ‘70s. I went to his 80th birthday party and I’m glad I did because he died shortly thereafter. I also knew Clarence Beck who originated Captain Marvel and his wife, Hildy through Jack Binder from the time when I was doing Captain Marvel.

Stroud: The original crew. What a wonderful opportunity. You worked on so many characters, but did you have a favorite?

Bald: As far as overall, it was Barnabas Collins, but for superheroes I guess maybe Bulletman was my favorite at the time. But of course I was happy to do whatever assignment I had given to me by Stan or whomever I was working for.

Stroud: You’ve had a wonderful career.

Bald: I’ve had nothing to complain about. I’ve met nice people, had my scholarship at Pratt renewed which helped me get my start and had a very good life.

Contest of Champions (2015) #2 Ken Bald Variant.

Miss America (1944) #1, cover by Ken Bald.

Namora (1948) #1, cover by Ken Bald.

Venus (1948) #1, cover penciled by Ken Bald & inked by Lin Streeter.

Venus (1948) #1 cover recreation by Ken Bald.

Sun Girl (1948) #1, cover by Ken Bald.


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 Joe Barney - From the Crusty Bunkers to the Goon Squad

Written by Bryan Stroud

Joseph John Barney.

Joseph John Barney (born in 1956) is an American artist best known for his work in comic books and graphic art. Joe began his career at age 19 as an illustrator at Continuity Associates in New York working with Neal Adams. He also worked on Madison Avenue, turning out hundreds of storyboards and 'animatics' for TV commercials. He free-lanced as a comic book penciler as well, working on such famous Marvel characters as The Hulk, Thor, War Machine, Silver Surfer, and the Fantastic Four

In the nineties Joe moved west to work in the burgeoning multimedia arena. Some of his projects have included: character design for Broderbund software's Carmen Sandeigo nemesis Chase Devineaux; animation artwork for the CD-ROM games Mysterious Island and Marty the Mouse for Elliot-Portwood Productions; a web adventure comic series for Eplay, an educational children's web site; production paintings and storyboards for the CGI 'cinematics' of Crystal Dynamic's Akuji the Heartless Playstation game; and a 'film noir' comic book for the I.T. consulting firm Xpedior.

His current project (with writer Cary Bates), Saurheads, is an original animated film property featuring dark humor with dinosaurs.

Another Continuity member in good standing is the great Joe Barney, who had a number of interesting stories and observations while toiling away at Continuity all those years ago.

This interview originally took place over the phone on March 3, 2012.

Marvel Super Special (1977) #37 pg1, penciled by Joe Barney & Larry Hama and inked by Tom Palmer.

Bryan D. Stroud: If my information is correct, you began at Continuity at the age of 19?

Joseph Barney: Yes, I was hired in March of 1975. I was at the School of Visual Arts at the time, but my credits didn’t transfer from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where I’d studied for a year, majoring in art. So because SVA, for some reason wouldn’t recognize my credits, I was forced to repeat all the foundation year courses about color theory, etcetera, all over again, and I began to get bored and impatient. I was there because I wanted to learn to draw comics, and SVA was supposed to be the comics school, founded by Burne Hogarth, with instructors like Will Eisner. But there were a lot of teachers there who had zero respect for comics, or even illustration. It was the times I suppose, and in the 70’s avant-garde was the order of the day -- illustration and comics weren’t real art. “Art School Confidential” had it nailed with that John Malkovich teacher character –“I was the first to do triangles”. I had a few teachers like that there. I did get to sit in once on one of Will Eisner’s classes, a second year course. I was smuggled in by an older student, and I wasn’t supposed to be there, but he looked at my portfolio anyway, and was really encouraging to a dumb kid who barely knew who he was. I got the impression he was a very kind man, and really enjoyed imparting his wisdom to a new generation.

I was renting an apartment with two schoolmates in what was basically a classic tenement building on East 92nd Street. One of my roommates from school had a friend, who took his portfolio up to Neal Adams, which we figured was kind of crazy, given his portfolio. But then he came back and said, surprisingly, that Neal was very nice to him, gave him coffee and even had his secretary call up Marvel, to get him an appointment to show his stuff. And the amazing thing was, the guy’s drawings were just horrible, childish. I thought, “If he can get that kind of reception, what have I got to lose?” So I grabbed my portfolio and went to Continuity to see Neal Adams.

Of course I was pretty nervous. I got the same routine I saw lots of other artists get, including Frank Miller, Marshall Rogers and others. He flipped through my portfolio, giving about a second or two to each page (chuckle) while I stood there sweating. Finally, he just said, “What would you say if I said you don’t draw enough?” “I’d say you’re probably right.” “Mm-hmm… Would you like to do a little work while you’re here?” I said, “Sure.” “Well, here, trace off this macaroni package we’re doing for this commercial job.” So I’m tracing macaroni in one of this little reference library room, where they had this lightbox desk, and about 20 minutes later he comes back and says, “listen, I’m kind of looking for assistants right now, and I thought maybe we’d give you a try, and if it turns out to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, maybe we’ll make it an ongoing thing.”

Marvel Fanfare (1982) #7, cover by Joe Barney.

So I was in the right place at the right time, really. I was pretty much the first of what I think of as a second wave of young blood there, being at the tail end of the Crusty Bunkers. The Crusty Bunkers, I think, had sort of served as a test run, intentional or not, that proved that a group effort inking late books under Neal’s supervision could be a profitable thing for all involved, and keep the work flowing for the young up-and-comers. But it consisted of a lot of independent artists, not Continuity renters, just guys who would come up and occupy a desk for the duration of a particular inking job. There were a bunch of young guys who were hired on, or rented space after me in the following year or two. After me there was Joe Brozowski, Carl Potts, Michael Netzer, Lynn Varley (not a guy), and Bruce Patterson; I think Terry Austin and Bob Wiacek had already been working for Dick Giordano, and started formally renting a space soon after I arrived. Ralph Reese and Larry Hama were already renting in one of the back rooms, and had been doing the freelance thing there for Neal, as well as their own stuff, for a couple years already. They both had sort of apprenticed with Wally Wood in the years before that. It was quite a time--and place--for young artists.

Stroud: I expect. Did you have a particular specialty? It seemed like for the most part that a lot of the Crusty Bunker work was strictly inking during those frenzied overnight turnaround jobs.

Barney: Well, the Crusty Bunkers was basically inking jams, whereas we all pretty much did a little of everything—whatever was called for—penciling, coloring, paste-ups, whatever. By the time I was around, because it was basically a new group, and guys like Berni Wrightson and Alan Weiss were busier with their own work, the Crusty Bunkers were basically no more, so we needed a new name. Somebody dubbed us The Goon Squad, and that sort of stuck for a couple years. Neal had gotten an account with Charlton Comics to do these black & white, magazine-sized comic book adaptations of three TV shows, The Six Million Dollar Man, Space 1999 and Emergency! (which was the most boring one of the three for us to draw). Do you remember that show?

Stroud: Oh, yes. I used to watch it when I was a kid. My Dad was very much into cop shows and anything related to them so I saw ‘em all. The FBI, Dragnet, Police Story, Police Woman, The Rookies, Adam 12…

Marvel Super Heroes (1990) #15 pg 66, penciled by Joe Barney & inked by Jeff Albrecht.

Barney: Yeah, and I think Emergency was sort of a spin-off of Adam 12. I think they had the same producers. Of course we all wanted to draw super-heroes, but those books were actually a good thing for all us young artists to cut our teeth on. It’s a lot more of a challenge to make comics about paramedics exciting than it is super-heroes.

Neal had a process where he would review our layouts, our incompetent, 19-year olds layouts, and he would go over them with a Pentel and correct our drawing, and if necessary, the compositions. It was amazing what he could do with a Pentel and a tiny little space of paper. Everything he put down was structurally correct: anatomy, perspective, folds in clothing, cars, buildings… his knowledge was just amazing.

I don’t know if you know his technique, how he would do his own layouts. He’d take an 8-1/2” x 11” sheet of paper and fold it in four, and make four pages of the story out of it, so each quarter was a complete page. And they were incredibly tight, precise little things. He would then stick the layout into an Artograph, which was this huge overhead projector sort of device. You’d stick the layout sketch in the projector, and it projected it onto the drawing table. You would then raise and lower it to enlarge or reduce the image to the size you needed on the final page, and trace it off, enhancing it as you went.

So we would basically use the same technique for the Charlton TV stuff. We’d take the layouts that Neal had edited, then go into the Artograph room, turn off the lights, and follow the process. There were two desks in the room, each with one of these big, unwieldy projectors, and there would often be someone else working at the other Artograph to keep you company. We also used a lot of photos, which the TV people provided for us, that we’d also use the Artograph for. Wally Wood had a famous credo that was passed on to us through Larry and Ralph: “Never draw what you can copy; never copy what you can trace; and never trace what you can cut out and paste in.”

So anyway, then Neal would review the finished penciled page one last time, and then “Diverse Hands” (that later became a pseudonym Marvel used for group deadline saves) would do the inking. On the Charlton TV books, besides Neal, who did primarily figure work and faces, there was Gray Morrow, Vicente Alcazar, Ed Davis, Sal Amendola… I think Russ Heath did some work, Bruce Patterson, Terry Austin and Bob Wiacek, and of course Dick Giordano -- and the rest of us ‘kid pencilers’ all pitched in on the backgrounds. So it was one big group effort. The end result could be kind of a mish-mash -- some pages would turn out better than others -- but they still came out better than most of what Charlton published, and it was a really great learning experience for all us young guys.

What If (1989) #70 pg1, penciled by Joe Barney & inked by Don Hudson.

Stroud: I know more than one of your colleagues has said they learned a tremendous amount there even though they said Neal was not exactly a teacher.

Barney: That’s true, for the most part -- he wasn’t specific about any tips, per se, other than generalities like “thinking about what you were doing”. (Which is of course, a good idea for most things). He also emphasized the need for using reference photos, instead of just drawing, say a car, out of your head. A large part of his incredible store of knowledge of how to draw things, and people in particular, came from his years doing Ben Casey, where he used Polaroid’s he’d shoot for each scene, using himself, family & friends as models. I remember he also had specific ideas about the proper way to hold a pencil or pen. I tried to change my grip to the way Neal held it, but I just couldn’t get used to it, and control the pencil as easily. Later on, I asked Berni Wrightson about that, and he said Frazetta told him you should just hold it in whatever way came naturally... Recently though, I saw a close-up photo of Frazetta holding a pencil -- and he had the same grip as Neal’s.

You mostly learned by observing what he did, and by what he corrected in your work. Looking back on it, Neal was really a generous guy to take on this unruly mob of dysfunctional kids. It probably didn’t make him much money for the bother.

But I wouldn’t say he accepted just anybody. I was sitting next to Neal when Frank Miller came in. Much like me, he was this nervous kid from the sticks -- here in the big city with the famous Neal Adams looking at your work. Neal gave him pretty much the same routine I got, where he just thumbed through his work and concluded, “It’s not good enough.” Obviously it didn’t discourage Frank. He worked up more pages and came back and went through it again, I think two or three times. It was the same with Marshall Rogers. I think he told Marshall he was too old. He may have been 5 or 6 years older than we were.

Stroud: Oh, that’s funny.

Barney: (Chuckle.) I guess that was the test. If you really wanted to be a comic book artist, and Neal Adams gave you the bum’s rush, you needed to come back and keep trying.

Marvel Fanfare (1982) #7 pg 15, original art penciled by Joe Barney & inked by George Freeman.

Stroud: Your earlier recollection reminded me of Bob McLeod’s story that his artwork wasn’t really up to snuff but Neal realized he needed a gig, so he made that magic phone call to Marvel and got him a job as a letterer.

Barney: Sure, he would recommend you to the companies, and vouch for you if an editor asked. The first comics job I worked on was a Wonder Woman job that Dick Giordano had, and he didn’t have time to do, and Neal offered the penciling to me, as a sort of “ghost artist”. So that was the first actual comics penciling I did; this was before Neal got the Charlton TV adaptations. It was in my first few months there, pretty much before any other “Goon Squad” members were hired on. So actually, this was my first experience with the Neal Adams Method of penciling a comic book page. Again, I would do the layouts on 8X 11 paper-- in this case from Marty Pasko’s full script--and Neal would then review them and correct them with his Pentel. Then I’d Artograph them onto the final page, polishing them until they were acceptable enough for he and Dick to ink. I think Dick did most of the inking on that story, with Neal most of the close-ups of faces, and maybe Terry Austin and Bob Wiacek doing backgrounds, as they were exclusively Dick’s assistants at the time.

That was pretty cool, to be 19 and doing published work with Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, even if it was uncredited; looking back, I think it was basically a gift from Neal, to give me a shot so early on.

Stroud: I’m sure the thrill was immeasurable and probably a good confidence boost, too.

Barney: Oh sure. Then, about a year later, around the time we were finishing the run of the Charlton books, Cary Bates came up looking for artists to work on an idea for a spinoff book he had. Cary had been coming around the studio to visit, and I think he also became a renter soon after that period. This would have been early ’76. He had an idea for a spinoff of The Flash, which he was writing then, featuring Gorilla City and starring Grodd the Super-Gorilla, and he was looking for artists to do some samples to pitch a series to DC.

Stroud: I remember the character well.

An unpublished page from Grodd of Gorilla City, penciled by Joe Barney & inked by Terry Austin.

Barney: I’m not exactly sure how it came about that there were two pencilers involved, but Carl Potts, another new Continuity recruit, got brought in on the project, and Terry and Bob, who were kind of a team then, were assigned to the inking. So there were two pencilers and two inkers on the book, as well as two writers, Cary and Elliot Maggin. But Cary and Elliot had already been a team for many years, on several DC books, with Elliot more the dialogue guy, and Cary more the plot guy. If you go to my website you can see the double-page spread for Gorilla City, inked by Terry, who did a great job on it. I spent about a week just on those two pages, because they set the scene, and the design style of the city for the story -- and they helped to sell the idea to DC.

So at one point in 1976, Carl and I had to go up to meet with Carmine [Infantino] with our sample pages, to get the green-light on the book, which was sort of like going before the Mafia Boss. (Chuckle.) Pretty nerve-wracking. He had been the publisher since about 1970, I think…

Stroud: That sounds about right. (Note: Carmine’s wonderful autobiography, “The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino,” has the timeline listed as 1967 for his ascension to Editorial Director and then Publisher and President in 1971.) And of course not only was Carmine the big boss, but also the original Silver Age Flash artist, which must have added an additional burden to your pitch.

Barney: Exactly! (Chuckle) We were trying to outdo his own, established version of Gorilla City I guess, which for the most part was standard ‘50s futuristic architecture. But he did green-light the thing, and we finished it, it was lettered, and were all paid… but then there was a big shakeup at DC, with Carmine leaving and Jenette Kahn coming in. So it just sat on the shelf for a year, until they finally stamped it with that infamous stamp, and gave the artwork back to us. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but basically it was, “This is not going to be published." Like I said, the final product was a bit of a hodge-podge, so it was understandable. Everyone did a good job, but the style varied drastically from page to page, and it just didn’t gel.

Someone else recently did an interview with me about Gorilla City, under the title “Greatest Stories Never Told”. It would have actually been a very commercial idea, I think. Sort of a Planet of the Apes meets Howard the Duck satirical kind of thing.

Stroud: Why not? It worked for Kamandi. Did you have anyone at Continuity that you hung out with or was there any time for socializing?

Another unpublished page from Grodd of Gorilla City, penciled by Joe Barney & inked by Terry Austin.

Barney: Well, we were all together pretty much 24/7—or at least, 16/7-- so I was friends with pretty much everyone there, I guess. Marshall Rogers was a good friend. As was Larry Hama, Ralph Reese, Michael Netzer, Bruce Patterson, Joe Brozowski, Mike Hinge, Bobby LondonCarl Potts and I were sort of partners for about a year, freelancing onsite at an ad agency Continuity farmed us out to.

Continuity was this long railroad kind of layout, basically a long hall with a series of rooms off to one side. I started out in the front room, sitting to there right of Neal for the first year or so. I was on salary that first year, and I forget exactly how everything happened, but at some point I changed over to working freelance, billing by the job, with storyboards or animatics work broken down into penciling, inking and coloring. There was the front room, and then the next room back was the ArtOGraph room, which was next to the reception area/office, by the elevator, then down the hall was Jack Abel’s space-- a room with two or three desks in it. Next to that was Terry and Bob’s room, then the small reference library/lightbox room, which was later rented by Greg Theakston; then Ralph and Larry’s room, and in the back was what became Marshall’s space, which he shared with Bobby London for a time, and later his writing partner Chris Goldberg. The rest of the back area was storage, which was eventually cleared out and became the space I was renting for my last couple years there. Each space consisted of a drawing table and a tabaret. In the in-between years, I was Jack Abel’s roommate for about a year or two, during the period I was doing the Gorilla City project. Jack was one of the old-timers who had been around for a while. Of course, I was a big fan of all the 60’s Marvel stuff, that’s really why I got into comics, and I didn’t fully connect at first that Jack was the guy who inked Iron Man over Gene Colan, in “Tales of Suspense”, because he had used the pseudonym “Gary Michaels” on those books. In the 60’s, artists often didn’t want to take the chance of burning bridges at either Marvel or DC by crossing between companies, so they sometimes used pseudonyms to keep the rival company from finding out you were working for the enemy. Anyway, we would listen to the Bob and Ray Show every noon hour -- they still had a daily show on AM radio, with their hilarious comedy skits, in the 70’s. Bob and Terry were in the next room, and they were fans too, so we would all listen to Bob & Ray together while we worked. Fun times.

Finally, for whatever reason, I ended up in the very back room, a former storage area where the air conditioning unit was. My roommate there was science fiction illustrator Mike Hinge, who was from New Zealand, and was primarily a cover artist for science fiction novels and magazines. He specialized in covers for digest books like Analog and Astounding. He’d also done a couple of covers for Time Magazine in the early 70’s, including the famous Nixon cover, “The Push to Impeach”. He was a very imaginative guy with a unique style – his work inspired a lot of Steranko’s psychedelic graphics that he inserted into stuff like his Shield books in the late 60’s. Steranko even published “The Mike Hinge Experience”-- a large sized sort of portfolio book -- through his SUPERGRAPHICS company.

Marvel Super Heroes (1990) #15, cover penciled by Joe Barney & inked by Larry Mahlstedt.

Mike had kind of fallen on hard times, and had lost his lease on the loft he’d lived in for years, and he was in dire need of a place to work, so Neal let him stay in the back room. It became his living/work space. It was pretty rough going for him -- he was probably in his early 50’s at the time, and had to shower at friends’ apartments. I think it, understandably, made him a bit cranky, though he was a basically a good-natured guy (unless you were a publisher) -- a little eccentric, but then most of us renters there had our quirks… He had this incredible record collection -- it was his prime focus, his main obsession, next to science fiction. He hated the term "sci-fi", and would jump down the throat of anybody who used it; he considered it a vulgarization of the term for what he considered a legitimate art form. He liked to listen to whatever the latest was in music, the more avant-garde the better. Many was the night we'd stay up working – often all night-- at Continuity, with separate headphones, taking turns introducing each other to whatever was “the latest”: UltravoxXTC, Terry RileyBrian Eno, Robert Fripp, Talking Heads, Philip Glass, and scores more … but my favorite band name from the Hinge collection was this early Industrial group, with the hilarious name "Throbbing Gristle"…THEY were OUT there. But then, so was Mike… We were studio mates, there in the backroom, for two or three years. He passed away a few years ago.

Stroud: Ah, yes. I think it was Greg Theakston telling me about Mike Hinge and his affection for using “Gehman Mahkers.”

Barney: Yeah, I was reading about that on Greg’s blog… it’s true, I can still hear him saying that, with that thick New Zealand accent...

Sometimes I wish I’d stuck with the comic book work. I tended to be a little too perfectionistic with it, and the advertising work was a big diversion, a detour from comics and illustration. There were good and bad aspects to doing the advertising stuff. The good part was that it paid at least three times as well as comics, and kept us struggling young artists alive, with maybe even a little money in the bank left over. But the bad part was that it kind of sucked you in and diverted a lot of energy from doing work that might actually be published. With the advertising stuff, the work that was only seen by a few clients of the ad agencies, and ultimately just ended up in the circular file, or if you were able to get the art back, in your portfolio. But comics pay was just dirt cheap back then. Starting rates of something like $25.00 a page for pencils and inks. Neal was able to shift easily between the advertising & comics stuff, but for some of us, it was hard to do both.

Stroud: It seems like Ralph Reese was telling me that the advertising paid a lot better, but the payment would be 90 days down the road or so.

Marvel Super Heroes (1990) #15 pg 27, penciled by Joe Barney & inked by Frank Turner.

Barney: Very true. The bigger agencies would hold onto your pay longer, I think because they made sizable interest on the money, due to the volume of people they employed. Ralph and I and Joe D’Esposito were partners in our own commercial art studio for about 6 years, called Studio 23, after we left Continuity.

