THE WARREN PARTICULARS
GROTH: Of course. You started working for Warren. Did you start dealing with Archie Goodwin?
SUTTON: Yes. At first, yes. I’m pretty sure. Because he was so helpful. Silly me, I went on thinking that they were all going to be like that. That’s me!
GROTH: Describe your first encounter [with Warren]. He was accommodating when you met him?
SUTTON: He really wanted you to be impressed. And when it was apparent that you weren’t, he really didn’t like it. All I wanted was, “Do you have work for me or don’t you?” I think he said, “You don’t care about the great people who work on my magazines.” Nope. Nope. I think the idea was that he had a story so he gave me a story. You have to remember that Jimmy was paying, really, less than Marvel was. And Marvel would provide you with as much work as you could possibly do. Whereas Jimmy couldn’t do that. And Jimmy wanted you to come up with washes and tones and blah blah blah.
GROTH: For less money.
SUTTON: Yeah. Less money. I don’t know how to explain it. I loved the material. I loved Archie. I always got the feeling from Archie that he didn’t want it to be this way.
GROTH: This way being low rates?
SUTTON: Low rates, and people who are feeling a little pissed off. You can see that happen if you have a run of these things someplace there. There came a time, #10 or something, when he started using people who didn’t understand, really, what weirdness was all about, and didn’t seem to care very much.
GROTH: I’m sorry. Number 10. You’re talking about Vampirella? Number 10 what?
SUTTON: I don’t know. Eerie, Creepy, whatever it was.
GROTH: Oh, that early. OK.
SUTTON: I think so anyway. No, Vampirella was…. I did the first Vampirella. I think there were two times that I ever went there. I went there to see Nic Cuti one time, when he was chained to the desk there. Nic’s a great guy.
GROTH: Archie was the first editor that you worked for at Warren, right?
SUTTON: Oh yes. Yeah.
GROTH: Why don’t you tell me how that worked. And tell me the procedure at Warren. You would be sent a script?
SUTTON: As I was saying, he would call. There’d be some jibber-jabber. Jimmy could be funny sometimes.
GROTH: When you said he called, was that Warren or Goodwin?
SUTTON: Warren. He’d say, “Archie wants to talk to you about this thing, we’re going to do this thing.” I talked to the heavily overworked Archie, who could always summon up enough to make it… He was very easy with me. “You know what to do with this part here. And then we can get into that and come out the other side.” That was OK, but I don’t really remember how long Archie was there. But after him there was a whole bunch of people, many of whom didn’t care for what I was doing. Too many had this thing of, “We want to change this little part here. We’re going to send it back and you’ll change that.” Then eventually you’d say No.
GROTH: Too much of a hassle.
GROTH: So how did you sell those three stories? Did you just sell those directly to Archie?
GROTH: Did you meet Archie before you sold him the first three stories?
SUTTON: I don’t believe so.
GROTH: You did it all by phone?
SUTTON: Yes. I think so. Also, quite frankly I did have a couple fellows on the inside.
SUTTON: What about this Archie Goodwin person? The description comes close to sainthood. It was quite amazing and it always was, and it was usually justifiable.
GROTH: You didn’t know Archie prior to you contacting him at Warren, correct?
SUTTON: That’s right. No, I didn’t. No.
GROTH: You called up Warren and talked to Archie and what was the conversation like?
SUTTON: Archie would explain the story, or Archie would say, “Do you have a story? Do you have a story?” Because I had written some of these things myself, or at least what I call writing. I would write things very much like I later learned the late Mr. Kirby wrote things. I would draw the picture and I would put some dialogue or something in the space in between. If everybody was lucky, I would actually type it out before I sent it. Isn’t that nice of me? Later on, other people demanded scripts. They thought they were making movies. There were disagreements. “This would be better if it were…” Archie would say. This balloon should connect to this. And God help us all, he was right.
GROTH: This would be after he received the artwork.
SUTTON: Yeah. It was always in such a way. No wonder people liked him so much. He knew exactly how to handle people, I think. You would get other people who, because their own existence was so chaotic or something, they made everything sound like it was chaos. You don’t get very far that way.
GROTH: I couldn’t find any stories you wrote for Warren before 1972. That would lead me to believe that the stories you drew earliest were stories that were given to you. Does that right?