Oh, so speaking of comics, and to rewind a bit… Jim Steranko was the first professional to ever look at my work. It was at the Detroit Triple Fan Fair Convention in 1971. It was my first convention. I was 16, a kid from small town Wisconsin and totally clueless, and I thought, “Well, if I get a chance to show my work, I have to have a real portfolio, like the professionals.” So I used my little sister’s doll clothes case, a sort of attaché case, because it had a plastic fake leather veneer. (Mutual laughter) Years later I heard that Steranko himself claimed real pros didn’t use fancy leather portfolios, but tended to carry their samples in folded cardboard bound with a string. I didn’t expect that I’d necessarily get to show my work to Steranko, but figured I might get to show it to somebody, so I should be prepared and have a portfolio that looked “professional”.

At the convention, I befriended Keith Pollard, who lived in Detroit, and was also aspiring to break into comics. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Detroit Triple Fan Fare was run by future Continuity renters Greg Theakston and Michael Nasser (now Netzer). I have some pictures from those conventions, and years later, was looking at them and it was, “Hey, that’s Mike Nasser.”

Stroud: Yeah, in fact, I think Mike told me he picked Neal up at the airport to drive him there one year.

Barney: Somewhere I have this iconic photo I took there of Neal doing a Pentel sketch of Deadman, which has since become a sort of famous Adams piece of art -- it was even used in a portfolio around ’75 for Christopher Enterprises, one of the early comics portfolio publishers. And of course, now I can’t find it. It’s around here somewhere … (Chuckle) It was just so odd because here I was, just this kid at this convention, in the presence of greatness, watching one of my idols… And I could never have imagined that just two years later I’d be working for the guy at his studio in midtown Manhattan, sitting right at “the right hand of the father”.

Anyway, Keith Pollard was also trying to break into comics, and told me about this clandestine, top secret 10 o’clock meeting Steranko was going to hold that night with a small group of aspiring artists. He was planning on publishing a magazine of some kind featuring up-and-coming young talent. I don’t think it ever got off the ground. Anyway, Keith kind of smuggled me in, and when Steranko showed up, he eyed me up and down and said, “Who’s this?” I was the party crasher, and all eyes were suddenly on me. I timidly explained I was just looking for an opportunity to show my portfolio. I was just a fifteen year old kid. So, even though I was an uninvited outsider, I remember he actually said “OK. Lay it on me”. Groovy, man! (Chuckle.)

What If (1989) #70 pg5, penciled by Joe Barney & inked by Don Hudson.

Now you have to understand, Steranko was a superstar, at the height of his fame at the time, and he played the part to the hilt. Again, it was like you were in the presence of one of the gods, and Steranko was the God of Cool. He looked like a cross between James Dean and James West, wearing this all-white, sort of Saturday Night Fever suit. Very intimidating to a kid, especially after drooling all over his Nick Fury, and other originals, all day in the art room. They were the first actual original comics pages I ever saw. So anyway, he looked at my work and asked, “Ever been to New York?” I said, “No.” I guess I was supposed to ask him something beyond that, because the conversation just sort of died there. (Chuckle.) But I took it as a note of encouragement anyway, that he would suggest I was good enough to go to New York and try my luck.

So that was my first convention experience. Vaughn Bode and Jeff Jones were there, too. I didn’t know who Vaughn was at the time, and I only knew Jeff’s work a little from fanzines. They would later become two of my all-time favorite artists. This was just before their monthly strips in the National Lampoon. Russ Heath was also there, whom I also didn’t know of at the time: he was another one I would also later work with at Continuity on commercial stuff. I think the next year was the convention Neal attended, along with Barry Windsor-Smith and Michael Kaluta. I was actually living across the hall from Mike during my first year at Continuity, in a tiny studio apartment on West 92nd Street. There was a guy who was the sole assistant to Neal on commercial work when I arrived, named Steve Harper. Steve was a primarily a fine art-style painter, who lived in the apartment across from Kaluta when I first arrived at Continuity. He was a friend of Mike’s from Virginia, and I guess Mike got him the gig with Neal. He’d been there for a year or so as Neal’s assistant, doing mostly storyboard coloring, and I don’t think he had any aspirations to do comics, or especially, advertising, so he decided to go back to Virginia and do his painting. So luckily, I was in the right place at the right time, and took over his desk. In fact, I also took his apartment. (Chuckle.)

That was a really magical year for me. Mike had just completed his run on The Shadow the year before, and he did his first portfolio, oil paintings illustrating Dante’s “Inferno”, while I was there. He had this small two-room apartment stuffed with all these very cool antique books and knick-knacks.

What If (1989) #70 pg3 original art, penciled by Joe Barney & inked by Don Hudson.

There was one especially memorable series of incidents there in that building… I guess I was about 6 months into my Continuity employment, and Mike had asked me to watch his apartment while he went home to Virginia for a vacation. Of course I couldn’t be there in the daytime, so when I came back from work and checked on his place one night, I found that his skylight had been broken, and somebody had obviously been in the apartment. I guess they’d gotten a portable TV and not much else, but I had to call him in Virginia and tell him the bad news. After he came back from vacation about a few days later, while I was at work, he heard some rustling in my one-room studio apartment, and went over to check it out. This time the guy had broken in through my own small skylight. (Chuckle.)

But Mike actually caught this guy, basically made a citizen’s arrest. Our apartments were on the fifth floor, the top floor of the building, so he went and got this CO2 pellet pistol, which I think was actually still considered an illegal firearm in New York City, and he very bravely went up to the roof and nabbed this guy at (pellet) gunpoint, saying “You’re coming with me, kid.” So he marched the guy downstairs and called the cops, and when they arrived, he was told by the cop doing the report that that it wasn’t entirely legal, so Mike swapped it out for a replica gun that he just happened to have around.

Stroud: For artistic reference, no doubt. (Laughter.)

Barney: No doubt! I was also around during The Studio era in 1976, when Mike joined Bernie, Jeff Jones and Barry Windsor-Smith to share space for a couple years. “The Fab Four”, people called them at the time. It was a grubby old machine shop with high ceilings, and I remember pitching in help to clean it up and convert it to an art studio. That was an amazing thing to witness. They did some fantastic work in that place; they all grew tremendously as artists in the two years they were together.

Stroud: The stuff of legend. I adore Bernie. He’s always been very unassuming when we’ve spoken.

Barney: A very down-to-earth guy. I hung out with him a bit in those days, drinking beer & chasing girls.

Stroud: I was looking over your webpage and I see you list animatics as a specialty. Was that a takeaway from Continuity?

Marvel Fanfare (1982) #7 pg 6, penciled by Joe Barney & inked by George Freeman.

Barney: Yeah, we did a lot of those there. In those days, they actually had exclusive animatics houses where they’d actually shoot them, and add voices, & sometimes music. It was sort of a dry-run rough draft of the commercial to see how it played, before the client actually committed to shoot the actual commercial. Back then, we just did the drawings, and then sent them over to them be filmed in 16 mm for the ad agencies. It was very limited animation, of course. You’d do something for Gillette, for example, of a guy shaving, and the arm was a separate cutout, and they’d just show the arm moving and the shaving cream disappearing on the face, that kind of thing. We had to cut out all these elements and make sure they worked before sending the art over to be filmed. Nowadays, thanks largely to computers, Neal can do everything himself. He’s done some real cutting-edge animatics with computer in the last decade or so, and as you may know, is now applying that expertise to “motion comics”.

I haven’t actually done any animatics for commercial purposes myself for a long time, other than some art for game cinematics. I’ve actually done a few-- I guess you could call them animatics-- for my own projects recently though, using film editing programs. I’ve just finished a proposal in DVD format with Cary Bates, a proposed dinosaur film, a Pixar-style thing.

Stroud: Is that the “Saurheads” I saw on the website?

Barney: Yes. I left Continuity in 1980 a with a couple of the other guys, as I mentioned before, Ralph Reese and Joe D’Esposito, who were also looking to branch out on their own. It wasn’t that we weren’t happy with Neal, but we figured we could maybe make a little more money on our own, and I guess we basically wanted to stretch our wings and make our own way. So we got a studio together on 20th street between 5th and 6th and called it Studio 23. We called it that because 23 was my sort of my ”magic number”, and because it sounded better than “Studio 20”. My wife at the time, Mary, was our rep and studio manager.

We were doing a little bit of animatic work, but mostly storyboards and what they call “comps”, which were marker-drawn pre-visualizations of magazine ads.  Alex Jay was our studio mate, too.  He rented the room next door.  Alex is a top-notch book designer in general, but specializes in logos; he created a lot of iconic Marvel logos, like the one for Walt Simonson’s Thor books.  He also did a lot of work for the late Byron Preiss, who published a lot of comics-related stuff at the time… Alex was designing all these different books for Byron with people like Steranko, William Stout, and Moebius, so we’d see these originals come through the studio, this fantastic original art. 

Stroud:  Oh, wow.

Slomo from Saur Heads by Cary Bates & Joe Barney.

Barney: Anyway, when I was creating SAURHEADS with Cary Bates, Alex shot the photostats for our presentation. Cary and I were both pretty disgruntled with the pay in the comics field, and the prospect of having to live hand–to-mouth for the rest of our lives. We’d seen how much Garfield was making in merchandising at the time, and one of us got the idea to do a dinosaur strip. Of course everyone loves dinosaurs, we figured. It should be good. It should be big. So we whipped this thing together in our spare time, and as I was working on it, this book came in to Alex to design, that William Stout was co-illustrating with a former Disney artist, called “The Little Blue Brontosaurus.” Which was kind of worrisome, since our main character was also blue.

Vump from Saur Heads by Cary Bates & Joe Barney.

Stroud: Uh oh.

Barney:  As it turns out, that book apparently became the inspiration for the “Land Before Time” series.  Alex also designed two more William Stout dinosaur books at that same time, a Ray Bradbury dinosaur book, and Stout’s most famous book, which was called “The Dinosaurs: A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era”. The publisher of these books was Byron Preiss. Alex did a lot of work for Byron. He was both a writer and publisher. Are you familiar with the name?

Stroud:  It’s not coming to me.

Barney:  He was very well known in the business at the time, mostly as a publisher & editor, but also a writer. He worked with a lot of big name artists, trying to do books outside the comics mainstream, mostly in trade paperback form. He did a lot of projects with Ralph, starting with the long-running One Year Affair in National Lampoon.  He also worked with Harvey Kurtzman, Howard Chaykin and many others.  Harvey came up a few times to work with Alex on the design of a book called “Nuts,” which was a MAD Magazine kind of thing, only in paperback form.  Another very nice, very unpretentious guy, considering his monumental accomplishments in the field.

In the early years, being just an ignorant Marvel-centric kid, I wasn’t fully cognizant of how huge some of these people were. I would see Wally Wood come to Continuity once in a while, to visit Ralph and Larry, his former apprentices. He was a very quiet guy, and gave off this aura like, “Don’t bother me, fanboy.” (Mutual laughter.) I picked up on that, so I left him alone, as did everyone, I think. I mostly only knew his Marvel and Thunder Agent stuff; as I said, I was pretty ignorant at the time.

I mentioned before, our post-Crusty Bunker group was called the Goon Squad. Before that name was concocted, Larry Hama, who was possessed of this pretty acerbic wit, at the time referred to us as “The Seven Dwarves”. (Laughter.) His own version, though: Funky, Scuzzy, Spacey, Dorky… I forget the rest. (Mutual laughter.) He had a name for every one of us.

Stroud: He really does have a wicked sense of humor.

Barney: Yes, he does. Like Wally Wood, his mentor, and Ralph, who also worked with “Woody”. Larry and Ralph were high school friends, and shared this back room at Continuity for a few years, and would sort of riff off each other. Then Ralph left for a while to work at home, and Cary Bates took over his space for a year or so. It was kind of musical chairs at Continuity in those days.

Stroud: Lots of coming and going it sounds like. You were obviously there for a few years.

Barney: 1975 to 1980. Probably about as long as anybody in that period. As I’m sure you’ve heard many times, Continuity was like the coffee shop hangout for artists and writers who came to midtown to do business at Marvel or DC, or some other publisher. It was smack-dab in midtown, 48th street between 5th and Madison avenues, a half block from “30 Rock”. I remember, during my first few months there, Jeff Jones came in, on his way to the Lampoon with a big “Idyll” page, and my eyes just about fell out of my head, it was so beautiful. I was just so amazed by it, and he seemed just kind of blasé about it. He was a very low key, quiet kind of guy in general. One of my art idols, for sure.

I had a Frazetta-inspired Conan painting I was attempting at the time, for The Savage Sword of Conan, I think. It was my one of my first attempts at trying to do oil painting, and Jeff gave me a few pointers, mostly about reflective light and color. Dan Adkins was the editor of the Conan black and white books at that time.

So I had this pretty elaborate scenario in the painting, with Conan fighting off about 20 demons. These Nosferatu-like demons, all coming up from this foggy stairwell, clawing at him, and he’s trying to fend them off, with the obligatory girl being sacrificed on an altar in the background. When it was nearly finished I took it to Adkins at Marvel to see what he thought, and he said, “Well, the painting’s not bad, but we can’t use this. You can’t have Conan beating up on a bunch of little guys.”

Marvel Super Heroes (1990) #15 pg 37, penciled by Joe Barney & inked by Frank Turner.

Stroud: (Laughter.)

Barney: I mean, there were about 50 of them, and this girl is about to have this knife plunged into her in the next room. Come on! That was the end of my attempt to paint covers. Different opportunities arose, I think I went on to Gorilla City right after that.

We’d also play volleyball in Central Park. That was another fun aspect of Continuity life at the time (and pretty much our only exercise). In that period, it was very of a loose-knit affair, it was a blend of freelancers and people from Marvel and DC, as opposed to later on when there were clear-cut, permanent Marvel or DC teams. Each week someone was appointed captain, and they’d choose people for their team from whoever showed up. Neal played for a couple games. In addition to the Continuity guys, there was Archie Goodwin, Alan Weiss, Jim Starlin, Sergio Aragones, Walt and Weezie (Simonson), Jo Duffy, Jim Shooter

Jim was like 8 feet tall, which was kind of unfair to begin with. (Chuckle) He played very competitively, and one time spiked the ball really hard, accidentally hitting this poor girl right in the face -- which, understandably, brought her to tears. He felt terrible about it. He walked away from the game, dramatically, saying, "I've got to go. I'm going to hurt someone." I believe the title of that episode was "Volleyball No More..." (Laughter)

Stroud: I think Steve Mitchell told me he was the only one who had a prayer as far as height on Jim.

Barney: Steve was pretty tall too. Before I got there, he was hanging around Continuity and they used to call him “Baby Conan”. He had sort of this baby face at the time, I guess. That was the kind of humor they had running around the place – more often than not, at somebody’s expense.

You’ve probably heard the story about the gag the old-timers would play on the newbies. They would take a sheet of acetate and put it over your artwork while you were gone…

Stroud: Oh, the ink blot or spilled ink bottle.

Marvel Super Heroes (1990) #15 pg 33, penciled by Joe Barney & inked by Frank Turner.

Barney: Yeah. So somebody had done that to Neal, but he was wise to it, and just calmly peeled off the acetate and said “Ha, ha.” So one night Mike Nasser, who idolized Neal and could draw just like him, copied this Superman figure that Neal had been working on, sitting there on his drawing board –perfectly -- and then poured ink directly on it (laughter), and switched Neal’s drawing with it. When Neal came in the next morning, he just smiled and tried to peel the acetate—but there was no acetate -- and for a minute he was taken aback that the ink was actually on the drawing. Mike’s impression was so good, it took him a minute to realize it was a forgery. Practical jokes abounded.

We just had so many colorful characters up there at the time, and in retrospect, I really didn’t appreciate at the time just what an amazing group of talented people came through there. Take Russ Heath. I remembered those Sea Devils covers he did for DC I read when I was a kid in the 60’s, done in those wash tones, and how they looked so much more interesting than anything else at DC at the time. (This was before I discovered Marvel.) I knew he was kind of legendary for his DC war books  - which I was never terribly interested in as a kid -- but didn’t realize he was the Sea Devils artist until I’d been there a couple years. I did a fair amount of penciling of animatics and storyboards that Russ inked. Like Neal, he could make average-looking pencils look very slick with his superior inking skills.

Russ had a lot of great stories, including the now-famous one about his time working for Harvey Kurtzman at Playboy. He got called out there by Kurtzman to help with a deadline on Little Annie Fanny. They gave him a room in the mansion, free room & board, maid service, the works … and he was working away on that job for a few weeks, finished the assist, and then, since nobody said anything, he just stayed there. He was there for something like, I think, nearly a year! I guess one day Hugh Hefner asked someone, “Hey, who is that guy, anyway?”, and he got the boot. (Mutual laughter.)

Stroud: What led you to the west coast? The Hollywood connection?

Barney: No, I just needed a break from the stresses of the city. It can get to be kind of a grind, and I’d been there for sixteen years. My brother lived in Montana, so I knew the area, so I moved there for a while, doing a few Marvel jobs by mail. I also won a commission to do a line of posters at the time, which were to be the first computer-generated Marvel characters. The first two were to be War Machine and Ghost Rider. I didn’t know 3-D modeling myself, but had a friend who helped me with that, constructing a basic model, while I did the layouts, color schemes and fixed figure proportions in Photoshop. The War Machine poster was almost finished, but right around that time the infamous Ike Perlmutter hostile takeover episode happened at Marvel, and they went actually went bankrupt, and their entire poster line got canceled, as well as most of their titles, for a time. Another hard luck story, I guess. That’s showbiz… (Chuckle)

Garloo from Saur Heads by Cary Bates & Joe Barney.

After a few years in Montana, I met a woman here in California while on vacation, moved out here, and though she’s now gone, I’m still here... Northern California is beautiful, and a nice place to be weather-wise of course, and you’ve got all the dotcom and game companies and that sort of work available. That’s what I’ve been doing for the most part in recent years. Storyboards for the game industry, some illustration, logos, whatever comes up. I’ve recently formed my own company, Communicomics, with the aim of specializing in comics and animation for corporate and other markets. Some of the most lucrative jobs I’ve had out here involved creating comics for “IT consulting” companies who wanted to use the novelty of comics as an attention-grabbing communication tool. One that I did was a Film Noir detective take-off, a murder mystery to find out where the company was going wrong. I think there’s a great future niche for comics like that. Then there are my personal projects, like SAURHEADS, and a sci-fi graphic novel I’m developing called “Eye”. So I’m basically all over the map, career-wise. The “fine precipice living” of freelance life.

Stroud: What a rollercoaster. It sounds like you’ve had some fun along the way, though and are still standing. Is there anything I neglected to ask about that you’d like to discuss?

Barney: Nothing in particular… I’ve been on kind of a nostalgia kick recently, reconnecting with old friends & studio mates on Facebook, so this has been fun, bouncing around a little through time, and some good memories. It’s been enjoyable. Nice talking with you Bryan.


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 Kirchner - Starting Out With Continuity and Wally Wood

Paul Kirchner

Written by Bryan Stroud

Awaiting the Collapse (2017) by Paul Kirchner.

Paul Kirchner (born January 29, 1952) is an American writer and illustrator who has worked in diverse areas, from comic strips and toy design to advertising and editorial art. Paul attended Cooper Union School of Art but left in his third year, when (with the help of Larry Hama and Neal Adams) he began to get work in the comic book industry. He started with penciling stories for DC’s horror line and assisted on the Little Orphan Annie strip. In 1973, Ralph Reese introduced Kirchner to Wally Wood, for whom he worked as assistant for several years.

In the mid-1970s, Paul wrote and illustrated the surrealistic comic strip Dope Rider for High Times. For Heavy Metal he did an equally surrealistic monthly strip, the bus. His the bus strips were collected in a book published by Ballantine in 1987. A new edition was released in 2012 by French publisher Tanibis.

In 1983–84, Kirchner did the licensing art and in-pack comic books for the Robo Force robot toy line from CBS Toys. From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, he wrote and drew comics features for He-Man, GoBots, ThunderCats, G.I. Joe and Power Rangers magazines, published by Telepictures.

Paul stopped doing comics from the mid-90s to early 2010s. Between 2013 and 2015 he drew new episodes of the bus which have been published in various magazines in the US and Europe. He also re-launched Dope Rider for High Times. He is currently doing a comic strip, Hieronymus & Bosch, which is featured in the comics section of the Adult Swim website.

Stay tuned after the interview to read 4 full comic stories that Mr. Kirchner worked on!

Paul was yet another Continuity Associates alumni and had a few choice stories to share about his time there.  Short, sweet and enjoyable.

This interview originally took place via email on February 16, 2012.

Murder by Remote Control TPB (2016), cover by Paul Kirchner.

Bryan Stroud: It looks like you had some art training.  What sparked your interest in the field?

Paul Kirchner: I was a comic book fan as a teenager. After high school, I moved to NY in 1970 to attend Cooper Union School of Art. I got a job working in a comic book store and began attending comic conventions. I wanted to get into the field myself.

Stroud: What led you to Continuity?

Kirchner: A classmate of mine at Cooper Union knew of my interest in comics and was a friend of Larry Hama, who was Wally Wood’s assistant at the time. I went to visit Larry at his apartment in Brooklyn to show him my work. That same night, he took me up to meet Neal Adams at Continuity, then located at 9 E. 48 Street.

Stroud: Were you strictly a colorist at the time?

Kirchner: I did some coloring on Neal’s storyboards when there was a crunch. I also penciled a job that he then inked, “Deep Sleep.” (He had to pay for the pencils out of his own pocket as he had had his portfolio stolen when he was sleeping on the subway, and it contained a penciled job he was supposed to ink, among other things.) At Continuity, I did a lot of assisting work for Ralph Reese, penciling in backgrounds, etc., as did Larry Hama.

Stroud: Who did you meet there?

Kirchner: Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Jack Able, Ralph Reese, Vicente Alcazar, Russ Heath, Mike Hinge, Pat Broderick, Scott McLeod, Lynn Varley, Ed Davis, Mike Nasser, and Cary Bates (with whom Larry shared a small office) all had desks up there at one time or another.

the bus (1979) #3 by Paul Kirchner.

Frequent visitors included Gray Morrow, Al Weiss, Howard Chaykin, Jim Starlin, Al Milgrom, Rick Bryant, Joe Barney, Denys Cowan, Sergio Aragones, Frank Brunner, Greg Theakston, Val Mayerik, Alan Kupperberg, Joe Rubinstein, Walt Simonson (who always had a blanket over his shoulder like Linus, for some reason). Cartoonists who came into town to drop off a job at Marvel or DC would often drop by Continuity and hang out for a while. It was casual and there were always people there. Jim Steranko and Bernie Wrightson sometimes came by and there are other people I’m probably forgetting.

Stroud: How long did you spend time at the studio?

Kirchner: I was up there pretty regularly when I lived in NY, from 1972 – 1975, and then would come by and hang out whenever I was in the city for about ten years after that.

Stroud: What did you learn?

Kirchner: I learned a lot from working with other people, getting their often harsh criticism, and watching how they went about things. Picking up the tricks of the trade. 

Stroud: How was payment handled or were you there more for the association?

Dope Rider: Fireworks, by Paul Kirchner

Kirchner: You got paid based on what percentage of a job you were responsible for. You generally had to wait until the check came in to get your share, though Neal gave people loans when they needed the money. A lot of the time I was just hanging out, though.

Stroud: Do you have any particularly fond memories of the time spent?

Kirchner: Yes, lots—enough to fill a chapter. We did a lot of things as a crowd. We’d all go out to eat together, or to catch a new movie. We had a lot of parties.

One time, Larry Hama brought us all down to Chinatown to watch authentic, non-sub titled Kung Fu movies, and we were chastised by a woman in the audience because we were making too much noise. “This is not Disneyland!” she said in a strong accent.

When Neal was away for a weekend, a bunch of us played a terrible practical joke on Joe Rubinstein, pretending we were all high on LSD and messing up the studio. (Mike Nasser had dummied up a fake piece of Neal Adams original art that we defaced.) Joe has never forgiven us, to this day.

We all went to a strip show together when it came out that none of us had ever been to one. Chaykin reached onto the runway to pick up a sequin that had fallen off the stripper’s G string and told her, “I’m saving this as a memento for my Nipponese friend,” handing it to Larry.

Chaykin was an extremely funny guy. When he and Alan Kupperberg got together it was like a professional comedy team the way they played off each other.  Ralph Reese was very funny, with a sort of devastating sarcasm. No one could deflate you like Ralph. Neal was the alpha dog; he’s a mover and shaker, he motivates people and gets things done. He was always trying to form a union of comic artists in those days. That didn’t happen, but Neal was one of the people that helped get creators more rights.

the bus (1979) #36 by Paul Kirchner.

Stroud: Did you rent any space at Continuity?

Kirchner: No.

Stroud: Did you interact with Neal much?

Kirchner:  Yes, a lot. Neal had his desk in the front room right in the center, with desks on either side. I think there were five or six drawing tables in the front room. Neal liked to talk while he worked and didn’t enjoy people who had no conversation. There was one guy who was pretty laconic and didn’t pick up on Neal’s conversation starters. Finally Neal stated, “You’ll never make it as a comic book artist.”

“Why is that?” asked the guy, startled.

“Because you don’t have anything to say,” answered Neal.

Every once in a while someone would come up to the studio to show Neal his portfolio. This would always interest the rest of us because of the suspense: if the guy was good, Neal would make a few calls and get him work right away; if he wasn’t, Neal could be devastating. I once saw him start flipping through the pages of a guy’s book faster and faster and making fart noises with his mouth. One of the regular visitors—already a working professional—wanted Neal to appraise a page he was proud of. “There are so many things wrong with that that it will take me about 20 minutes to go over them.” Neal said, “I’m too busy right now, but could you come back in two hours?”

Dope Rider: Metaphysics, by Paul Kirchner.

It sounds cruel but Neal would actually explain what he thought was wrong with your art and that was invaluable.

Stroud: It looks like you took a page from his book in your focus on advertising work and storyboards.  How did you settle on these specialties?

Kirchner: I was doing comics and then got into doing toy-based comics like He-Man and Go-Bots for Telepictures, a company that put out magazines based on toy lines. In 1986, an ad agency was impressed with my work on the Go-Bots and brought me in to do storyboards on that line. From then on, I got steady work from then and still do today. I find storyboarding fun and I am fast at it.

Stroud: Were there any particular benefits to your association there?

Kirchner: Yes, I got to meet a lot of great people and had a lot of fun. I miss the camaraderie.

Stroud: Did you enjoy your comic work?

Kirchner: Yes, but I always worked too slowly to be very successful at it. It was only when I got into toy design and advertising, where the deadlines are tight, that I learned to pick up my speed and work efficiently.

Stroud: You did some strip work.  What was that like?

Kirchner: The first professional work I did was on the “Little Orphan Annie” strip, assisting Tex Blaisdell. Neal recommended me to Joe Orlando, who was an editor at DC. Joe gave me some horror scripts to pencil that Tex would ink. Tex was a friend of Joe’s and Joe wanted to help him out.

the bus (1979) #43 by Paul Kirchner.

By teaming us up, he could give Tex a high inking rate and me a low penciling rate (which I was happy to get). Tex and I hit it off and he had me assist him one day a week on Orphan Annie.  It was the day before the week’s strips were due, and I would bring them from Tex’s house in Flushing back to the Daily News building in Manhattan, where I would slip them under a door at about 2 am.

Outside of that, the only strip I worked on was “The Bus,” for Heavy Metal, and that only had to be done once a month.

Stroud: I see you were one of Wally Wood's many assistants.  What did you learn from Woody?  Did you enjoy the experience?

Kirchner: Working with Wally Wood was a life-altering experience. I wrote about it at length in a piece that was published in the Comics Journal and reprinted in Bhob Stewart’s Woodwork. Woody was a great friend and mentor.

As with other short entries in this series, we have provided a gallery consisting of Mr. Kirchner’s work - only this time it takes the form of full stories! First up: Survivors from Epic Illustrated (1980) #4, written and illustrated by Paul Kirchner.

Click on the photos to make them larger so you can read each story.

Epic Illustrated (1980) #4 Survivors pg1.

Epic Illustrated (1980) #4 Survivors pg2.

Epic Illustrated (1980) #4 Survivors pg3.

Next we have a story from Weird War Tales (1971) #27: when does the enlisted man become The Veteran - written by Jack Oleck, penciled by Paul Kirchner, and inked by Tex Blaisdell!

Weird War Tales (1971) #27 pg25.

Weird War Tales (1971) #27 pg26.

Weird War Tales (1971) #27 pg29.

Weird War Tales (1971) #27 pg30.

Our next story comes to us from House of Secrets (1956) #120! Written by Sheldon Mayer, penciled by Paul Kirchner, and again inked by Tex Blaisdell - read along to see if The Right Demon Could Do It!

House of Secrets (1956) #120 pg9.

House of Secrets (1956) #120 pg10.

House of Secrets (1956) #120 pg13.

House of Secrets (1956) #120 pg14.

House of Secrets (1956) #120 pg15.

House of Secrets (1956) #120 pg18.

House of Secrets (1956) #120 pg19.

House of Secrets (1956) #120 pg20.

Finally, we explore one of man’s oldest fears - being BURIED ALIVE! Written by Jack Oleck, penciled by Paul Kirchner, and inked by Neal Adams - House of Mystery (1951) #236 brings us Deep Sleep!

House of Mystery (1951) #236 pg14.

House of Mystery (1951) #236 pg19.

House of Mystery (1951) #236 pg20.

House of Mystery (1951) #236 pg23.

House of Mystery (1951) #236 pg24.

House of Mystery (1951) #236 pg25.

House of Mystery (1951) #236 pg26.

House of Mystery (1951) #236 pg29.

House of Mystery (1951) #236 pg30.

You can see more from Mr. Kirchner at these websites:


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 Mike Royer - Working With Jack Kirby & Winnie the Pooh

Written by Bryan Stroud

Mike Royer at WonderCon 2014.

Michael W. Royer (born June 28, 1941) is a comics artist and inker, best known for his work with pencilers Russ Manning and Jack Kirby.

Mike came to southern California in early 1965 to pursue a career in comic book art. He became an assistant to artist Russ Manning on Gold Key's Magnus, Robot Fighter comic book, beginning with issue #12 (Jan. 1966), and Tarzan, beginning with issue #158 (June 1966). By the following year, he was also working with artists Warren Tufts and Alberto Giolitti on the company's Korak, Son of Tarzan comic.

The Rocketeer 3D Comic (1991) #1, cover by Neal Adams.

While continuing to work primarily for Gold Key, Royer began freelancing for Warren Publishing's line of black-and-white horror-comics magazines, drawing the eight-page story "Space Age Vampire" in Eerie #23 (Sept. 1969), and later drawing a handful of stories in Creepy and Vampirella as well.

Royer inked the covers for some of writer-penciler Jack Kirby's "Fourth World" epic at DC Comics, which he began after leaving Marvel Comics. Mike became Kirby's primary inker at DC, working on all of the Fourth World titles. He additionally inked Kirby's next two DC series, The Demon and Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth among other Kirby projects.

Royer also lettered and inked the last six months of Russ Manning's Tarzan Sunday-newspaper comic strip and, in the late 1970s, the first four months of Manning's daily and Sunday Star Wars comic strips.

Beginning in 1979, Royer spent 14 years on staff with The Walt Disney Company, doing art and design for books, comic books and comic strips, theme parks and licensed merchandise. His comics work there included designing and art directing the movie tie-in Dick Tracy and Rocketeer 3D comic books.

Since 2000, Royer has produced freelance art and design, including work on Digimon products and screen icons for the Fox Family cable television channel and its Fox Kids programming bloc.

In 2018, Royer was the Inkwell Awards Guest of Honor at their annual live ceremony.

Mike Royer has had a long and impressive career, and he is probably best known as one of the best inkers over Jack Kirby's pencils on his DC work, such as Mister Miracle, The Demon and KamandiMike had some great stories to share, which I hope you'll enjoy just like I did.

This interview originally took place over the phone on January 16, 2012.

Magnus Robot Fighter (1963) #12 pg4, penciled by Russ Manning & inked by Mike Royer.

Bryan Stroud: It’s pretty well established that your career got started in the mid-‘60s, but I couldn’t tell if you’d had any art school training.

Mike Royer: I went to art school for about a year. I was born and raised in the Willamette Valley in Oregon into a middle-class family who didn’t have the funds to say, “Here, kid. Here’s your money for school.” So I worked real hard during the summer and saved money and was able to go to school for a year and borrowed a little money which I paid back after that first year.

It was just too hard from my standpoint to apply myself properly for the lessons from art school and also work 6 hours a day at the Ben Paris restaurant in downtown Seattle. There was just no time to have a life.

So it was almost a year and I finally just had to pack up and return home. I had all kinds of strange and interesting adventures in art school. I learned to never get a room in a big city YMCA…

Stroud: (Laughter.)

Royer: The people that you meet… Renting an apartment on Capitol Hill with a buddy I met while I was up there and having the stereotypical World War II era Polish landlady who developed a crush on me. Trying to stay away from her added to my “excitement.”

But getting back to your question my school was, unfortunately, the School of Hard Knocks. I sometimes look at the careers of other… I guess I could call them contemporaries or maybe close artists; you know, the 4 or 5 guys who go to New York City and get a loft and work together and use each other as models and that sort of thing and wait for years and years to get married. Maybe I just wasn’t that definite. I knew what I wanted to do, it’s just that I didn’t know how to go about doing it.

I went to a convention in 1964 and took a comic book that another fan, Dale Broadhurst did the writing adaptation. I did the drawing for an Edgar Rice Burroughs story, “The Wizard of Venus.” We got permission from Hobart Burroughs to do it. So we printed this thing up and took it to the convention and met a lot of interesting people, like Harlan Ellison, who is a fascinating, fascinating, brilliant writer and eccentric, lovable human being. Well, you either love him or hate him. I love him.

Prune Face drawn by Mike Royer.

I went primarily because I wanted to meet Russ Manning, who I learned from a fanzine was an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan. I thought, “Well, everybody will be going to the Dum-Dum in the 1964 World Science-Fiction Convention in Oakland,” but of course he didn’t show up because he had a career and a life. But I met Camille Cazedessus who was the editor of “E.R.B.DomBurroughs fanzine and he apparently after the convention in Oakland went to southern California and visited Russ Manning who was living out in the Modjeska Canyon outside of Orange, which was near Santa Ana. So he told him about me, and Caz wrote and urged me to send some samples off to Russ - which I did - and m-a-n-y months later Russ wrote back and said that if I wanted to be an assistant then I would be perfect for the part, or words to that effect.

So I took that as an excuse to pack up my family, tell the place I worked that I would be taking a month’s vacation and we put half our belongings in storage and packed the rest in a U-Haul trailer and headed for southern California and figuratively speaking parked in Russ Manning’s yard and said, “I’m ready to go to work.” So he gave me work.

Stroud: So I guess it was one of those “who you know” situations.

Royer: It helps to have people on your side. That’s how it started. I assisted with Russ for about eleven months and my day job for 5 days a week was credit manager and paint salesman for Sherwin-Williams. I worked with Russ on weekends and nights and after eleven months he mentioned that he knew someone named Mike Arens who worked at an animation studio and they were looking for people who could ink and draw, but primarily ink. So I went into Hollywood and met Mike Arens and went to Grantray-Lawrence Animation to work on the, by today’s standards, extremely cheap and crude Marvel superheroes cartoons which basically consisted of taking stacks of the comic book art, taking parts of the art, pasting it down, extending it down into drawings and occasionally a new piece of art to bridge the comic book panels and limited animation and lip movement. I’m sure you’re familiar with the old Marvel superheroes. Captain America and Thor. The Sub-Mariner had only had about 4 issues published at that time in Tales of Suspense or Tales to Astonish or whatever book it was. It was half a book.

Detective Comics (1937) #452 pg1, penciled by Ernie Chua & inked by Mike Royer.

So we created a lot of brand new stories for Sub-Mariner. I did some penciling and a lot of inking. I got to meet guys like Doug Wildey and Mel Keever and Mike Arens became my real mentor. This was the guy that told me, “If you ever go to talk to an editor you don’t want to be able to turn down a job because you can’t do what is necessary.” He taught me how to letter, which was simply explained to me that lettering each letter is something that you draw. When I was at Disney and was a character art manager and handing out artwork that had to be inked we had a thing where if there was any lettering on it I’d hear, “I don’t letter,” and I said, “Look at it. It’s drawing. Ink the drawing.” I just learned from Mike Arens how each letter was just part of the drawing.

Mike gave me work and I inked and lettered some of his stories for Peterson’s Cartoons Magazine. I also worked with Mike in that year, ’66, worked with him on, believe it or not, Batman, the comic strip, that appeared in shopping newspapers in the south. They were 4 to 6 panels every week that appeared in the supplement of this newspaper. You’d find it on the rack at the supermarkets. It was the TV version of Batman.

Stroud: What a surprise!

Royer: Nobody ever knows about that and the only thing I have to document it is old thermofax copies that are now a really rich brown.

Stroud: (Laughter.)

Royer: But Mike was my mentor and it lasted…I seem to be on these 11-month cycles in the beginning of my career. With the Marvel superheroes I was on that for about 11 months. Then they had a layoff and at the same time Russ Manning was being asked by his editor at Western Publishing to consider doing much more work. He’d done some Tarzan work that was very popular and they wanted him to do the Tarzan adaptations as well as Magnus and some other stuff. He said the only way he could do it was if I were assisting him. But there wasn’t enough money in it to be a full-time income for me, so I got a call from Chase Craig and he said, “Would you like to come in and get some work?” So I never even had to show samples and the first thing that I did for Western Publishing…and I don’t know how many people know this or if I’ve ever mentioned it in an interview before, but the first thing I did was that I penciled a frame tray puzzle of Superboy leaping into the air as the grizzly bear takes a swipe at him. And then it was painted by one of those publishing painters on the east coast and that was my first job for Western.

House of Mystery (1951) #236 pg3, penciled by Steve Ditko & inked by Mike Royer.

So I was working with Russ and doing inking and some lettering for Western Publishing. At some point in there Russ was offered the Tarzan comic strip. Then in 11 months or less I got a phone call from GrantRay Animation saying they’d got the deal to do the first Saturday morning animated Spider-Man series and would I like to come back into work and was interviewed by their new production manager who, in some sort of cockeyed wisdom had been hired from the construction business to be the production manager. You tell me how that makes any sense.

Stroud: (Laughter.)

Royer: And I sat there opposite this guy and he said, “Okay, if you can only work 20 or 25 hours a week that’s fine, but we can’t give you any screen credit if you’re not in house.” Being a naive 20-something I didn’t think that I could just go to the screen cartoonist’s union, that I was a member of, and scream bloody murder and they would have jumped all over this guy and said, “Oh, but yes he does get screen credit.” But, again, being a naïve 20-something I thought, “Well, okay, that’s just the way it is.” I laid out about one third of those shows. Anyway, after about 4 weeks of that or even less, I was working directly with Grant Simmons, who was the “Grant” of Grant–Ray, and he was an old timer from way back. You’d see Grant Simmons’ name on the old Tom and Jerry cartoons as well as Ray Patterson who was the “Ray” of Grant-Ray and was on the producing end in New York City.

After 3 or 4 weeks when I was meeting with Grant and going over his stick figure layouts and field sizes and storyboard he said, “You know, Mike, you’re really in trouble. People in the studio are really madder than hell at you. “ I said, “Why?” He said, “Because the work that you turn in for 20 or 22 hours a week is more than they do in house in 40 hours.”

Of course you must understand when you’re in house, there’s a lot of water cooler conversations, meetings, bs-ing, all that stuff. I said, “Well, what do I do?” He said, “Charge me for 40 hours.” So, I worked 20 to 22 hours a week and charged him for 40 and everybody was happy.

Stroud: Not a bad gig. (Chuckle.)

Captain America (1968) #211, cover penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Mike Royer.

Royer: Yeah, it’s funny. I guess I’ve been naïve my entire life. The studio went bankrupt right at the end of the Spider-Man job and one of the problems was that Ray Patterson’s wife June was in charge of the script department and she had I think 4 or 5 writers and rather than give each writer a different show, she would have a whole group of writers write their version of that week’s episodes. (Pause.) Think about it. You’re spending a lot of money that’s unnecessary, and whatever her reasoning was, and she may have wound up with better stories by picking the best of the group, but I don’t think it was a wise business decision and of course they wound up going bankrupt.

I remember on a Friday afternoon getting a phone call from Grant Simmons saying, “Mike,” we got to be pretty good friends; “Mike, the Sheriff is closing us down on Monday. If you’d like to drive into the studio tomorrow morning, you can have anything you want.” So rather than go in and take home piles and piles of cels of Spider-Man and Green Goblin and all the other characters, Electro and all, what did I take home? Two pages of original art that got sent out to the west coast. One from a western comic that was drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by…somebody and then a page of Captain America penciled and inked by George Tuska. Now of course if I’d have taken all the rest of that stuff home I could probably have retired a lot earlier.

Stroud: It’s hard to imagine what those could have gone for.

Royer: But I thought at the time, “What the hell do I want with all this crap?” I’ve got to tell you, though, it was a fun time because of all the people that I met: Meeting Doug Wildey, who was a kick in the pants, besides being extremely talented. I remember one time back in the Marvel superhero days that we were in the room picking brushes. You’d have a dozen cards with 4 to 6 brushes on them such as your series 7 number 2’s and we all did the same thing. You pulled a brush out and you licked it and if it came to a point that you liked then that’s the one you took back to your drawing board. It happened to be the same day that Stan Lee came out to visit the crew at the studio and we’re all kibitzing and licking brushes and hanging around and Doug licks a brush and remember, this is 1965 or ’66 and he says, “This stuff is shit!” Now here it is 2012 and I would kill to get some of that mid-60’s “shit.”

Stroud: That’s right. I’ve been told by more than one person that the quality certainly has not improved over the years.

Weird Mystery Tales (1972) #2 pg2-3, penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Mike Royer.

Royer: When you talk about state of the art, that doesn’t mean a damn thing. Think about it. State of the art. “This is the state of the art brush from Windsor-Newton.” Yeah, but the state of the art sucks rubber donkey lungs.