SUTTON: Right. Nic Cuti was writing little scripts for them at that time. And other people who have since gone on to greater glory.
GROTH: What was the process whereby you would get a script? Would you call up and say I have time now to draw, can you give me a script? Or would they call you? How would that work?
SUTTON: It could work either way, Gary. You have to keep in mind that this thing of his was ballooning. Consequently, things were getting a little more complicated.
GROTH: You’re talking about Warren’s company?
SUTTON: Yeah. Because he had Famous Monsters. He had Eerie, Creepy — what was the other one? — Vampy.
SUTTON: Then I think he had something called Two Thousand or some damn thing. I don’t remember ever being involved in that, but…
SUTTON: Yeah. That was mostly foreign artists. Great asses. Yeah. Things became different when it became so obviously successful, for a period of time, anyway.
GROTH: How did it become different?
SUTTON: Spaces in between jobs were greater. You started looking for work elsewhere.
GROTH: You were given scripts. Did you have any choice in the matter? In other words, did you look at scripts and say, “No. I don’t think this is very good. Take it back and give me another one?”
SUTTON: I don’t think I ever sent anything back. My whole life is living over my head. So you took… When it came out of the envelope, you started drawing it.
GROTH: So you did not assess as to its quality or your compatibility and decide whether or not you…
SUTTON: Oh, half way through it you say, “Oh, my God! What am I doing here! Keep that pencil moving, baby! Keep that pencil moving!” At one point I had a taxi meter — that came from an earlier altercation in Boston. I had a taxi meter that was attached to my drafting table.
GROTH: [Laughs.] This was to keep track of the time you spent on a job?
SUTTON: It was a joke, Gary. But it was a real taxi meter. People would come in and go, “My God!” “Yeah, it’s a tough world, kids!” I don’t remember any of those things. I remember that there were these oddball things that you would get to fill in the time between Warren assignments. Oddly enough, as I recall — I could be wrong — but as I recall, as things moved onward, and things got bigger with him, the time between checks got greater. That may have been simply because he had so many more people to pay.
GROTH: I’d like to nail you down as much as I can on this. One of the editors, Archie or one of the subsequent editors, would give you a script.
GROTH: You would then illustrate the script and give the artwork to Warren.
GROTH: When would you get paid for that job?
SUTTON: Oh fuck. It would be 30 days. It could be 60 days.
GROTH: So sometime after completion of the job, but not upon receipt.
SUTTON: And the bitching and whining and moaning when you would call the office and say, “I haven’t got my check!”
GROTH: To whom would you…
SUTTON: “What do you think I’m made out of, money?”
GROTH: To whom would you bitch and moan? Warren?
SUTTON: Occasionally you’d get him or one of the lessers. Certainly not Archie. Archie never got involved in that. Wise man.
GROTH: What was your understanding of the terms of your freelance employment?
SUTTON: The standard of the times.
GROTH: Which was?
SUTTON: He bought it, he owned it.
GROTH: And that was your understanding? Did anyone spell it out for you, or was it just an assumption on your part?
SUTTON: Did I get a contract? No.
GROTH: Did anyone in his office tell you…
SUTTON: I don’t know if that famous stamp was stamped on the back of his checks, either. It wouldn’t have made much difference to me, Gary. Really. I knew what was mine and what was his. You didn’t have to explain that to me.
GROTH: You just assumed that he owned it?
SUTTON: No. I assumed I owned it.
SUTTON: I was allowing him to publish it in his magazine. And someday, he would see the light and return it to me. I don’t know. There’s so much shit going on. I was just so grateful that people would buy the stuff.
GROTH: Tom, a minute ago you said that you just thought it was the standard of the times.
GROTH: Which was that he owned it.
GROTH: And now you’re saying you thought you owned it.
SUTTON: I feel I own everything. If I do it, it’s mine. If I paint a landscape, Gary, and it hangs in the Newberryport Gallery, it’s my painting. It’s my landscape. If Joe Schmo buys it from the gallery and hangs it in his living room, it’s still mine!
GROTH: But it isn’t yours to take home.
GROTH: So you sell certain…
SUTTON: There are artists who feel it’s always theirs.
GROTH: So are you saying that he thought he owned it and you thought you owned it?
SUTTON: I know he thought he owned it.