Stroud: (Laughter.) Russ Heath is in your camp. He told me that if he could just get a decent brush it would make life so much easier. John Workman suggested that even the ink doesn’t seem to be of the same quality as it used to be.

Royer: I’m able to get an ink that seems to be nice and densely black, but if you leave the cap off for longer than 20 minutes it turns into molasses. The jar that I have now that I ink from I’ve thinned down with water so much that it’s probably 80% water, but it’s still black as sin. But as I said, leave the cap off for half an hour and you’ve got to thin it down more.

Back in the Marvel superhero days there was an artist there named Herb Hazelton who was an excellent fine artist. Back in the days when they had a wax museum down on Knott’s Berry Farm was still in business with all these wax replicas of famous paintings, Herb had actually done all of the reproductions of the famous paintings and Herb inked off an ink block. I’ve often wondered if you could still go to an art store and get an ink block. He would just wet the brush and rub the brush across the block and then you could get the ink as thin or as thick as you wanted depending on how much ink was in the brush. But then again, why do I want to find something that makes inking easier? All these years. But, sometimes you have to do what’s necessary to put food on the table.

Disney Store Concept art from September 1998, drawn by Mike Royer.

The 21-1/2 years that I did Disney character art was probably years that I spent as “creator” and the 7-1/2 years working with their stores was, at least for anybody who had a creative bent of any kind, like heaven. Everything that I drew, they bought. Whether they produced it or not.

Stroud: Wow. You can’t beat that at all.

Royer: What a great time! Every morning I’d have coffee with my wife and we would discuss ideas. Sixty percent of what I did for the stores was concepts. The other forty percent was correcting and cleaning up other concepts in house, or doing final art on my concepts. Most of my concepts were so finished they could turn them over to somebody else.

Forty percent of my ideas came from my wife. They would either be a springboard for an idea or I would just use one hundred percent of what she said. It was fun. We used to go to antique malls and be walking down a row and she’d point and there’d be an old Jack and Jill book from the 1920’s and Jack and Jill were standing on a bridge over a creek and she'd say, “What if you had Pooh and Piglet fishing off the bridge?” Then what I drew was Pooh and Piglet sitting on a log, fishing out of a large wooden barrel full of water.

After the whole Disney store thing went to the devil, which is a good title for middle management…it was months later when I was sitting at the board in my studio and my wife would stick her head in and say, “What if you did Pooh and…oh, we don’t do that anymore.” I do have my soapbox and will go to my grave being a Disney company man. Of course it’s a company that started ceasing to exist when Frank Wells died, but that’s another story.

Freedom Fighters (1976) #1 pg1, penciled by Ric Estrada & inked by Mike Royer.

I highly recommend a DVD that is available, I think, from Disney Home Video. It’s called “Waking Sleeping Beauty.” I digress, but I just watched it last night and what a fantastic thing.

Stroud: I’ll have to check that out. One of the things I was going to mention is that it’s rather ironic that Disney now owns Marvel and you’ve had such strong connections to both companies.

Royer: It’s funny. One of the problems is that I’m 70, and the mentality, it seems to me, in most companies, the corporate mentality is if you’re over 30, you’re on the downhill side, and if you’re over 40, you’re brain dead. Or, if you’re over 30 or 40 and you’ve been doing it for a while, you’ve got experience and you want to be paid for that experience. But I find that you get what you pay for. I never did anything for the stores that didn’t walk right out the doors.

Stroud: It’s hard to think that someone can arbitrarily put a shelf life on talent.

Royer: Well, when I was younger I wanted to do adventure stuff. Tarzan, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, that kind of stuff. But I married early, had young kids, couldn’t go off in that garret in New York with the Bernie Wrightston’s and those people who all became incredibly talented, vital artists, and so I found that I could ink and I got a lot of work and supported a family for many years as an inker and doing the occasional penciling job. A couple of jobs I did in the Hanna-Barbera superhero comic books for Gold Key/Western Publishing that I actually drew and inked and lettered the entire books, but I couldn’t get any drawing assignments from Chase Craig. I said, “Look, Chase, let me save you some trouble and I’ll just produce the whole book for you. I talked to Mike and Sparky. I can ink and letter and do the whole thing.” He said, “Sounds great to me.” So then I penciled and inked and lettered the whole book and let them think that Sparky and Mike drew it and just let it go.

Which leads me to believe that a lot of editors don’t know caca from Shinola. I mean a decade ago when I moved back to Oregon and the consumer products industry went into the toilet and I started contacting comic book companies to see if they had any inking jobs or anything like that because nobody was doing funny animal comics any longer. What I wanted to do and was working myself toward was doing big foot type comic work. When I would call these editors they’d always say things like, “Oh, we’ll keep you in mind when we have a Jack Kirby project.”

2001: A Space Odyssey (1976) #5, cover penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Mike Royer.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1976) #9, cover penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Mike Royer.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1976) #10, cover penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Mike Royer.

No matter what kind of samples I sent them, and I’ve drawn everything from Alvin and the Chipmunks to Zorro, but if you say Mike Royer to them they think it’s got to be a Jack Kirby project. I’ve got a letter in my portfolio from a producer at Bagdasarian Productions regarding the story board that I did for an Alvin and the Chipmunks Go to the Movies show (I moonlighted during a two-week vacation, doing a month’s worth of work in two weeks; it almost killed me, but I wanted to stretch my muscles) and the letter from the producer says, “Your story boarding is Eisensteinian,” referring to the famous Russian filmmaker.

Stroud: Ah. I wasn’t familiar with the name.

House of Secrets (1956) #139 pg8, penciled by Steve Ditko & inked by Mike Royer.

Royer: I chose Bagdasarian when I heard from some colleagues at work who were buying story boards at the time back in the early ‘90’s, I guess and supposedly the toughest S.O.B. to work for was Bagdasarian. So I thought if I wanted to try to learn anything, that’s where I’m going. I met the man once when I came in with the first half of the story board and the only thing he said when looking at the first half of the board was, “It’s so nice to see someone using their imagination.”

The fee for the story board and three model sheets was $6,000.00. When the check came it was $8,000.00. So I like to think that I did a pretty good job. The unfortunate thing is that because the Korean studio that was doing the artwork had fallen behind schedule, they did my show, I think, on a weekend, and it’s available out there on one of the Alvin and the Chipmunks Go to the Movies DVDs. This had to be around 1991 because we were dealing with Chip Tracy merchandising at the studio. When I was offered work I said, “Let’s do Chip Tracy.”

But I thought that was pretty good to get a $2,000.00 bonus from the toughest S.O.B. in the business. Especially when editors at DC and Marvel were saying, “Well, we’ll keep you in mind if there’s a Kirby project.”

I will say that I’m proud of my connection to DC comics because they are absolutely fabulous in sending reprint royalty checks. I just love it when they reprint a whole volume of The Demon. I inked and lettered all of them and therefore don’t have to split the reprint money with someone else. And that’s nice.

Stroud: I’ve read where Jack stated that you were his favorite inker. Now was it his insistence that you were pretty much exclusive on his DC work?

Royer: It’s funny, as I recall it, as long as he was producing comics, he never said who his favorite was. But as soon as he left comic books I noticed that he didn’t have any problem saying that I was his favorite inker. People ask me who my favorite inker is and I tell them my favorite inker was Joe Sinnott…but I was the best. Now I don’t mean that as any kind of egotistical thing. It’s just that I did what Jack wanted. I think I retained all of his power and the one time, for example, that I tried to pretty something up, doing my Joe Sinnott in my subconscious, I prettied up Big Barda’s face and I got a phone call from Jack saying, “Don’t EVER change the faces!” So I never changed Barda’s face after that. I did slim down her ankles once in a while and her waistline, but it was the face that was important, at least to Jack.

The Eternals (1976) #14, cover penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Mike Royer.

Getting back to your original question I met Jack when he was doing stuff for Marvelmania, a merchandising outfit in southern California, maybe in the Santa Monica area. During the Mavelmania days in the late ‘60’s I got a phone call one evening and I answered it and this voice said, “Mike Royer? This is Jack Kirby. Word is you’re a pretty good inker.” That’s how it started. I went out to his house and the first thing I ever inked for him I said, “I’ll bring this back to you tomorrow.” “No, no, do it here.” So I sat at his drawing board and he looked over my shoulder. Talk about pressure. It was that shot he did for Mavelmania of himself with Spider-Man and all the Marvel characters kind of swirling around him at the drawing board.

Stroud: Oh, yeah, the one where the Human Torch is lighting his cigar?

Royer: I can’t remember. I mean, we’re talking late ‘60’s. I live in the past when it comes to movies, but my own career is a matter of remembering the nuts and bolts and things like eating chocolate cake and drinking milk with Jack in his kitchen, but that’s all I remember. Anyway, as a result of that and apparently he was pleased, I started inking a bunch of stuff for him at Marvelmania. In fact I even inked a whole bunch of stuff for Jim Steranko for Marvelmania. Steranko came and stayed at our house for over a week. Now that’s another story… I mean that with great affection.

In a conversation with Jack on the phone, he’d mention he was going back to New York and he couldn’t tell me why, but he had me in mind for this project. Then a short time later I get a phone call from Maggie Thompson saying, “What’s this I hear that Jack Kirby has left Marvel and is going to DC?” I said, “Its news to me.” Then about the same time I got a phone call from Jack saying, “Well, I’ve left Marvel, I’m going to DC and I wanted to take you with me, but they wouldn’t let me.” So Jack had me in mind from the beginning that I would be inking and lettering his DC work. Because what Jack wanted to do was to show DC and ultimately Marvel that the world did not end at the Hudson River. You could live on the West Coast and produce comic books successfully. The whole operation: Writing, editing, penciling, inking, lettering, everything. But I guess DC didn’t want to lose any kind of control on it and so with the urging of Steve Charmin and Mark Evanier, by the time Jack was ready to do issue #5 of Mister Miracle, Forever People, New Gods, etc. he finally got his wish to have me ink and letter his books. At the same time, he wanted to make sure Vince Colletta had work if he wasn’t inking Jack’s stuff at DC.

1st Issue Special (1975) #6, cover penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Mike Royer.

DC fully expected me to fail, thereby justifying their desire to control things on the East Coast. So the reason they said yes was that they fully expected me to fall on my butt. To their chagrin, I kept up with Jack. The only inker who inked his complete output, as well as lettering it. I had to letter a book in two days and ink the pages in 3 days to keep up with that. Probably the best thing I ever did for Jack other than to ink the books the way he wanted me to, and by the way he wanted them to look like they were done by him, was that I helped him prove to them that his idea of having a West Coast operation was viable. Of course there may be someone at DC who would dispute that. “Oh, Mike, we knew you’d be just fantastic.”

I made a great impression with Carmine Infantino. In July of 1970 I’d been doing stuff for Jack at Marvelmania and then I was back there at the Seuling 4 th of July convention at the Satler Hilton and I went up to the DC offices and I went into Carmine’s office and I said, “You know, you should let me ink Jack. I could do a better job than Colletta’s doing.” I had lunch that day with Dick Giordano and he said, “You know, Mike, you’re going to get a reputation as being cocky, walking into the publisher’s office and telling him you can do a better job than somebody else.” That wasn’t really my intent, but I was still the naïve kid simply stating the facts. I could do a better job.

Stroud: Well as the old saying goes, “If you can do it, it ain’t bragging.”

Royer: I don’t want people to think I’m anti-Colletta, I just don’t think he was right for Jack. Colletta was from the old school and luckily I had mentors from the old school, like Russ Manning, Sparky Moore and others way back in the mid-‘60’s, so I learned that, “Mike, you get your first job on your ability and every job after that on your dependability.” Well, there are different rules for comic books now. You’ve got prima donna’s that are dealing with the direct sales market, so if they say it’s going to be late, then that’s what you tell the dealers and it’s late. But in those days if your deadline was the 5th of the month, it behooves you to have it in on the 4 th . And Colletta was a guy that Stan or whoever the editor or publisher was, could give him a book and say, “I need it by this date” and Vince Colletta would have it by that date. He has his supporters and his detractors and my only gripe about Vince Colletta is that I don’t think he was right for Jack. But there are probably other people who loved his work on Thor.

Plastic Man (1966) #14 pg19, penciled by Ramona Fradon & inked by Mike Royer.

I can remember sitting with Phil Spicer back in the ’64-’65 timeframe and looking at old fanzines with the rare Jack Kirby pencil reprints and him asking, “Why doesn’t anybody ever ink Jack?” So when I got that phone call from Jack it was like, “Oh, God, I’ve got a chance now to ink Jack.” Maybe it’s something that’s held me back in my career in that whenever I ink somebody I try to ink it the way I feel he would have inked it. I inked a couple of Ka-Zar’s at Marvel and John Verpoorten, the editor, called me and said, “Mike, I wanted you to give this a Joe Sinnott look and really embellish it.” I said, “I wish you’d have told me that and also told me how much more you were going to pay me to do that.” Because I inked the two stories to make it look like Don Heck had inked it.

I did get a nice compliment from Ramona Fradon a few years ago. I met her 5 or 6 years ago at the San Diego Con and she was talking about the one and only Plastic Man comic that I inked for her for DC and she said it was the only time that she’d ever had anyone ink her. Everyone else put in their own personality and changed it. In fact, bless her heart, she said if she were still doing Brenda Starr, she’d have me ink it.

Stroud: How very nice.

Royer: Nice lady. I’ve met some real talents that were…real talents and I’ve met some real talents that were incredible people. People like Al Williamson, Gray Morrow, to a certain extent Jim Steranko, who is an institution all to himself. What a talent. What a genius talent. I have my heroes. Some of whom are still alive, and unfortunately many that aren’t.

Did you have any questions? I’ve been going all over the place. (Mutual laughter.)

Stroud: I’m enjoying this thoroughly. There’s a legend that you’ve been to every San Diego Con. Is that true?

Royer: No. I’ve missed a few of them. I don’t think I’ll be going again. It’s not Comic Con any more. It’s this huge marketplace for the motion picture and television industry. And the toy manufacturer’s and the game people. One of the problems with International Comic Con is that tickets go on sale for the next year’s event and the place is full of thousands and thousands of kids who have scraped together every dime to get admittance because they want to get all the freebies. Giant bags with the pictures of Buffy and stuff like that stuffed with all the freebies being given out and so by the time the tickets go on sale the line for the general public, anybody that might have some money to spend, there just aren’t that many of them left. You have to get them instantly or forget it.

Batman Adventures Annual (1994) #2, cover penciled by Bruce Timm & inked by Mike Royer.

I could be exaggerating, but you’ve got 80,000 or 90,000 kids there that don’t have any money. Particularly they don’t have any money for old comic books. The people that would buy old comic books are older and have some money and…they couldn’t get tickets. I may be oversimplifying it, but this is an amalgam of opinions I got from several dealers who aren’t looking to be going any more.

I went there last year and set up with some friends who always get me a table and I think it’s because they like the way I introduce them to every single good looking woman that comes by the table. So, after expenses, I should have just stayed home because I wound up going away with thousands of dollars’ worth of artwork. If I’d just kept that artwork and stayed at home and taken it someplace else that I could have sold it, I’d have been better off.

I’m not crazy about WonderCon this year because it’s going to be in Anaheim. So now it’s going to be closer to the studios. Last year I think there were two studios represented at WonderCon. Eventually I think it’s going to become another media event.

Denny Miller, who was a Tarzan and did 20-some Wagon Trains and did some work with Juliet Prowse and worked with Peter Sellers had me do some drawings for a book he did about 5 years ago. He was going to some of the comic cons, but when he went to International Comic Con he said the sad thing is that nobody knows him. In other venues you’ve got the old-timers like me or the generation behind it that remembers things like Wagon Train. Everybody remembers The Surfer who comes to shore in Gilligan’s Island and that’s Denny. He was mentioning some other celebrities who did just as badly because nobody knows who they are. I found that the majority of people who stopped at my table last year didn’t even know who Winnie the Pooh was, and the new feature was just opening in the theaters.

Getting back to your question I’ve been to about 80% of the cons in San Diego, but after the first five or six years I was at a weekend thing in Orange County and had lunch with Shel Dorf and Shel asked if I was coming to Comic Con that year. I said, “Yeah, as long as you’re giving us West Coast guys a room. I’ll do anything you want. Panels, anything.” He said, “Well, we’re not giving you guys rooms anymore because you’ll come anyway.” I could understand from a budget standpoint that they could no longer comp West Coast artists, but if he’d put it in the context that because of the cost they can’t comp us I’d have said, “Okay, I can still be there.” But the way it was presented was that, “Well, you guys will come anyway, so why should we give you anything?”

Jack Kirby & Mike Royer at SDCC 1975.

So for the next couple of years I didn’t go. Let’s see, my Inkpot is dated 1978, so I probably skipped for three years. Most of the people I knew understood why, because it was just the way it was presented to me. I didn’t mind not being comped, I mean it was nice of them to comp us West Coast guys, but as the event got bigger and they got bigger talent from the East Coast it takes money to do that. So I think I’d boycotted it for about three years and then I got a phone call from Gene Henderson. He was always involved with the Inkpots and Eisners and so forth including security and who knows what else. He’s one of the backbones of the convention over the decades. So he said, “Hey, Mike, are you coming down to Comic Con?” “No.” “Mike, you’ve got to come.” “No.” “Come on down!” “No.” Finally it was, “Mike you’ve got to come, you’re getting an Inkpot.” “Uh…okay, I’ll be there.” So I wasn’t supposed to know, but it was the only way he could make sure I’d be there.

At the Inkpot Awards, which was always part of the banquet, Jim Steranko was the emcee, and he knew that I had been boycotting it for two or three years, which was really silly of me to do when you think about it, but he said, “For his loyal, never-ending support of the San Diego Comic Con…” With his tongue rammed up his cheek. I do remember standing in the doorway at a party in ’78 at two in the morning and someone came up behind me, put their arm around my shoulder and said, “Well, we got ours, kid.” I turned around and it was Burne Hogarth.

Stroud: I’ll be darned.

Royer: I’m thinking, “It took them that long to give an Inkpot to Burne Hogarth and here he is looking at me and saying, ‘We got ours.’”

Mike Royer with Burne Hogarth at the 1978 Inkpot Awards.

I’ve been very lucky with the people I’ve met over the years. Way back in the early ‘70’s I went to Seuling’s conventions for something like three years in a row from ’70 to ’72 and I remember at the ’72 luncheon with the Academy of Comic Book Artists and talking with John Romita about the kind of brushes he used. Pros ask pros the same questions that fans do. “What kind of pens do you use? What kind of brushes do you use?” I was so amazed that the wonderful work John Romita was doing was accomplished with a Windsor-Newton series 7 Number 4. Not a 2 or a 3, but a 4. So I took my plate of food and I went to sit down at a table and simultaneously here’s Stan Lee with some gorgeous blonde on his arm and we all sat at the same table. This gorgeous blonde with the long, shoulder length hair had glasses on. What I did next Stan got instantly and laughed aloud, but she looked at me with a glance that said, “What?” We sat down and I looked over at her and said, “Could you take off your glasses?” So she took them off and I said (faux British accent) “My God, you’re beautiful!” She didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but Stan knew it was an old movie cliché. But at least once in my life I made Stan Lee laugh aloud.

Stroud: When I got to meet you in Portland and you signed my copy of The Amazing World of DC Comics that contains what I believe is the only published “Murder, Inc.” Days of the Mob story…

Royer: That’s the one they re-lettered, too. That’s not my lettering. Costanza or somebody re-lettered it. I never understood why they did that. Did they dislike my lettering that much?

Stroud: It does seem strange, particularly since it shows your credit as letterer.

Adventure Comics (1938) #442 pg24, penciled by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & inked by Mike Royer.

Royer: I remember when I was inking that and showing it to Richard (someone) and he said, “Wow! This is Simon and Kirby in the 1950’s.” If you compare it to the ‘50’s stuff it may not be the same, but it had the feeling of it and when I was inking those pages my mindset was, “This is 1950’s Simon and Kirby.” I enjoyed inking those pages. Of course I think the very best inking I ever did on Jack was on his gods. Dark Horse recently published some of those and I think it’s the best inking I ever did for Jack.

We didn’t have the luxury of scanners back then, so I would deliver the pages directly to Jack. I lived in Whittier, and he lived out in the Thousand Oaks area and while I don’t recall what kind of drive it was it seems like it wasn’t a long drive, maybe 26 or 28 miles, but I would either send them Special Delivery back when the Post Office offered that service. I could just walk to the back dock of the post office and some guy would come out and I’d just hand it to him, unlike today. When I didn’t do that I’d visit him in person. My most vivid memories of those times weren’t the actual nuts and bolts, but just pleasant times sitting with Jack in his studio, going over the pages and looking out the window at my kids playing in his swimming pool and talking with Roz and the times when I’d go alone, enjoying milk and chocolate cake and Jack talking about the movies he loved. I learned early on that his favorite movies were the Warner Brothers from the ‘30’s. When you look at Jack Kirby’s comic books, or at least when I do, I can make an instant connection. When he said he loved those movies it was like, “Of course.”

I like to think that I gave Jack Warner Brothers inking and Joe Sinnott gave him MGM inking. If you’re not as in love with old movies as I am you might not make that connection, but I can see that connection. I love pre-code movies. Some of my favorites are movies with Warren William and there is an MGM film called “Skyscraper Souls” which is the best Warner Brothers movie that MGM ever made. It’s the Warner Brothers gritty drama and it’s like Jack Kirby inked by Joe Sinnott. Then if you take Warren Williams in “Employees Entrance,” which is a similar type of genre and it’s Jack Kirby inked by Mike Royer.

I don’t know. There are still people who don’t like my work and that’s okay with me.

Kamandi (1972) #15, original cover art penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Mike Royer.

Stroud: I think they must be few and far between. I’ve never run across anyone denigrating anything you’ve done.

Royer: Well, sometimes I look at some of my old work and I don’t like it. As we’d talked about before, I started out wanting to be a straight adventure cartoonist, but in 1979 realized what my real bag was. I look at some of the stuff I did for Jim Warren and some of the stuff I like and some of the stuff is like, “God, as much as I can’t stand Jim Warren, he took a chance on me and printed it.”

Sometimes I’ll hear stuff like, “I really liked your work on such and such” and I think, “Really? I mean, really?”

One of the things that really ticked me off with Jim Warren was that when he started out he had Wally Wood and Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta and people like that working for him, but for whatever reason he had to greatly reduce his page rate to stay afloat. So what he did was start using new guys like me and Bill Black and a few others. Some of us developed into tremendous talents and some of us went other directions. He paid $29.00 a page. To pencil, ink and letter. But he would not return the original art. So I had started working with Jack and I knew that I could maybe make time for Warren jobs or I could just go out taking a stand. So the last job I did for him I went to great expense to a local stat office and had stats made of all the pages. Then I sent him the stats. A few days later I get an irate phone call from Jim Warren: “How dare you make the unilateral decision to not send me the original art? I cannot pay for the damned stats and if you do not send me the original art, you will not be paid!” Well, I sent him the originals, but between the time I sent the stats and the phone call, I had tweaked the artwork. I changed a couple of things and added some stuff. I was very angry when the book hit the stands and I looked at it and it was obvious that he’d printed from the stats.

Where this really galls me is that right at the moment there’s a complete Jim Warren Creepy story on eBay that I penciled, inked and lettered. In fact, sometimes when I look at something my memory does work. I remember the panel where Alex Toth told me, “Mike, if you really don’t understand all that, you don’t need to put it on there.” Referring to some guy’s back musculature details. And here is this 8 or 9 page story on sale at eBay for $99.00 to $199.00 a page. The $99.00 ones are the stats because it was a time crunch, so rather than re-draw it I just did a stat and stuck it down.

Kamandi (1972) #15, cover penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Mike Royer.

It really galls me that here is this stuff being sold that was never given back to me. It really galls me to go to a convention and see one of the Magnus Robot Fighter comic book covers that I did where they took an old Manning cover and wanted me to do a line drawing of the painting and then to see it on the wall of an art dealer for $1,000.00. I remember very clearly asking Chase Craig, “Can I please have that back?” “Mike, it’s too much trouble.”

Now this is not to be saying that if I didn’t have those Creepy and Eerie and Vampirella pages I wouldn’t be selling them on eBay as fast as I could. When you’re paid $29.00 for something and 30 or 40 years later you’re seeing it on eBay with pages going for $199.00 or more, it’s like, “Dammit!”

Stroud: Tough to take, I’m sure.

Royer: Why are other people profiting off that? I can see that if I have the page and sold it for $50.00 and 20 years later somebody’s got it for $200.00, okay. That’s business. But I had no say in that art being out there. It just really burns me.

Stroud: It’s a sore spot with a lot of your fellow professionals and the debates rage on about “liberated” or stolen or whatever term you like to use.

Royer: Oh, yeah. I know some stories about “liberation” and stuff that’s been liberated by people who turn around and get on their soapbox about how it’s unfair that the artists didn’t benefit while they’re sitting on stuff that they “liberated,” but that’s another story for another time.

I still have a lot my Disney store art left and if I ever run out I’ll just redraw it, because it will still be my original art and as a freelancer I own it, but as far as my own original art from comic books I have three pages from the Tarzan Twins, a lot of which is just godawful and some of it I’m proud of, and I have on my wall here a Tarzan comic book page from the European Tarzan comics that I penciled and 90% of it is inked by Russ Manning and a tiny background detail by Dave Stevens and it’s signed, “To Mike – The only other artist I’ve had the privilege of inking. Russ Manning.”

Stroud: Priceless.

Kamandi (1972) #15 Pg1, penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Mike Royer.

Royer: Framed next to it is a page from another Tarzan story that I penciled, inked and lettered. I have two pages from that and one is framed on the wall. I’m not even sure if I still have the Sunday Mickey Mouse page that Don and I collaborated on. I laid it out and he tightened it up. I inked and lettered it.

Working for Jack, the only originals I got, he was nice enough to give me a Captain America that I inked and I think that’s all. I wound up giving art away to friends and trading it to people because if I wanted to own some Jack Kirby original art unless it was something that Giacoia or Sinnott had inked I was too close to it. I didn’t want to collect his pages inked by me. Of course 40 years later I’d LOVE to have some of that stuff.

At the wake for Jack somebody associated with the family gave me a Black Panther book which was only two thirds of the book and if I’d had it I’d have kept the double-page splash page, which wasn’t there and I wound up giving and trading that away. I was still close enough to it, you know?

Stroud: Sure.

Royer: Jack’s been gone what, seventeen years now? 1993? Has it been that long?

Stroud: Hard to believe.

Royer: Yeah. We only lived 16 miles apart.

Stroud: When you think about the tremendous volume of material he cranked out and that it still commands such a premium, it’s obvious his talent was and is well recognized.

Royer: There was a big flap last year at one of the comic book collector’s association websites. Last year I did a dozen superhero pinups. I took pinups that Jack had commissioned for fans over the years and blew them up and traced the pencils and inked them on 11” x 14” paper. Strathmore. I signed them “Kirby/Royer” because it was Kirby’s drawing. I didn’t think I was committing some sort of sin. I then sold two thirds of them to a guy in Australia who then started trading them at $3,000.00 apiece! He was apparently hiding the fact that I’d traced Jack’s pencils.

Darkseid pin-up 2012, from Jack Kirby By Mike Royer.

So on this website as they were tarring him with the brush of fraud they were also tarring me with things like, “This is totally Mike Royer original art.” I will argue to my grave with these bozos that that’s not so. It was a Jack Kirby drawing that I traced and inked and if it was Jack’s pencils I wouldn’t have sold them for $250.00.

So I’ve got another dozen of them that a friend is going to list for me on that same website, but they’re signed “From Kirby by Royer.” I’ve got four Captain America’s, I’ve got a Silver Surfer, I’ve got a Big Barda, the Hulk fighting some guy, Ka-Zar, The Demon and Thor. For my money, if you want a Jack Kirby/Mike Royer pin-up, this is the closest you’re ever going to get. But they now feature “From Kirby by Royer” so they can’t accuse me of being a fraud. It’s all because someone else tried to hoodwink a collector by eliminating the fact that I had reproduced his pencils, but it’s still a Kirby/Royer drawing. So I’ll continue to take issue with people who say, “Oh, this is totally a Mike Royer original.” If it were a Mike Royer original it wouldn’t look anything like Jack Kirby. It would have high eyes and a big nose and big ears and a tail.

Everyone has their opinion on what something is and what something isn’t and so to make sure I can avoid any future flap, for the purists they will say “From Kirby, by Royer.”

Stroud: And that should be the end of that.

Royer: I’ve got a picture here of the Silver Surfer and it’s a great drawing. It’s got the Silver Surfer and all kinds of planets and comets and all kinds of stuff going on and if it actually had Jack’s carbon under it, it would go for thousands, I’m sure. And there’s a part of me that feels guilty putting $350.00 on it. Then again, I spent a lot of time on it, too.

Stroud: Did you get credit for the postage stamp that features your Green Arrow?

Bullseye by Jack Kirby next to Green Arrow by Mike Royer.

Royer: No, no. What really gripes me about that…I tried to set the record straight in the Jack Kirby Collector, but I don’t think it ever resonated with anybody. Because everybody talks about the ”Green Arrow stamp inked by Mike Royer.”

DC sent me a scan or a photo-copy of a western character they called Bullseye. It was in fringe, leathers, a cowboy hat and a feather, pulling back on a bow and inked by somebody who inked their personality over Jack’s pencils rather than inking it the way Jack would have penciled it. They said, “Can you take this pose and make it an early 1970’s Jack Kirby/Mike Royer Green Arrow?” Which is exactly what I did. So it’s his pose, his stance, his dynamics, but I made it Green Arrow and all the folds and everything is the way Jack would have done it in the ‘70’s. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that it’s the “Green Arrow inked by Mike Royer.”

It was printed on a comic book; a special one-shot thing of Kirby’s ‘50’s Green Arrow and then a few years later it winds up being on a postage stamp. It’s first day issue was at Comic Con in San Diego and I think they figured they might sell $200,000.00 worth of stamps. A buddy of mine in the Post Office gave me the Post Office newsletter stating that they sold over $500,000.00 worth of stamps at Comic Con.

Stroud: Whew!

Royer: I think I must have signed at least two or three dozen first day envelopes for the Post Office employees. Or at least you’d like to think it was for their employees. Not a week goes by that I don’t see a Mike Royer signed first day envelope on eBay for $5.00. If I’d known that I’d have grabbed as many as I could and taken them with me. “One each for my kids and one for myself and…” Just like Grant Simmons, “Come in and take anything you want!” All right, I took what I wanted rather than something I thought might make me some money down the road.

Kamandi (1972) #15 Pg2-3, original art penciled by Jack Kirby & inked by Mike Royer.

I’m finding that everything sells. I’ve been toying with the fact that I have this big giant glass jar with the metal screw lid on it that’s full of ribbons and memorabilia from conventions and stuff. I’ve got buttons and I have all of my Walt Disney Mickey Mouse credit cards. I’m wondering in my old age if anyone would pay for a credit card with Mickey Mouse on it issued to me. I wonder if anyone would pay anything for that?

Stroud: It wouldn’t surprise me for a second.

Royer: I used to get letters from guys in prison. Anymore now I don’t even open them. They’d ask me to please sign a couple of cards for their children. Then I see them on eBay two weeks later. Or the people that write and say, “You is one of my favorite cartoonists. I would like a drawing, please.” I guess they encourage inmates to write letters to celebrities. It’s like a way to make money by selling autographs or something. Give me a break.

Let me share one last story about a time I was with Roy Thomas on a panel and he turned to me and said, “You know, your name is on the cover of a magazine every month.” I said, “Really?” He pulled out a copy of “Destroyer,” and said, “If you cover up the DEST you’ve got Royer on the cover every month.”


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 Thom Zahler - Making Comics With Love (and Capes)

Written by Bryan Stroud

Thom Zahler at Baltimore Comic Con 2018.

Thomas F. Zahler is an American comic book artist best known for his superhero romance comic, Love and Capes. He attended the Joe Kubert School  of Cartoon and Graphic Art where he learned from instructors like Irwin Hasen and Hal Campagna. In 2006, Thom debuted the first issue of his popular superhero/romantic-comedy series, Love and Capes. Zahler wrote and drew 24 issues of L&C (across three series) before moving on to find further success in other creator owned titles such as Long Distance (IDW), Warning Label (WebToon), and Time and Vine (IDW).

Thom has frequently contributed (as a writer and artist) to the My Little Pony comics from IDW and (as a writer) to the Disney XD cartoon Spider-Man: Web Warriors. He also wrote the pilot episode of the "Knights of the Zodiac" Netflix anime series, set to debut later in 2019.

Thom Zahler might seem a bit out of place in my roster of interviewees and he was actually suggested to me as a potential interviewee by a friend and I'm so glad he was brought to my attention.  A successful graduate of the Kubert School and a man influenced by some of the comics I loved as a boy, he fit in pretty nicely, I think.

This interview originally took place over the phone on December 24, 2011.

Love and Capes (2006) #1 by Thom Zahler.

Bryan Stroud:  You mentioned in our preliminary e-mails that you grew up on Bronze Age comics with a little Silver Age thrown in.  Which titles did you enjoy?

Thom Zahler:  I was a huge Justice League fan.  I loved Superman.  I read mostly DC.  I went through my phases on all of them.  I think I was drawn to the books because they were never as continued as Marvel.  Marvel books just didn’t seem to end.  When you’re getting comics based on when your parents decide to buy them, it’s important.  You don’t know when you’re going to get that next issue of “Flash.”  So, the fact that a story would end cleanly was kind of important. 

Stroud:  A man after my own heart.  I was going through the same thing, but in my case,  it was whenever I could scrounge a quarter somewhere.

Zahler:  My parents had comics as a reward program for me because I was reading from a pretty early age.  So, if I cleaned my room, I got a comic.  That kind of thing.  It would be like a comic a week and it worked out pretty well.  I enjoyed Justice League a lot and I went through my Legion phase for a while.  Shazam!  Captain Marvel.  And then I started retroactively buying them.  Because comics used to be where you bought them at a convenience store and then went to a comic shop.  When I started going to comics shops, I realized that DC published those 100-page for .60 collections and some of the giant treasury editions, so that’s where I started getting the Silver Age and some of the Golden Age stuff.  They would reprint that stuff kind of relentlessly.  You’d get a new 16-page Justice League story and everything else would be a reprint and I just ate that stuff up. 

Stroud:  It was like finding buried treasure.  How else would you ever run across those stories unless you had an older sibling who still had their collection? 

I suspected a strong Justice League influence when I looked at your work online (  I thought, “Hmmm.  A satellite above the earth for a headquarters; the Liberty League, hmmm…  I think I can see an influence here.”  (Mutual laughter.)

Love and Capes (2006) #1 pg1 by Thom Zahler.

Zahler:  Exactly.  I love that era. 

Stroud:  At what point did you decide, “Hey.  I’d like to try this.”

Zahler:  Honestly, I have known all my life.  There was never a point where I didn’t think I was going to be a cartoonist.  I knew when I was 8 or 9 my Aunt Alice got me a copy of “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way,” and that was the first book that really kicked things into gear. 

Stroud:  Ah, John Buscema.

Zahler:  Yes.  My Dad did art a little bit before he went off to Vietnam and when he came back, he ended up working for the post office.  My aunt did some art and my grandpa did some art.  That whole side of the family is pretty talented as far as art goes and drawing was encouraged and it was never looked at like it was a novelty.  It was just something you did.  But when I got “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” it was the first book that started to really take apart the process and I started learning how things were made.  I remember reading where you need to have a compass to draw circles and I asked for a compass from my Dad’s art supplies and he said, “Why don’t you just use my ellipse guide?”  “No, it says here that you have to use a compass, so I’m using a compass.” 

But it was the first book to explain how to draw characters beginning with stick figures and basic shapes and how to do construction and while there are a bunch of books like that now, but at the time that was the only one of its kind as far as I know.  And I still think it’s one of the best. 

Stroud:  I got a copy not long ago and it does appear to be a wonderful resource, even though I lack any kind of artistic talent, though what is it Joe Kubert says?  Something like if you have the desire and put in the time you can do it, but I suspect I’m the exception to the rule.  (Chuckle.)

Zahler:  Well, he asked me for some money when he was teaching me, so maybe that’s part of it.  (Mutual laughter.)

Weekly World News (2010) #2B, cover by Thom Zahler.

Stroud:  I think it’s fantastic that you weren’t discouraged during your early interest.  I had the privilege of interviewing Ric Estrada shortly before he passed away and he remarked, speaking of his time as one of the original instructors at the Kubert School, that quite often he’d run across the typical scenario where the words “art” and “starve” automatically go together while he tried to explain to people that there are the Walt Disney’s and others who have proven otherwise.

Zahler:  There is very much commercial and fine art.  I was always able to find regular meals.  My Dad was very okay with the whole idea.  It was my Mom who was more resistant, but it was an education process.  Because of the notion of the freelance lifestyle and the way comics work and so forth.  Freelance art work is very different from most people’s experience.  To a certain degree it’s like, “Hey, I want to go to the NBA,” or “I want to become a rock star.”  People succeed every day, but it’s a pretty rarified number who do.  And it takes a great deal of education to help them understand that there are a lot more places where art and cartooning are used than what you might think, because when you tell people you’re a cartoonist, they will automatically think Disney, newspapers or comics.  I’ve got a friend who’s redesigned Willy Wonka for the Willy Wonka Chocolate bars and I‘ve done stuff for Prilosec for one of their TV ad campaigns and there are just a lot of places where cartoons are used and people miss it.  But it’s still there.  There’s a lot more work out there than people give credit for.

Stroud:  Precisely.  I think it was Don Perlin who told me he used to do technical drawings like those exploded diagrams for repair manuals and such and it had never occurred to me that, yeah, someone has to draw those.  I think it’s absolutely right that we see it every day, but don’t see it.  Another example struck me when I saw a billboard and realized, at some point, someone had to lay that out.  When we lived in Japan, I took note of their heavy use of cartoon characters instead of human models in advertising. 

Zahler:  Wasn’t it Scott McCloud who hypothesizes that one of the reasons cartoons are so successful is that they strip away so much information?  With something complicated if you break it down into a cartoon, you’re left with just the basic concepts of it.  It’s more like a direct line, where your brain isn’t processing, “Oh, this is a person and that’s his reaction,” whereas if you see a smiley face, two lines and a smile, you instantly know what it is and what it means and it gets to you faster that way. 

The Green Hornet (1991) #32 pg17, penciled by Rich Suchy & inked by Thom Zahler.

Stroud:  That makes very good sense.  Did you have any favorite creators from your days as a fan?

ZahlerCurt Swan was one of my favorites.  He was the not the first artist I recognized.  The first artist I recognized was Kurt Schaffenberger, because he drew the “S” shield just a little bit differently than everybody else, but afterward Curt Swan was the one I got into because his style was just so solid.  It may not have always been the most interesting layouts, but he never made a mistake. 

I went through my George Perez phase, and of course I still like his work.  That’s when you got into the whole detail thing and George executes it very well, but a lot of times people will look at very detailed art and think that’s what makes it good whereas I have since gotten more into the Bruce Timm/Darwyn Cooke school and their stuff is so simple, but it has everything you need in it.  So clean and oh so perfect.  But yeah, early on it was definitely Kurt and Curt as the main two and I’m a big fan of Gerry Conway’s writing.  Roy Thomas as well. 

Gerry created Firestorm and he was the first new character to come out while I was collecting.  I think the first issue #1 that I ever picked up was his.  Probably Steel #1 was the second because I think they came out the same month.  But Firestorm was the first new character that came out and the first where I got in on the ground floor of the character.  A lot of it was bringing that Spider-Man sensibility to DC.  It was nice seeing a second-tier character and I know I’ve said it somewhere else before, but I loved it when Firestorm came to the Justice League.  He was the screw-up.  I think as far as a writer goes, it was a very brave move for Gerry to take his character and make him the dumbest character on the team.  But it also gave the character…Superman is going to be Superman and isn’t going to make rookie mistakes or see things the wrong way.  Generally, he’s going to be right.  So what was nice is that Firestorm is the one who would react to a problem with, “Oh, we’re completely hosed.  There’s no way we’re going to get out of it.”  The Justice League takes him aside and it’s “We’re the Justice League.  We’re going to figure this out.”  I thought it was really interesting to see that dynamic and I think it’s something that gets lost in some team books. 

Love and Capes (2006) #2 by Thom Zahler.

In the 80’s you’d have situations where half the cast was characters who had their own books, but the other half of the cast existed only in the Justice League with Green Arrow, Elongated Man, Black Canary, and what that let you do was have a core of characters that you could actually play with and have stuff happen to them in the course of the book and the main characters, the bigger characters were still in the book and interacted with them, but you wouldn’t get a revelation in Superman’s life in the Justice League title, it would happen in the Superman books.  You would get a revelation in Hawkman’s life in Justice League, because it was the only place he was appearing. 

Stroud:  An astute observation.  You’re right, too on Firestorm that he did become something of comedy relief for lack of a better term.  The Marvel sensibility observation is dead on, too.  Al Milgrom confirmed to me that his cover on Firestorm #1 was his attempt at vintage Kirby.

You graduated from the Kubert School.  What stands out in your mind from that time period?

Zahler:  All of it is a bit of a blur.  It was very much boot camp for artists.   I enjoyed the people I went to school with and I had as good a time as you could for as hard as you were being worked.  It wasn’t always completely pleasant, because it’s a factory.  You do 10 classes a week and each is about 2-1/2 hours long.  At least this is what it was like when I went there.  So you do 10 assignments a week.  By the time I came home I think I’d done a hundred projects, which was kind of unheard of, at least to me.

Stroud:  Holy cow.