GROTH: And this is a dichotomy you could live with?
SUTTON: At the time, yeah. If it helps any… This is the way not only Warren [worked] but everybody in their dealings with me. I didn’t take much of this seriously. I honest to God didn’t. I needed the money now!
GROTH: Apparently you felt you had an agreement whereby he would return the art?
SUTTON: Yeah. Someday. I wasn’t that hot about the art either at the time. That wasn’t the biggest thing. I think I have said that before to somebody else, that I loved comics so much. This is what I wanted to do. But as soon as you get into this thing, and you saw this happen yourself, I’m sure it wasn’t what you thought it was. In the sense that you didn’t have the time — time equals money — to make it right. You saw that if you did take it, you got paid the same amount of money as the guy who did the next story who couldn’t draw, couldn’t write... God bless him, anyway. I didn’t feel that I was being especially abused by Mr. Warren at all. I was very happy there. But there were these things that happened in between. I’d go back and I’d do some advertising work. I’d do some little Boston stuff. We’re not talking big-time New York stuff. When I hear my people come to me and they say, I can’t get my fucking girls in Eros magazines like you can. It’s so easy for you, because you just turn out dozens and dozens and dozens of them and it takes me six months to turn out one. And you have to tell them they’re in the wrong business!
In between we did all kinds of stuff. We did a tattoo book. I remember that. It was like 40 pages. These were for fellows who could tattoo quite well and make money on Atlantic City or the Boardwalk or whatever, but they couldn’t draw. What they’d do was trace these things. Chicks on motorcycles or the devil coming out of an egg or I don’t know. Whatever. It was really fun, actually, and I really got paid for it. I took my friend Rocko with me, and I got paid. You don’t say no to Rocko. There were all kinds of little jobs. I did children’s books. Can you imagine?
SUTTON: The monster does children’s books! The little people got to see the queen of the frogs. I guess we both know who the queen of the frogs was. Anyway…
GROTH: Let me just get back to your working conditions under Warren. There were no contracts.
SUTTON: No. Not for me.
GROTH: Did Warren or a representative of Warren explain to you the conditions under which you were working?
GROTH: It was just assumed?
SUTTON: Of course.
GROTH: Where did that assumption come from? Why would you assume anything absent a contract?
SUTTON: I knew damn few people in the business, but none of them had any such thing. Doesn’t that jive with what you have?
GROTH: Yes, that does jive with my understanding.
SUTTON: And I think the only time I ever had it spelled out for me was the time when I was in New York, and It think it was the first of those, let’s-have-a-cartoonist’s-union thing. Neal Adams was there, and da da da da, right? I still have a vivid memory of Adams. He really impressed me. He was trying to get these people to be real. You know?
GROTH: What function was this?
SUTTON: Some people brought me there. We’re going to have a union. We’re going to… I didn’t believe that, either, but I went along.
GROTH: What year would that have been?
SUTTON: What time was that? I don’t know. It was probably about the same time as I was screwing around with Price and Kurtzman. Price had a little magazine I did some drawings for. I was trying out for Annie Fanny. If you just figure that a year before Annie actually appeared, that’s probably about the right time. I’m sorry to be such a pain in the ass.
GROTH: It sounds like this would have been in the early to mid ’70s?
GROTH: I don’t want to get too far from Warren, but go ahead and tell me about this. Who brought you there?
SUTTON: I don’t even remember who brought me there.
GROTH: Who was at the meeting aside from Neal?
SUTTON: God. There was about 100 guys and a few girls.
GROTH: Of course. It was a comics meeting.
SUTTON: It was not equal representation by any means. There were a few big shots there. Heavy-hitters.
GROTH: Such as?
SUTTON: I think they were very aloof — you did a bio on him. He used to do the Green Lantern.
GROTH: Gil Kane?
SUTTON: Yes. Mr. Kane.
GROTH: Where was this held?
SUTTON: I don’t know.
GROTH: It had to be a pretty big place. Was it a public place or was it a studio?
SUTTON: Nah. It was a church basement or something. I don’t know.
GROTH: And Neal was basically trying to get artists together to challenge the prevailing conditions?
SUTTON: Yes. Yes. And against him was coming this tide of, “Oh, if we do this we’ll all be out of work!” The man was trying to explain ways in which they could handle the situation. They weren’t listening to him. I think that I myself was lost in this. I said, This has nothing to do with me.