Zahler:  It was amazing how much they got you into the process of getting it done.  There wasn’t a lot of coddling like you sometimes hear about.  You know, how artists have to be inspired to get the work done?  No.  It was more like, “It’s due next week.  Go!”  And there’s a lot to be said for it.  I hate telling up and coming artists that practice is important, because that’s what everybody told me and it’s not that I didn’t think it was true, it’s just that I understand that I need practice, but what else can I do besides just practice?  I’ve heard that it’s the part that I have to do, and it’s amazing how much better you got just because of the repetition of working every day and late into the night, although I never pulled an all-nighter at Kubert.  I knew a lot of people that did, but apparently, I had either low standards or a good work ethic.  I probably didn’t pull any all-nighters until after I graduated.  I’ve pulled a couple since, but not when I was at school. 

Love and Capes (2006) #4 FCBD by Thom Zahler.

Stroud:  Fascinating.  I’ve spoken to a few of the instructors like Dick Ayers, Hy Eisman and Irwin Hasen.

ZahlerIrwin was one of my teachers.  Hy was at the school and I don’t have any proof of this, but my last name begins with a “Z” and during my classes my first year it feels like the typical instructors got the first four classes because they’re held Monday and Tuesday and they teach A, B, C and D and we in E got the weird instructors, meaning the ones who didn’t fit that mold.  Hy Eisman taught lettering and he’s legendary for how he taught lettering at the Kubert School.  He was not my lettering teacher.  Hal Campagna who did “Bringing Up Father” was.  Oddly, I’m one of the guys out of my class who got a career as a letterer out of school.  So, everybody talks about, “Oh, yeah, Hy Eisman is the lettering teacher,” and it’s “No.  I’m the guy who didn’t have Hy.”  I didn’t have the same animation teacher as everybody else, either.  My instructors for some reason seemed to be different. 

Stroud:  I’ve forgotten what Irwin’s curriculum involved.

Zahler:  I think he taught Basic Drawing 2 and 3.  It was basically an illustration class.  Some of the course descriptions got a little vague.  I had Bart Sears as a teacher for story adaptation where we ended up drawing a lot of comic book pages.  We illustrated some Doc Savage stuff, but it was a lot more comic book storytelling class than the class it was actually purported to be.  There were teachers who took advantage of things, in a good way, to teach you something beyond what you were being taught, just by virtue of the class.  So, in storytelling, for example, I remember doing some wash drawings because we had to buy some gray paint to make it really work.  We were doing wash drawings and paintings that weren’t really typical, but it was what Bart wanted to teach us.  In addition to these assignments and stories it was something he wanted to teach us during that time.  Irwin’s class was Basic Drawing for the second and third year and he was one of the few teachers who…when you draw on a chalkboard it’s very different than drawing on paper.  The angle of the board is wrong and the medium is different.  You can’t finesse it the way you can with a pencil and it was interesting how he could just walk up and draw something on a board and it would look the same as if he had drawn it on paper. 

Stroud:  Were there any particular lessons that were more valuable than others or was it just a grand whole?

Zahler:  There are several, but one is that I took a caricature class and I didn’t like it and I didn’t see why I had to take it and I didn’t want to do caricatures for a living, but I had kind of based my life off a line from a Batman comic, from Dark Knight when Alfred is trying to tell him that hey, you’ve got to have a backup plan and Batman says, “Can’t have a back door, might be tempted to use it.”  I was one of those irritatingly smart kids in high school.  Phi Beta Kappa, National Merit Scholar, all of that stuff.  But I wanted to make sure I didn’t have anything to fall back on.  I wanted to be an artist.  It was either that or live in a refrigerator box.  Those were my options.

Stroud: (Laughter.)

Zahler:  I made sure I went to art school to where that was all I could do.  I took caricature class because they told me I had to, but I thought, “Man, I’m never going to use this stuff.”  Well, first thing when I got out of school, I was doing caricatures in an amusement park because I had cleverly structured it so that it was all I knew how to do. 

That was just a lesson in the idea that if someone wants you to learn something it’s probably not a bad idea to learn it.  Even if you don’t think you’re going to need it.  It’s been a pretty invaluable skill in my toolbox.  For a while about a third of my income was from doing caricatures.  When you’re starting out it’s great to actually manage to make a living.  Ever since I graduated, I have managed to make a living as an artist.  I was always using the skills from school to do it. 

Mike Chen taught the business of art and he taught narrative art and he had a very professorial way of teaching, but there was also a lot of learning how to give a client what he wants.  It wasn’t that you were doing the drawing you wanted to do, it was that you were doing the drawing based on an assignment he was giving you.  Learning how to fulfill the needs of a client is a very important skill to learn in the actual narrative storytelling you were learning. 

Love and Capes (2006) #6 by Thom Zahler.

Love and Capes (2006) #7 by Thom Zahler.

Love and Capes (2006) #7 by Thom Zahler.

Love and Capes (2006) #8 by Thom Zahler.

In the same way I’ve done some teaching.  Usually after school programs or little day classes.  I don’t think I have the patience and the temperament to teach long term.  But Bart Sears was drawing “Justice League Europe” while he was one of my teachers.  We were second year students and I know that among the continuum of students I went to school with I was a pretty good utility infielder, but I was never going to be the million-dollar franchise player.  You’d show your work to Bart and he knew it wasn’t as good as it should be and you just felt very aware of the difference in your skills as compared to Bart’s.  Bart would look at a page and say, “Oh, I really like how you did…” and he’d point something out where you had a really interesting composition, or you drew something particularly well and then he would tear the rest of the page apart.  But the thing that would happen is that he would tell you the one good thing that you had done.  He’d let you know that you had redeeming value. 

Love and Capes (2006) #12 by Thom Zahler.

There are those teachers who will just tear things apart.  They’ll say, “Well, I shouldn’t have to tell you all the good stuff because I shouldn’t have to prop you up.  I’m just going to tell you the stuff that you need to fix.”  And it becomes kind of relentless and you end up questioning the value of the product you’re doing.  His teaching style was the kind that helped you see that, “Hey, I realize what you’re doing, and then make sure that you’re on the right path and then I can tell you everything after that.”  That’s something I’ve tried to do, because I was just really impressed with how well he did that.

Stroud:  That certainly seems to me like a much more viable method, particularly in an artistic environment.  I noticed that you’re basically a one-man band.  You write, do the art, letterer, colorist, publisher…do you do windows, too?

Zahler:  I do them around the house.  I’m the only person I know who will work for my own crappy rate.  (Mutual laughter.) 

Stroud:  Is it more satisfying doing the entire project or does it create its own frustrations?

Zahler:  I think more satisfying, at this point, for lack of a better term, is that it’s become more incestuous.  Because when you’re learning traditional comic book work, you’re taught to make your pencils as clear as possible for the inker.  And I’ve been doing my own stuff for so long, especially with Love and Capes, that it’s become very hard for me to break out the process.  I know people who have encouraged me to get an intern or an assistant to help speed up the process.  There are times when Love and Capes, as much as I love it, is not necessarily an immediate source of revenue.  It’s generally a back-end source of revenue and it’s one of those things I’ve done to promote myself as a creator, but it doesn’t make my house payment.  At least not at this point.  So, I’m taking on other client work and it’s important to get that stuff taken care of along with everything else.  With the book I don’t have a clear point of demarcation any more where I can just hand it off to somebody. 

Love and Capes: Ever After (2011) #1 by Thom Zahler.

I started out as a letterer, so I doubt I’d ever give that up anyway, but I write the script when I write the book.  I dialogue when I’m lettering it, because I’m both the letterer and the writer.  I can do that.  The effort of having to section out one of those tasks so I can hand it off to somebody would likely take me as much time as just doing the job myself.  But also, it’s a project which I decided to try, because I thought it would be a good idea.  I didn’t have to worry about taking anyone else down with me. 

When I did Free Comic Book Day, there’s a point where you say, “Hey, I’m going to take this brand new book,” because I did an original for every Free Comic Book Day, “and essentially give it away for free “, and there might be a lot of people who would say that was a bad idea.  I didn’t have to convince anyone, because I’m the only one who works for me and I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay everybody else in this chain not knowing how well the book was going to do.  It sets me up so that I can take the risk myself.  It’s not only a product I can put out, but it makes it easier for me to decide things without having to worry about providing for other people along the way. 

Stroud:  So there are definitely some liberating aspects to it. 

Zahler:  Very much so.  It allows you to take the risks and also my inker is never waiting for pages from me.  It’s a remarkably streamlined process.  Since I don’t have to give out anything to anyone else it’s just easier.  Communication is obviously internal.  It’s just me and the mirror.  I don’t have to worry about messing up somebody else’s schedule.  If the client comes in at the last minute and I have to do a caricature for them, I’m not messing anyone else up.  It allows me to fit it into the parts of my day where it will fit in without having to worry about messing anyone else’s world up. 

Stroud:  I imagine it’s nice, too, to not worry about someone not catching your vision of what you wanted to happen on the page.  (Mutual laughter.)  Love and Capes began in 2006, correct?

Zahler:  I think you’re right.  I started the book the year before and it came out in February at MegaCon and it was in stores in June, I think.  It was originally released to the public the same week that “Superman Returns” came out, which I think was ’06.  It just gets a little blurry because I know that I was doing work on it before it was published, so it had been with me a little longer than it has everyone else. 

Love and Capes: Ever After (2011) #1 Cast of Characters by Thom Zahler.

Stroud:  Of course.  I imagine it’s been gratifying with how well it’s been received. 

Zahler:  That’s just been amazing.  It’s not the first project I wrote and drew myself, but it’s the first one that people noticed.  One of the things I did was to do a bunch of guerrilla marketing techniques, especially with the first issue.  I worked with Mid-Ohio Con and got them to advertise in the first issue to help pay for the printing, but part of the deal was that I would give out 100 copies at each convention I did that year so they would get their ad out.  I would find whatever the longest line was.  So, at Comic Con I went to the line waiting for Joss Whedon and I just gave out a bunch of them figuring that people want to read comics.  They don’t generally turn down a free book.  They’re going to check it out.  And people would show up at my table afterward and say, “Oh, I read this and this part was so funny and I love how you did this.”  It was the first book I started getting that kind of reaction to.  People had read the book I’d done and I knew they liked it, because it was causing people to come up and talk to me afterward. 

I’ve also been impressed with the number of people who are much better than me that seem to like the book.  When I found out Kurt Busiek was a big fan of the book it just seemed bizarre.  I know Mark Waid had been giving him copies of the book, but I never actually had any proof that he was reading them.  Because when you give somebody copies of a book for free, you generally don’t quiz them on it afterward.  I like Mark’s stuff and if he’s reading, great.  I didn’t know if he’d like them or not and we’d see each other for such little periods of time that I wasn’t following up on it.  We were at MegaCon and we were talking about the sixth issue and he’s talking about how he really likes this part and he’s squeezing his fist which involved the last panels in issue six, and what I thought was cool was that I realized he was doing it so that he didn’t spoil the book for anyone else who was in the line.  That’s when I realized, “Oh, my god.  He’s reading the book and he’s enjoying it.”  It was great. 

Love and Capes: Ever After (2011) #2 by Thom Zahler.

Stroud:  I know this isn’t news, but I see Tony Isabella praising you to the rooftops at every opportunity.

Zahler:  Yes, he is.  Tony’s a friend of mine, but most of my friends don’t have any problem telling me when I’m screwing up. 

Stroud:  It looks like you have a wonderful mix of topical humor along with hero clichés.  Does it seem to flow together pretty naturally?  What’s your creative process like?

Zahler:  The latest arc is a little bumpy for me because every iteration of Love and Capes is getting farther and farther away from my area of expertise.  The way Love and Capes is set up is that every 6 issues is essentially like a TV season.  I write in 6-issue arcs.  That’s my commitment when I start the project, because a lot of independent publishers will go, “I’m going to do this 52-issue Magnum Opus,” and then get 3 issues in and run out of money.  So, I did the first issue as a standalone and if I do issue #2, then I’m going to do issue #6.  Every time I start up, I look on the horizon and say, “This is a reasonable amount of work that I can do and this is the amount of work that I’m going to do.  As a self-publisher, I can afford to do it. 

So, the first 6 issues are about them dating, and I’ve dated people before.  The next 6 issues are about them being engaged and I haven’t been engaged before, but I’ve thought about it and when your friends get engaged, you’re very involved in that process.  Then this third arc is about them being married.  I haven’t been married before, but I’ve seen other people be married and I have friends my own age who are, so I’ve got some good reference.  But now, Abby is pregnant, and I’ve got no idea.  My friend Colleen lent me her book, “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Being Pregnant,” so I burned through that just trying to get a better feel for everything that’s involved and to try to come up with story ideas that you wouldn’t necessarily think of. 

I tend to write page by page.  I will know where a story is going to begin and end, but I don’t necessarily know the middle.  Recently I’ve had a couple of books where the ending kind of changes based on what I initially planned.  I killed off a character in the most recent issue from IDW; Love and Capes: Ever After #5.  I know I said 6-issue arcs, but I had done a Free Comic Book Day issue as #13, so 13 issues plus the IDW make that 6-issue arc.  I’d killed a character off and originally it was going to be a lot funnier, but then the ending wound up being different.  Because I was at the funeral of a guy I’d gone to school with.  It was just monumentally crowded and there was honestly an hour and a half wait to get up to see the body and the family.  So I had a lot of time to think, and I thought, “Man.  It had to be really rough being a superhero when somebody dies, because you go the funeral, but you can’t say ‘How do you know him?’ or you have to come in with a cover story.” 

Love and Capes: Ever After (2011) #3 by Thom Zahler.

That’s kind of how I arrived at wanting to do some stuff about death in comics and how transient it is.  So there’s a scene where the superheroes are actually checking out the body and they’re going through a litany of the ways people get resurrected.  Just make sure that none of those are actually in play for this case.  I think in terms of comic book storytelling the reader empirically knows that everything is transient, especially in a world where we’ve brought back Barry Allen and Bucky.  That nobody is actually dead forever in comics, but the important part is to make the characters think that the character is dead forever.  Or you can play against that if you really want to.  But it’s kind of the same way you know that Superman is probably going to take care of whatever menace he’s facing.  It’s just a matter of making the ride interesting enough and making the story engaging enough that you’re not as concerned about the fact that you kind of ultimately know how it all ends.  So, in the same way I wanted to deal with superheroes who get them to the point that they’re not worried about it being a real death.  It is a real death, now what are we going to do? 

Past that, I write on Post-It notes, because every Love and Capes pages is 8 panels.  There are two 4-panel sequences.  My friend Bill Williams who does the books for Lone Star Press in the days before the iPad pointed out to me that a comic book page is vertical.  A computer monitor is horizontal.  So if you’re going to do a comic that you’re going to put on a website you might as well cut the comic book page in half, turning it into a monitor size because the act of scrolling down is kind of an unnatural reading act.  So, part of Love and Capes comes from things like Bloom County, which I’m a huge fan of, but just that 4-panel gag format. 

Also, when I did the first issue I didn’t know if it was going to do well enough for me to keep doing print books, so I wanted a way to keep doing it on the website.  Just because Love and Capes tended to be 3-panel, beat, 3-panel, beat format, so I write it on Post-It notes and put it on my kitchen wall because it’s the longest wall in the house that doesn’t have anything on it.  Then I can move the book around as I need to from there.  Sometimes the note will be, “Something funny happens here,” which I hate when I write that, because eventually I have to do it.

Stroud: (Chuckle.) 

Love and Capes: Ever After (2011) #3 pg1 by Thom Zahler.

Zahler:  There’s a little bit of music to it.  It will be, “Okay, I’ve got this scene with Crusader and Abby and there’s another scene of Crusader and Abby later on and I need to have something happen in between so I need to have this beat happen where I focus on these two characters and…better.”  But it allows me to see the book and say, “Okay, page 15 is the last of the first page of the Mark and Abby scene, page 17 and 18 are going to be a Darkblade scene and page 19 at the end of the book is going to be the final scene, so it’s a good tool to write visually.  Originally being trained as an artist makes it my natural wheelhouse. 

Stroud:  I presume you produce your work on the computer?  It seems hardly anyone does it on the board much anymore.

Zahler:  It’s half and half.  I pencil by hand and I ink by hand.  With Love and Capes, I’m inking on marker paper; layout paper.  Through a light box.  Then I scan it in and I color it and I composite it very much like an animated series format where I’ve designed the bookstore and once I’ve designed the bookstore I don’t have to keep redrawing it unless the characters are directly interacting with some element.  I’ve gotten better and better at creating sets that are much more useful.  Mark and Abby buy an apartment building at one point and the original beat up apartment that they were remodeling for a couple of issues, the banister up to the second floor was one piece of artwork, so when I’d draw them I’d have to redraw the banister because it had to be in front of the characters.  When they finally remodeled it, I figured out my lesson and just did a second layer on Photoshop and now I don’t have to redraw the banister every time somebody goes upstairs.  Stuff like that just makes it…for doing a full color comic and doing every part of it, realistically I work at a quarterly pace.  That’s why there’s a delay between every series I do for IDW because I have to work monthly.  So, I have to work ahead to get to the point that it will come out monthly, but I’ve been working on it for about a year before the first one comes out. 

Love and Capes_ Ever After (2011) #4 by Thom Zahler.

Just in terms of things like that I’m using the computer as best I can to make it do as much and as complicated as far as the things I do.  I’ve started doing the covers as blue lines.  I’ll get a fairly tight pencil and I’ll scan it into the computer, do whatever computer modifications I need to whether it’s putting on a logo or drawing something technical, which works really well on the computer.  Anything from a building to just doing a giant circle, where it would be a pain to get a compass to work it that large.  I’ll have that stuff inked in black, but the actual artwork will be in blue pencil printed out on my printer and then I will ink by hand because I’m looking to have more original artwork.  As a businessman I’m cutting off a revenue stream if I don’t have originals.  I could change the process with Love and Capes, but at this point, 20 issues in, it just feels like, “Why mess up a good thing?”  But any project from here on out I’m going to be putting a little more ink on board to make sure that there is more product that I have and will be able to sell. 

Stroud:  It makes good sense, because it’s incredible how the market has just gone bananas the last several years, I’m sure for the more modern stuff, too, but it’s rapidly getting to the point that most mere mortals cannot afford the average Silver Age page, never mind older stuff.  There seems to really be a demand out there.  Digital comics seem to be the future and I sometimes wonder if something isn’t being lost in the process. 

Zahler:  I’m a big proponent of digital comics, mostly from a television point of view.  I’ve found that…like I have a Kindle and I love it because there are books that I want to read that I do not need to own.  At a certain point your bookshelf becomes a bunch of animal heads.  “Hey, I read this book and I read this book and I read this book.”  I read “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and I enjoyed it, but I’m probably never going to reread that book.  I don’t need to physically own that book for the rest of my life, so it works just as well on a Kindle, whereas I love the art of Pixar and every time a movie comes out and there’s something particularly neat that isn’t going to work on a digital display. 

The thing I like about digital comics is that it makes it easy for me to get an individual issue.  I would love to have a subscription format because… like DC did “Blackest Night” and it was something like a 60-issue crossover by the time everything was factored in and I don’t know that I needed to buy all 60 issues.  I think I would have been just as happy reading it in digital format and just buying the collection afterward.  But I think you’re right in that there’s part of the process that’s getting lost and it may be possible to find a middle ground where, for instance the same way I watch Castle on TV.  They give it to me for free by putting in some ads, but I still buy the box set at the end of the year and the season because I like the show so much.  I don’t do that for every show, but I’m willing to pay more of a premium. 

Love and Capes: Ever After (2011) #5 by Thom Zahler.

Getting back to comics, for something like All-Star Superman, which I’m going to go back and reread because it’s just so gorgeous and I’m going to have to have every issue of that, but there are other projects where, say, I read the Simpson Comics and I actually think they’re pretty brilliant, but I don’t need to have an Absolute Edition collection.  It’s more than the artwork requires and the Simpsons are a little bit more disposable long term, but it’s the only one I can think of that I enjoy at the moment and it goes in the collection, but I’m probably not going to necessarily touch it again. 

Stroud:  It may be because my very first interview was with Gaspar Saladino and I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for letterers, but one of the things that stuck out for me was your use of translucent word balloons.  Is that an original innovation of yours?

Zahler:  I’m not going to say I invented it, but I don’t recall having seen it somewhere before.  The reason they came about is personally embarrassing to me, because I did come up as a letterer.  I did a test page to conceptually see how I would lay out and design the characters and I didn’t leave enough room for the lettering.  And that’s horrible, because as a letterer that’s one of the things I complain about. 

So, I was doing a sample page and I didn’t leave enough room for the dialogue and I didn’t want to have to make room to redraw it, so I said, “Oh, what happens if I make it transparent?”  I found I really liked that look.  I like being able to see a little bit of the art behind it.  I think the first issue has a little bit different translucency than the rest of the issues because some of that was experimenting with printers and how it would look when it actually prints, but yeah, I like that and I like the upper and lower case, which is something I never thought I’d care for.

Lettering is one of those great invisible arts.  If you do it right, nobody’s going to notice and if you do it wrong, everybody’s going to complain.  I take great pride in being able to lay out this dialogue-based comic and make it very readable and be able to have natural, conversational cadences because of the way you letter it.  I know there’s an example in the second or third issue that... I have a group of friends who read every page after I get it done because their job is to tell me when I start screwing up.  They’ll catch dialogue errors and I’ve actually had friends catch continuity errors.  I think that’s pretty insane, given that they’re my characters. 

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (2012) #32 Sub Variant cover by Thom Zahler.

One of my best friends has an 8-year old daughter and she loves the book.  He has read it to her over and over and over again and we got into a discussion over how old Abby is.  He won it!  I was like, “Wait.  How can you win this discussion over how old Abby is?  She’s my character!”  But I couldn’t win.  He’d made his case flawlessly.

Getting back to lettering, you can tell the people who know how to letter and you can tell the people who know how to type.  I have this theory that you should learn how to do things the old way so that when you learn the new way you know the steps that you’re skipping.  When I was at Kubert, comics were still being separated by hand.  So that was a process we had to learn.  It was on the tail end of being useful.  It was a 3-year program, so by the time we finished our third year DC was starting to do digital coloring and you knew that was going to change everything.  But it was still important to be able to learn color separation because when you’re working on a page and trying to figure out how to make a black a rich black to it prints right or how this is going to print being able in your head to break it down into CMYK and getting the plates right in your head is an important skill to have. 

In the same way I computer letter most of the stuff that I do.  I have my own font that I’ve used on occasion.  A lot of clients really like the Comicraft fonts and they’re lovely fonts that I don’t have any problem using, but knowing where to place a balloon and how to fit the copy in it right; those are skills that I think are best learned by doing it by hand.  Then when you go to computer lettering you know what steps the computer is doing for you.  And it makes it easier to integrate it into the process. 

Stroud:  I could see Love and Capes easily being turned into an animated format.  Do you see that possibly happening?

Zahler:  I’ve had a lot of people tell me that.  I honestly see it as a live action sitcom.  My fear…and I can be talked out of this, by either a very convincing case or a truckload of money, because I’m not a proud man, is that most of the animated cartoons that are successful on television these days have a bit of an edge to them.  Even the Simpsons, which has a very nuclear family that love each other, but a lot of the jokes have a spark to them.  They’re really funny, but I don’t know that an animated TV series that has at its heart an honest-to-god relationship would work as well.  I just think that might be a bit much to ask of the viewing public based on current buying trends. 

Love and Capes: What To Expect (2012) #1 by Thom Zahler.

I think Disney and Pixar seem to be able to do it, but I’m worried that in a serious format people wouldn’t respond to it in the same way.  The structure of Love and Capes is actually very heavily based on sitcom where most of the superhero stuff takes place off camera; the same way that in most sitcoms the characters have jobs, but you rarely see them go to them or do any actual work.  It actually brings down the special effects budget.  It keeps a lot of the expensive stuff happening off camera as far as special effects and production work goes. 

In terms of what I’m doing I like it because it lets me focus on the characters.  I’ve had a couple of fight scenes in the book, but it’s not what the book is about.  If you want to read a book with cool fight scenes DC and Marvel publish a bunch of cool comics every month, but if you want to read a relationship comic there are very few of those out there.  I figure it’s important to stick to the parts that are unique and by virtue of that it makes a lot of the other stuff fall by the wayside. 

Stroud:  Keep to the niche and run with it.  I see you’re planning to be at Emerald City Comic Con in the spring.  Are you a regular on the circuit?

Zahler:  Oh, yes.  Last year was legendary.  I think I did 16 shows.  I just decided that there were a bunch of shows I’d put off doing for one reason or another and last year I got kind of carried away.  I think I did them all.  I like doing the convention circuit and I’m trying to cut back just a little so that it’s not as hard to get other work done as I’m traveling the country.  But I’ll be doing, just in the first quarter of the year, Emerald City in Seattle; MegaCon in Florida; and Wonder Con in Anaheim this year, which is a little disappointing because I wanted to go to San Francisco this year.  And then I do the big shows in New York and San Diego.  San Diego, at this point, I feel like I can’t not do.  Part of it is that if you’re not there, people think you’ve left the industry.  The other part is that I have a booth and it’s a very well positioned booth.  It’s #2000, which, in terms of being able to give people a location is one of the better numbers to have.  It’s been there for 8 or so years at this point, so I know if I give it up I’ll never get it back. 

Love and Capes: What To Expect (2012) #2 by Thom Zahler.

For a show like San Diego, it seems counter-intuitive, but you see more people if you stay in one place.  Because eventually whoever you want to see if probably going to walk by.  Whereas if you’re a moving target and they’re a moving target you’re probably going to miss somebody.  Having a booth has got me more conversations and contacts than when I would wander the floor separately. 

I also like the travel.  I try to book the trips a couple of days on either side so I can enjoy the city, especially if it’s one I haven’t been to.  I’m lucky enough that I have a lot of friends in a lot of the cities, so I stay with them or extend my trip that way.  On my trips to San Diego I’m always up in LA for a week afterward.  It works out well.

Stroud:  Very sweet.  As I wrap things up here is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to bring up, Thom?

Zahler:  There’s a new Love and Capes series coming out in either June or July of 2012.  It will pick up where the last one left off; the pregnancy that I alluded to.  I can’t talk about it because there’s a lot of stuff in play, but there is going to be a Love and Capes Valentine’s Day thing that will happen.  From a purely marketing point of view it’s the best day to promote my kind of book, even though I don’t have an actual physical issue coming out.  There will be one or more things happening to promote the book, because that’s the day people will be paying attention to it.  And of course, the website is  That’s the big stuff.

If you would like to see Mr. Zahler in person, he has several more convention appearances planned for 2019. Thom will be at Comicpalooza (May 10-12), Denver Pop Culture Convention (May 31-June 2), HeroesCon (June 14-16), San Diego Comic Con (July 18-21), Fan Expo Canada (August 22-25), DragonCon (August 29-September 2), Cincinnati Comic Expo (September 20-22), Mighty Con NOLA (September 28-29), New York Comic Con (October 3-9), Baltimore Comic Con (October 18-21), and Grand Rapids Comic Con (November 8-10)!


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 Severin - A Master of Humor & Horror, Westerns & War

Written by Bryan Stroud

John Severin at his drawing table.

John Powers Severin (born on December 26, 1921) was an American comics artist noted for his distinctive work with EC Comics (primarily on the war comics Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat); Marvel Comics (especially its war and western comics); and for his 45-year stint with the satiric magazine Cracked. Severin was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2003.

John was a teenager in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York City, when he began drawing professionally. While attending high school, he contributed cartoons to The Hobo News, receiving payment of one dollar per cartoon. After high school, he started renting studio space with Will Elder & Harvey Kurtzman - working on logos and packaging mostly. Inspired by the quick money Kurtzman would make in between advertising assignments with one-page gags for Stan Lee at Timely Comics, Severin worked up comic samples inked by Elder. In late 1947 Severin was given his first comic art job by the team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby at Crestwood Publications.

Over the next several decades, John enjoyed a storied career in comics. He moved easily through genres - often switching between westerns, war titles, superheroes and fantasy books. In the early 1950's, he was one of the original 5 artists to start Mad Magazine. As recently as 2011, he was lending his distinctive style to Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever.

Mr. Severin passed away at his home in Denver, Colorado on February 12, 2012 at the age of 90.

Two-Fisted Tales (1950) #25 Buzz Bomb pg1, penciled by John Severin & inked by Will Elder.

John Severin & Will Elder (c.1951) with some pages from Buzz Bomb.

Two-Fisted Tales (1950) #25 Buzz Bomb pg2, penciled by John Severin & inked by Will Elder.

This was another of those short and to the point interviews (via letter), but despite that, it was a thrill to be in touch with the legendary and incredibly talented John Severin.  I still am not certain the reasoning, but I was tickled when his sweet wife sent me what I presume were comp copies of what may have been John's last published work, the 5-issue Witchfinder mini-series from Dark Horse.  She also asked me if I'd consider writing a letter about them.  Well, I was glad to do so and to my surprise and delight, they published it in issue #3 of B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death.  To date, it's my lone published letter in a comic book and I'm still kind of proud of that.

This interview originally took place via the mail on November 22, 2011.

Great Action Comics (1958) #1, cover by John Severin.

Bryan D. Stroud: My research tells me you sold you first professional work at age 10! That must be a record.

John Severin: That seems to be the rumor, but for the record, it was in early high school doing cartoons for the Hobo News.

Stroud: You attended the High School of Music and Art in New York?

Severin: Somewhat.

Stroud: Who were your artistic influences?

Severin: Charlie Russell, Hal Foster and Howard Pyle.

Stroud: What made you decide to go into comics?

Severin: My friend, Harvey Kurtzman’s influence.

Stroud: The earliest comic credit I could find was for DC’s Boy Commandos in 1942.

Severin: I never drew that character, and I was in the Pacific in 1942.

Stroud: How well did you know Joe Simon and Jack Kirby?

Severin: Jack gave me my first job and I continued to work for them. At that time, I also took on American Eagle.

Stroud: Was your time in the Army helpful for your work on war books later on?

Severin: Yes, it was part of my life experience.

Two-Fisted Tales (1950) #36, cover by John Severin.

Stroud: You’ve done extensive work on war and westerns. Was that by choice or by assignment?

Severin: Both.

Stroud: Russ Heath told me you were one of the very best western artists.

Severin: Well, thank you. I return the compliment.

Stroud: You’ve done a little work on superhero titles, but mainly the aforementioned and some adventure, horror and humor. Russ and Bernie Wrightson didn’t like doing superheroes. Is that your take as well?

Severin: Yes. I’m a realist.

Stroud: You’ve won a bushel basket of awards. I noted an Alley for Best War Title of ’67 and ’68 for Sgt. Fury and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a Sparky Award in 2001. Were there others?

Severin: Some others have been: The Eisner Hall of Fame, the Jules Verne Estate Lifetime Achievement, Marvel Shazam, Best Horror Western for Desperadoes, the War Collectors Hall of Fame, the National Inkpot Award and the International Inkpot Award and every letter I receive telling me I have given someone pleasure is equally gratifying. I’ve been around a long time, so they come from kids to fans who go back fifty or sixty years.

Stroud: You were one of the first to work on Mad. What was that like?

Severin: A lot of fun.

Stroud: You have credits for Warren, Charlton, Harvey and DC, but Marvel seemed to be your home. Why?

The Incredible Hulk (1968) #109, cover penciled by Herb Trimpe & inked by John Severin.

Severin: Stan (Lee) gave me lots of scripts and covers.

Stroud: What was your favorite assignment?

Severin: After all these years, I can’t say. I enjoyed drawing them all.

Stroud: Were deadlines rough?

Severin: Yes and no. They are an essential part of the business.

Stroud: What was your production rate?

Severin: Fast enough to meet multiple deadlines.

Stroud: How were page rates back in the day?

Severin: I was fortunate enough to do well.

Stroud: There was a pretty small group doing war books for DC back in the day to include Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, Sam Glanzman, Jerry Grandenetti, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, Ric Estrada and Mort Drucker. How often did you encounter them?

Severin: I am friends with Kubert and Heath.

Stroud: Did you ever do any advertising work?

Severin: Yes, but I never worked at an agency. I did Sgt. Fury for the Wall Street Journal, some westerns for Ford Motor Company and a few things for the Enquirer.

Stroud: Did you do any syndicated work?

Wyatt Earp (1955) #2, cover by John Severin.

Severin: Some. I don’t remember. I know I did a series for the New York Post.

Stroud: What are your favorite tools of the trade?

Severin: A #2 pencil, preferably a Mongol and a Croquil pen.

Stroud: Did you like doing covers or interiors?

Severin: Interiors, because it allows you to develop the story and characters.

Stroud: Did you use a lot of reference in your war and western work?

Severin: All that I could get hold of any subject.

Stroud: You’ve done historical figures like Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp. How did that differ from doing fictional characters?

Severin: The only thing factual about them were their names. The stories were all fictional.

Stroud: Many of your peers paint. Do you?

Severin: No, only a couple of colorblind artist’s fiascoes.

Stroud: Do you do commissions?

Severin: I never have time to do many.

Stroud: Do you do conventions?

Severin: No, I only have once or twice.

Cracked (1958) #62, cover by John Severin.

Battle Action (1952) #26, cover by John Severin.

Cracked (1958) #72, cover by John Severin.

Fear (1970) #8, cover by John Severin.

Yellow Claw (1956) #2, cover by John Severin.

Journey Into Mystery (1952) #30, cover by John Severin.

King Conan (1980) #18, cover by John Severin.

Tomb of Dracula (1972) #2, cover by John Severin.

Mystic (1951) #56, cover by John Severin.

Witchfinder_ Lost and Gone Forever (2011) #1, cover art by John Severin.

Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever (2011) #1 pg9, art by John Severin.

Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever (2011) #1 pg16, art by John Severin.

BPRD: Hell On Earth- The Long Death (2012) #3 letterpage.


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 Elizabeth Berube - Bringing Cosmopolitan Style To DC's Romance Line

Written by Bryan Stroud

Elizabeth Berube, 1961.

Elizabeth Safian Berube (born January 7, 1943) is an American comic book artist, best known as a romance comics artist for DC Comics in the 1970's. Simply signing her work "Elizabeth," her modern, stylized art was used to illustrate fashion features, horoscope pages, tables of contents, and other various ornamental pieces. She was also a prolific colorist, first for Archie Comics and later for DC. Throughout her career she has worked on children’s books, greeting cards, and other commissioned work.

She attended Martin Van Buren High School in Queens (graduating at age 16 in 1959), where she started a comic strip for the school newspaper, which has been continued by different students to this day. After leaving school in 1961, Berube became a colorist and assistant editor for Archie Comics (continuing at that publisher in various freelance capacities until 1975). In the early 1960's she also met editor Jack Adler, who later brought her into DC Comics. Liz also started a newspaper strip (called Karen) that was carried by 40 papers at its peak.

In 1969 Berube began working on DC’s romance comics line, bringing more modern, stylized art to the genre - which was still being drawn in a realistic style. One of the few women in the field, Berube worked on such titles as Date with Debbi, Falling in Love, Girls' Romances, Heart Throbs, Secret Hearts, Young Love, and several others. At one point during this period, Berube was offered a position as editor of the whole romance line but as a single mother in her mid-twenties, she preferred the flexibility of working from home that pencilling and coloring allowed. The DC romance line folded a few years later; Berube was the last female contributor.

From the mid-1970's through the 1980's Liz worked as a colorist, mostly for DC. She was known for mixing her own hues and marking the combinations for the printing separators. She also did coloring for Neal Adams’ Continuity Studios in the mid-to-late 1980's.

I had the great pleasure of getting to know Liz, the talented colorist and artist and to learn about her time at DC Comics when it was still very much a boy's club.  Liz is as sweet as they come and is still doing things, to include a coloring book featuring some of her classic artwork and making a con appearance here and there.  She's a delight, as you'll soon read.

This interview originally took place over the phone on November 4, 2011.

Young Romance (1963) #166, Beauty on a Budget with art by Elizabeth Berube.

Bryan Stroud:  Did you have an interest in art right from the beginning, Liz?

Liz Berube:  My mom used to tell me I painted on the walls when I was 3.  

My uncle's bedtime stories (aside from Disney) were from the "POGO" comic strip, by Walt Kelly. There were also some books of reprinted strips that were very popular in the late 40's. You could say I was "weaned" on them. Very political satire. I still have 6 or 7 original books.  They’ve been out of print for 40 years.  But I just loved it. Still do.

I look at it now and think, “My God, I was reading this when I was 7?”  That was my destiny as far as I was concerned. I was determined to become the next Walt Kelly

I met him when I was a student at School of Visual Arts - my class was picked for a TV audience, along with Al Capp, Walt Kelly.... and the man who did "Sad Sack."

I started to gush a little, when introduced ....and he brushed me off. "Yeah, yeah, kid...drop me a line at Hall - and I'll send you an autographed strip." All Al Capp wanted was a lunch date.

Yup – my destiny was cartooning ... no doubt in my mind. I also used to make little books for family birthdays and holidays. Nothing I liked better, except riding horses and swimming.  And, yes - I would have gone in that direction, had it been more available to women. It wasn't.

I was offered a job with another WaltDisney, though.

Stroud:  Really?

Berube:  I sent a copy of Bambi with the butterfly on his tail that I’d copied off some comic book back or something. I sent it to him and of course the personnel department got back to me and they said, “We would hire you tomorrow if you weren’t 10 years old.  So when you reach 18, contact us (the Disney personnel department) and we’ll see what we can set you up with.”

Amethyst (1985) #14 pg2, penciled by Ernie Colon, inked by Bob Smith, & colored by Liz Berube.

I was born and raised in New York City.  I graduated high school early.  I was 16.  So by the time I was 18, I was in the business world.  I was coloring comic books and in my off times I was a receptionist.  I had a lot of friends who had gone out to California told me, “Its plastic!  You’ll hate it!  Don’t go.”  And I took their word for it instead of trying it for myself and I never did get out there. But then, I've been gullible all my life. For instance: I actually turned down a scholarship to Cooper Union ... because they asked me to teach, after graduation.

I had no real support from my family....and no real knowledge of the art field - so I turned it down. (ME? Stay in a classroom?) Whatta maroon, to quote Bugs Bunny!  So - the wordy answer to that question... is Yes, Bryan.... I carried a sketch book with me everywhere I went ...I was very interested in art. Naive...but interested.

Stroud:  Did you have any formal training in the arts?

Berube:  Well, I went to the School of Visual Arts in New York and I majored in cartooning.  At Visual Arts they have a wonderful program.  They go from foundation up.  So you learn life drawing, you learn cartooning, you learn everything.  I really enjoyed it, but it was such a Bohemian atmosphere that I got very little school work done.  It was mostly gabbing in the lunch room and everybody sketching everybody else and that sort of thing, wearing black and drinking coffee.  (Chuckle.)  I never did graduate.  I think I had 1/2 year there left to go.

From there I went to Archie Comics because that was the only thing on the bulletin board that it looked like I could do for an immediate income.  They gave me a job right away.  I worked as a colorist and as an editor with Victor Gorelick. Vic really taught me the business, in general, from the ground up.  From there I went into freelancing and when I couldn’t find work I’d get all dressed up out of Vogue Magazine and I’d get myself a job as a receptionist.  I was tricky. (Mutual laughter.) 

You would be amazed, but in 40 years things have changed.  I went to Dell Comics and the editor, whose name I forget, promised me a summer issue, which was like 80 pages, to color and I was tickled pink.  He said, “Why don’t we have lunch and talk about it?”  Being raised in New York I was pretty careful about things like that.  So I politely declined.  I told him I had other plans.  And he asked me 6 or 8 times to meet him somewhere for a drink or for lunch.  I was 18 maybe at that point.  I began to see it was the old casting couch thing that they had in Hollywood.  When I finally turned him down quite firmly, he never called back again.  Of course I never did any work for Dell. 

Doorway to Nightmare (1978) #1 pg12, drawn by Val Mayerik & colored by Liz Berube.

Shortly after that I met Jack Adler and he got me started at DC. 

Stroud:  After Jack passed a few weeks back I was going through my copy of the Amazing World of DC Comics that featured him and Sol Harrison on the cover (Issue #10) and as I was re-reading it, I discovered you were mentioned in there.  Maybe you knew that. 

Berube:  Really? No ... I didn't know he'd passed. Once I left NY… most of my friends and co-workers grew "out of touch".

Stroud:  As he’s being interviewed…the publication date was January of 1976, he said, “…I began to color the covers on a freelance basis because there was no time for them during the day, until we reached a point where we realized that that was too time-consuming.  They had to be done some other way and I had been discussing it for some time.  That’s the point at which Tatjana Wood started to color them.  Jerry (Serpe) had become a full-time colorist then as did Tommy (Nicholosi).  Then Tommy left and Liz Safian (now Liz Berube) started coloring and she’s been coloring ever since.”  “Did Liz ever work in your department?”  “No, she never did.  She worked at Archie Comics, as an assistant editor and colorist.  She’s a good artist, too.  She did some romance art for Dick Giordano’s love magazines in the sixties.” So, you made the interview back in 1976. 

Berube:  How nice.  I’d love to get a copy.  I love saving these things. Jack was always a prince, to me... and I'm flattered

Stroud:  Jack was very gracious when he granted me an interview. 

Berube:  I can't see Jack as being anything BUT gracious. He taught me an awful lot because I kept coming up with interesting combinations for color and in those days it wasn’t easy for the separators.  So he taught me how to draw a line and how to mark it up and I marked up every page with a Rapidograph.  Very small, but very legible.  And I never had errors in my comics the way the other colorists did.  Jack taught me a lot.  He knew so much about production and really everything that had to do with comic books.  He became a very good friend. 

Falling In Love (1955) #119, Beauty on a Budget with art by Elizabeth Berube.

He even got me started in photography because we both loved instant art.  Jack was one of the people I was very sorry to leave behind in New York. 

Stroud:  He seemed to be a man of many talents and gifts.

Berube:  Many.

Stroud:  It’s remarkable how many innovations he came up with between the washtones and the use of photographs on some of the covers and so forth. 

Berube:  And, he had a fabulous sense of humor.  Jack got me started.  I went up to DC cold.  Absolutely cold.  And I had absolutely nothing to show except a few things from Archie Comics.  Jack took one look at my colors and said, “You’re hired.”  Even when I’d go off to do other jobs there was always a place waiting for me when I came back. 

Stroud:  That certainly speaks to your ability.

Berube:  Good man.  It speaks to his loyalty and generosity.  I wouldn’t mind having 5 minutes with him again. Just for a hug. :)

Stroud:  He used to call me and at one point he said, “Bryan, if you’d like to spice up the interview, I’ve got an idea.  I’m going to give you my cousin’s phone number.  Perhaps you’ve heard of Howard Stern?”

Berube:  (Laughter.)  That’s funny, because I didn’t realize the connection until I saw it on Facebook.  I knew one of his other cousins who was a photographer for Vogue helped my son when he was with FIT when we moved back to New York for about 5 years.  Jack was wonderful to David.  But I didn’t know that he was related to Howard Stern.  

Stroud:  Well it certainly shocked me no end and it took me awhile to work up the courage to use the phone number he gave me, but as it turned out all I could get was a sophisticated voice mail system and I didn’t have the guts to keep trying.  The only other time I used it was after I heard of Jack’s passing to leave a message of condolence.

Adventure Comics (1938) #450 pg1, drawn by Jim Aparo & colored by Liz Berube.

When you were doing your illustration work I noticed that you did a Robert Kanigher script among others.  Did you have a particular writer you enjoyed interpreting?

Berube:  Well I absolutely loved Alex Toth’s more modern stuff, but generally, Bryan, I have to be honest; it was a job to me.  I was good at it, but I had a son to support.  I was a single mother.  This way, I could do it at home and I just didn’t pay much attention to who did what. 

Except later on when it got to Batman and Neal was my editor.  There were a few other people.  I enjoyed working for Sal Amendola very much. Of course - Dick Giordano, Joe Orlando, Carmine Infantino. Oh - I should mention that Bob Kanigher was helpful in preparing a folio. Nice man. Yes - his stories were more with the times. 

There were a couple of others whose names I don’t’ recall right now.  It was great because I’d go in and they’d flip through the book and go, “Okay.”  No corrections, no nothing, just, “Here’s another one.” 

Because of the tricks that Jack taught me, and out of necessity, there were times that I would just color a book overnight and bring it back in the next day.  And I was the only one who did.  Pencilers are always late.  Inkers are always late.  And it comes down to the colorist to make up for the lost time and get the comic book printed.  So Jack used to say to everybody, “If you need it two weeks ago, call Liz.” 

Stroud:  So you were the Vinnie Colletta of colorists.

Berube:  (Chuckle.)  I haven’t heard that name in a century.

Stroud:  From the material I read it sounds like he was either very much appreciated or very much reviled because apparently he used to commit the cardinal sin of inking Jack Kirby and to save time he would sometimes change the backgrounds by removing characters or it abruptly became the brick wall from a brownstone or something.

Berube:  Oh, Kirby must have loved that.

Shade the Changing Man (1977) #1 pg5, drawn by Steve Ditko & colored by Liz Berube.

Stroud:  People were just furious about it, but I’ve read where more than one person said, “Look, Vinnie never blew a deadline.  Sometimes it was not the most attractive thing, but the most important thing to an editor is making those schedules and Vinnie never failed.” 

Berube:  The only time I got in trouble with being late one time…I was going to tell about it - but it has to do with an unfortunate time in my I'd rather not. Let's just say: “I fell off a horse." And I totally agree with that theory on Vinnie. If the clock came down to US and a book was late.... it was "due to the last person holding it."

Stroud:  Well after all, if your track record was as good as it was that had to have been a very understandable anomaly.

Berube:  "Track record " " I fell off a horse " .... too funny.

I enjoyed doing the artwork as well.  The filler pages were a lot of fun.  The ones for the girl’s romance books. 

Stroud:  You did quite a few of those. 

Berube:  Yes…and just when I was really getting into it and developing a specific style for it, I kept saying to them, because they kept saying they were going to cut them out, “Turn it into a comic book Cosmopolitan.”  Because Cosmopolitan had just made that big thing with Burt Reynolds where he was the centerfold.  And then Cosmopolitan became a very popular magazine for girls in their 20’s and 30’s and late teens I would imagine. 

I began to turn my pages more and more toward the Cosmopolitan format.  Then they offered me the job of giving it one more shot if I’d edit the magazines.  And I have to say I had a couple of reasons for not doing it.  The first one, and I’m ashamed of this, but I’ll be honest:  I didn’t know how I would be able to handle “the boys,” being the only female in the office who knew nothing about editing, or next to nothing.  I didn’t know how I’d be able to handle them.

Girls' Love Stories (1949) #147, Your Fashion Horoscope with art by Liz Berube.

Young Romance (1963) #169, Dates’N’ Mates with art by Liz Berube.

Stroud:  Of course.

Berube:  The second reason was that I didn’t want to put my son in one of those preschool places that were so bad at the time.  I think that would have been the early ‘70’s.  There were horrible things happening.  It was so convenient to work at home.  And then lastly, it’s not that I’m lazy, but I like my comfort and I like my own schedule.  And to be able to work at home when I wanted to do the work; if I wanted to stay up all night or if I wanted to work in the morning, I really didn’t want to have to go into Manhattan every day.  It was a totally stupid thing to do, because when I look back at it now, as an adult, (laughter) I don’t consider 24 being an adult.  When I look back at it now I realize they were earning $75,000.00 or $100,000.00 a year!  I could have hired someone to bring David into the office to be with me. 

Young Love (1963) #121, Beauty on a Budget with art by Elizabeth Berube.

I think the biggest problem was that I was intimidated.  Even though I was very friendly with all the guys and they were wonderful to me.  Oh, they were a little flirtatious, but harmless.  It wasn’t like the guy at Dell.  I was very close to Dick Giordano and Carmine Infantino.  I got a real kick, too.  I’d come in wearing these short skirts and Carmine would yell, “Liz, you got the best legs in New York!”  I’d say, “Where's that raise, Carmine!” (Mutual laughter.)  So there were definite advantages to being a woman at that time. 

But I was afraid of failing.  As I look back, I don’t think I would have.  I might have saved the romance line.  (Why not - look what Wonder Woman could do with a couple of bracelets.) Hah... listen to ME... I MIGHT have found a cure for the common cold, too ....... (snort)

Shoulda, coulda, woulda ..

Stroud:  Well, hindsight being what it is, I applaud your priorities.  My wife and I made that kind of decision and we never drove new cars, but we didn’t regret it.

Berube:  With all the stories in the papers of things happening at the day cares I just wasn’t willing to take the risk, but I was also concerned about how I’d deal with the guys. 

Looking back at it now I know they would have helped me.  They would have been very helpful, but there were some who would have been jealous of my position in the company.  Because I was getting work that they used to get and weren’t getting any more. 

Stroud:  I can see where that would be a hindrance.

Berube:  When you’re young and attractive, which I was; people used to stop me and tell me I looked like a young Elizabeth Taylor, it makes it even more difficult. .. Then there’s a certain amount of resentment, because "she looks that way and I don’t " I don't think it's that bad, now - but back in the 60's ....the cat fights were wild... and priorities were surface, much of the time.

Stroud:  It’s funny that you made mention of legs earlier.  I found a couple of examples of your art pieces on the web and there’s one here in front of me titled, “Legs,” and you’ve got some fun little depictions of young women with these long, lanky legs and text with, “The shorter the skirts get, the more looks for your legs, whatever the occasion.  Give the legs the attention they deserve and watch the attention they get!”  (Mutual laughter.)

Young Romance (1963) #170 pg.20, Beauty on a Budget with art by Elizabeth Berube.

Berube:  Now I didn’t write most of these pages. (I did write that one.)  Somebody else did.  Like the “Happenings” pages.  Or “Love Life” or whatever it was called.  It was usually a 2-page spread.   I took a lot of my things out of Cosmopolitan.  New styles, only I adapted them to the younger people.  There was one that Mike (Frigon) keeps talking about and he said everybody talks about it.  I don’t know if you’ve seen it on the net.  You probably have.  I used to call it “Beauty on a Budget.”  I’m a big fan of Windsor McCay.  Always have been.  So I started trying out the little people with the big objects.  So I had one girl sitting on a cucumber.  Now most men might not know this, but cucumbers are a beauty treatment for many things.  But all Mike gets is comments about the sexual aspect of it.  He says that I was the only person who put sex into the comic books.  I said, “Well, Mike, it wasn’t intentional.”  (Chuckle.)  It was just something I was trying out.  I never really thought much about the cucumber aspect.  I found one blog that I was looking through that somebody was putting me down rather harshly for bringing sex into the comics and the whole cucumber thing and I’m like, “Lighten up.” 

Stroud:  One of the things that strikes me about your artwork is the intricate hair.  Good grief it must have taken an age to pencil and ink some of these incredibly elaborate hairstyles. 

Berube:  It did.  It did.  I got that from my mom.  She did several beautiful portraits that unfortunately were ruined in a flood.  There was one of Katharine Hepburn that was exquisite and she did it by creating the shadows and then erasing to get the light.  It was unbelievable.  She had one of a woman sitting by a pool with pussy-willows and the hair went the length of the drawing.  I was so struck by that I began to experiment with it and it became my trademark, along with the art deco and the art nouveau that I still love. If I was rich I’d do my whole house like Erte

Stroud:  I bet it would be marvelous.

Berube:  When I had the comic strip, they used to tell me my long-legged drawings were like John Held, Jr. who I’d never heard of.  And I looked him up and sure enough.  I think his era was the ‘20’s or ‘30’s and sure enough there it was and I’d never seen anything of his. Flappers were his thing....

They say that artists put a lot of themselves into their artwork and I had what I thought were large feet and very long legs.  Of course over the years that’s changed…  So I was just drawing myself as far as the comic books went and the comic strip.  I did a comic strip for Newsday Syndicate.

A  Karen  strip by Liz Berube, demonstrating the “long legs, big feet” look.

A Karen strip by Liz Berube, demonstrating the “long legs, big feet” look.

Stroud: “Karen,” right?

Berube:  Yes, “Karen.”  I’m trying to get hold of Bill Moyers to see if I can get copies.  Most of the originals are gone.  They were ruined in a flood out here.  I think I have 3 originals left.  They used to send me tear sheets every week and I don’t know where they went.  They were probably in the pile that got ruined. I was very lucky to find a great agent.   I had 3 agents, who would rather take me to bed than get me work and then I found this guy named Bill Neely and he liked my work so much that he didn’t even charge me.  He said, “When you get going, then you can pay me.”  He went to Bill Moyers and he showed him my stuff and Bill Moyers, in turn, took the cartoons to his daughter- whose name was Karen.  He said, “Do you think these are funny?”  Well, if you look back at them now, some aren’t really funny anymore because the ‘60’s were a different time and girls are actually dressing that way.

Blue Beetle (1986) #20 pg1, penciled by Ross Andru, inked by Dan Bulanadi, & colored by Liz Berube.

Anyway his daughter was 15 and she liked it very much, so he said, “She’s in.”  “We’ll buy her.”  Bob Gillespie, who was the editor, came to my home and brought the contract and my father, who swore I’d never make it as an artist, and said that I should marry a rich man, you know, the whole thing, how fathers are, (laughter) he broke out the champagne and we had a little party and it was wonderful. 

Then ... along came life ... and "I fell off a horse"...and couldn't work.

Don’t you just know that the very next week they were taking “Mark Trail” from the New York Post and they were going to put in “Karen.”!!!!

Stroud:  Oh, no.

Berube:  Oh, yeah.  I had 40 newspapers and they were all taking them at top dollar, but when that happened they put in something else and a couple of years later Cathy Guisewite came up with “Cathy.”  My God, they were going to put me on the Johnny Carson Show to promote it and I was deathly afraid of Johnny Carson.  He was so nasty to women.  I begged them.  I said, “Please.  Merv Griffin!”  (Mutual laughter.)  “Don’t put me on Johnny Carson!”  But it all ended anyway, so I guess things happen the way they’re supposed to. 

Stroud:  I suppose so, and it’s always interesting because at that time - and maybe still today, a syndicated strip was the brass ring.  Everybody wanted one of those.

Berube:   When I ran into trouble after my mom died, because I lost my sense of humor, I started buying gags.  It was Jack who put me onto the people who could really catch onto my humor.  So I was buying gags for a while and just illustrating them.  Then it all went to pot.  That’s when I got into the filler pages for the romance books.  I enjoyed that even more than the comic strip. Almost. I have no complaints - I "peaked" at 24 ... and had my "dream". 

Stroud:  Nice.  It looks like Dating IQ and Beauty on a Budget were totally your babies, so to speak.

Young Love (1963) #119, Beauty on a Budget with art by Elizabeth Berube.

Berube:  Yes, they were.  I did my own inking and coloring, but let someone else do the lettering on them.  Once in a while I would do the lettering.  I had that little lettering guide.  That ancient tool we used to use.  My son is trying to get me to do it on Photoshop and so far I just can’t get the hang of it.  I’m currently under some tight medical restrictions, too, which frustrate me, because I need more time than just an hour or so in a day to exercise my creativity.  But, it will change and improve with time.  I will get it back. 

I also have a goal to do some convention appearances, but again, I need to get to the point I can do it.  I’ve told Mike that I can maybe do it this spring if he gets me a lounge chair so I can stretch out and not have to sit in a seat for an extended period of time. And, as life throws me off horses - I continue to work on commission and illustrate a children's book here and there.

Stroud: (Laughter.)  Did you use pen or brush for your inking work?

Berube:  Both.  Basically I used to do a very loose pencil, just for position, and I would take a Rapidograph, which nobody uses any more, and I used Magic Markers in a very thin configuration for when I would draw.  I would use the colored ones if I wanted to color something in.  But I would use a brush for a large area.  Anyplace you’d need a large area of black rather than just sit there with a Rapidograph and keep going back and forth.  That was a pain to say the least and it slowed me down.  I’m very good with a brush.  I learned how to do the brush strokes in high school art class.  I can work with just about anything.  And I surprise a lot of people because there are so many specialists out there.  Nobody seems to know how to do it from soup to nuts any more. 

Just as an aside, I did a cartoon the other day with a woman in a delivery room, feet in the stirrups and all and suddenly it’s “If you’d like to deliver, please press the “#” sign.”  So I know my sense of humor is coming back.  (Mutual laughter.)

I was thinking of Non Sequitur for a comic strip, but of course, according to the cosmic consciousness theory, at any given time an idea you’re having is simultaneously being had by at least 5 other people, so of course someone had already come up with this wonderful idea for a strip. I always liked Bloom County, too, as far as strips go. 

Black Lightning (1977) #1 pg1, penciled by Trevor Von Eedon, inked by Frank Springer, & colored by Liz Berube.

Stroud:  That was a favorite of mine, too.  Calvin and Hobbes, too.

Berube:  Oh, Calvin and Hobbes.  Yes! 

Stroud:  I saw it written that you were the last woman to illustrate a romance comic.  Is that hype or the real deal?

Berube:  That’s the real deal.  I didn’t know it.  I had no idea.  I didn’t know I was the only woman illustrating romance comics.  And when Dorothy Woolfolk took over when I turned down the editor position, she was much older.  She must have been in her 50’s or more and she just wasn’t in touch with the mind of a teenager.  So they decided to cancel it.  Sadly, it's like the soaps...there are just so many ways of saying the same thing, over and over....and over.

Stroud:  Unfortunate.  I know there were a lot of titles and the credits I saw for you included Girl’s Love Stories, Girl’s Romances, Heart Throbs, Secret Love, and Young Love.  I mean there was a pile of the romance titles there.  Did they all get canceled at the same time?

Berube:  Yes.  They just discontinued the entire romance line. Pretty sure. Trina Robbins would probably know more about that. 

Stroud:  Was it Jack Miller who was the overall romance editor at the time?

Berube:  What do you mean by overall editor?  Carmine was the one in charge.

Stroud:  Right, but they had editors over some of the different genres, like Joe Kubert for the war books and Joe Orlando for the mystery titles…

Berube:  If Jack Miller was a "higher up"....I didn't know it. Dick Giordano was my "go-to-guy"... and it was Joe Orlando who got me my first pages.  It was his idea to have me start doing the pages.  I did some really beautiful stuff.  I have copies of them, but the originals have walked off.  That’s probably how they ended up in Germany and Mike got a hold of one of them for $150.00.  That’s actually what I used to get paid for the penciling and inking.  That’s back in the day, of course.  I’m sorry that I never kept any of them.  I mean, who knew?  I thought it was all Superman and Batman and those kinds of things.  I never thought that I would be some kind of celebrity.  It’s nice, but…

Girls' Love Stories (1949) #148 pg6, art by Liz Berube.

Stroud:  As you mentioned earlier, quite correctly, back in the earliest days of the comics industry, the thing I’ve discovered from a lot of the folks I’ve spoken to in that first generation, it was, simply, a job.  Nothing more than that, and for the most part it wasn’t even what their main desire was.  Often they were doing that while they were chasing illustration work in the mainstream magazines or a syndicated strip.  Comics was a last resort for a lot of these folks.  It was disposable, cheap entertainment that didn’t get much respect. 

Berube:  I was a single mother - I gave it plenty of respect.

Stroud:  On the other hand, it was a quick buck where you could get paid each week.

Berube:  I loved it.  I loved coloring.  To this day I just love to color.  I consider myself more of a colorist than a comic artist. 

Stroud:  After all you spent a number of years doing it and I’m presuming when you did so you went from freelancing to a staffer?

Berube:  No.  I was still freelance. If I had wanted to change that - I would have taken on editing the Romance Line.

Stroud:  Okay.  It seemed like most of the production people were on staff along with the editors. 

Berube:  As far as I know. I just did my job, Bryan...and the more they gave me, the happier I was. My attention was on my responsibilities to my family and taking care of business. (along with a monthly run to the Dude Ranch .... to take a break and undo the stress of my working hours.)

Stroud:  I probably conducted the last interview with Ric Estrada before he passed away…

Berube:  I remember Ric.

Elvira's House of Mystery (1985) #1 pg1, penciled by Ron Wagner, inked by Bob Oksner, & colored by Liz Berube.

Stroud:  He was telling me that when he taught at the Kubert School, being one of the original instructors, was that he had to try to overcome the thought that when you tell your parents you want to be an artist, the first thing that comes out of their mouths is, “Oh, you’ll starve.”  He tried to point out that many people have succeeded and continue to do so. 

Berube:  Well, I wasn’t Van Gogh, but my work was accepted very openly.  I think that the average Joe is concerned with making a living ... and, yes, starving is the general train of thought. Joe doesn't realize that someone has designed the label on his beer...or the cereal box on the table. I think that's the problem - or WAS. When people mentioned "art"...the train stopped at the Rembrandt station…and few realized how lucrative and enjoyable COMMERCIAL art could be.

Stroud:  You mentioned earlier you’d done some work at Continuity.  How did that come about?

Berube:  In 1985 or 1986 I went back to New York just because I missed it so much and there was nothing available at DC.  I think it was Dick Giordano who had started Continuity with Neal [Adams] and he suggested that I go talk to him.  My interview was with Neal’s wife Corey and she took one look at my coloring and said, “Did you do this with a brush or an airbrush?”  I said, “That’s all brush.”  So she talked to Neal and they hired me that day.  I worked "on staff" ... and still did freelance for DC.

Elvira Pin-Up by Liz Berube.

Once in a while I’d get a comic from DC, but that was when Sal Amendola was doing the job as editor of the Elvira book that they were trying.  I did an absolutely fabulous sketch of Elvira and I inked it up and I showed it to him and I said, “Sal, wouldn’t it be great if you got different artists to do their version of Elvira and publish it in each book?”  He thought it was a fabulous idea, but it got kiboshed and as a result, I gave Sal the original.  I still have many copies of it, though.  You want to talk about sexy.  That screamed sex.  And I meant for it to do that.  I brought the hair in draping over her arms and it’s a technique I still use now when I draw.  It was too bad, because I think that would have gone over very big.  You know, to have a collector’s thing.  I even suggested to them…do you remember the old Katy Keene comic books?

Stroud:  I sure do.

Berube:  I tried to get DC to start something like Katy Keene, because the girls loved that and that’s a market for younger girls.  They loved cutting out fashions and putting them on little dolls.  But nope, they didn’t like that either.  To this day I think it would be a marvelous idea.  Or maybe even some kind of coloring book.  But, nobody listens to me.  (Laughter.)  They don’t know what they’re missing. 

Stroud:  This is a little off the wall, but I discovered a Phil Berube who did filler pages during the Golden Age at DC.  Any relation?

Berube:  I have no idea.  Berube comes from a man I was married to for 10 years and I sometimes get questions about an Alan Berube, but I don’t know any of these people.  I may even drop "Berube"...and go back to "Safian." Of course, I've been saying that since life "threw me off the first horse"....but that's a horse of a different color!

It's been fun, Bryan....thanks. ;)

Claw the Unconquered (1975) #2 pg4, drawn by Ernie Chua & colored by Liz Berube.