GROTH: Why did you feel that way?
SUTTON: I don’t know. I now ask myself why I felt that way. I think I know, because I’ve always felt that way. There’s Tom and there’s the world.
GROTH: This is part of your sense of alienation.
SUTTON: Yeah. I don’t recommend it. It’s a tough trip. I watched Neal Adams work at this thing, and I’ve heard back talk about he was just out to glorify himself, he was just out to… To me, this was bull crap. There was one person in there who was giving his all for this thing, probably the person who had the least amount of time. Maybe he did have an ulterior motive. I don’t know. I could only see one person who was really doing something. I saw him pack up his attaché case and very quietly leave.
GROTH: You remember a lot of resistance to this among the other artists?
GROTH: Do you think it was fear?
SUTTON: Yes. Yes.
GROTH: That’s hard to get around.
SUTTON: These were fellows, a lot of young fellows, but there were also a lot of old guys, guys who had been around since the beginning. This was so radical. So there may have been a lot of ill feeling toward Neal himself. The man who stands up and takes over is just asking for it.
GROTH: Tell me everything that you can remember about this meeting. Was there a sense among the professionals that, yes, they were being taken advantage of but there wasn’t anything that could be done about it?
SUTTON: Oh, Gary, you would have been appalled. These guys stood around with this sort of aloof sneer. They were just above it all. I think a lot of them had deals of their own. You follow me?
GROTH: You mean with Marvel and DC?
GROTH: And by deals you mean better deals than the average?
SUTTON: Oh yes. I’m sure that Kane would have gotten paid more for drawing some super pooper than I would have. That’s probably quite justifiable. It never happened, because I didn’t discover until that article that you had that he had almost as much interest in drawing that thing as I did.
GROTH: He was just better at it.
SUTTON: Yeah. He could remove himself sufficiently so that he could draw this or that thing. It’s a little bit what happens to me sometimes with the movie girls. I have to distance myself or I have certain internal problems. That was a valuable little bit of stuff that I never, ever forgot. They told me there were others later on, such meetings and
whatnot. I don’t know if Neal had anything to do with them or not.
GROTH: Neal called a very big meeting in 1977, I believe, that I attended. That doesn’t sound like the meeting that you’re referring to.
GROTH: The one you’re referring to sounds years earlier than that. There was a sense in which professionals acknowledged that they were being ripped off.
SUTTON: They took it as part of the…
GROTH: As an acceptable level of being ripped off.
SUTTON: Absolutely. It was pathetic. There were all of these people standing around saying, “That’s the way it’s always been. That’s the way it’s always going to be.” You can say to yourself, “This thing isn’t going anywhere.” I think Neal was even talking about, “Make them pay insurance. Make them pay…”
GROTH: That was just laughable. Think real hard, Tom. Can you tell me anything else? Can you give me a few other names of people you remember being there?
SUTTON: No. I did know a few people, but they weren’t in comics. They were doing illustration. I think my friend from Brooklyn went along because we were out to get a few beers downtown. We went there to see what was going on. There were other people. They meant nothing to the comics crowd. There were people like Mr. Kane who were there, and there were not… I don’t know why I keep picking on Gil, but… I just kept turning my head waiting for somebody to speak up, but nobody spoke up! It was really a cowed kind of thing. It’s like one of those terrible movies they threw out during WWII. “Ah, they’ve got spies in the walls!” Yes. I think Bhob Stewart was there.
GROTH: If the intention was to agitate, to form a guild, that would have been a pretty bold step at that time — or at any time.
SUTTON: Sure. I can remember there was quite a little argument going on behind me that had to be quieted down, where folks were getting loud.
GROTH: An argument to what effect?
SUTTON: OK. We’ll have this agreement. We’ll all sign this agreement with the company. We’ll all sign the goddamn agreement, and the first guy who runs out of money says, “Fuck the agreement!” That man, I’m afraid, was right.
GROTH: Was there any distinction made about the way that artists were treated at Marvel, DC, Warren, Archie, Harvey, all of the established companies?
SUTTON: If so, I didn’t catch it. Again, it was underway when I came in there. Shoulder. Shoulder. Shoulder. Shoulder. It was still going on when I left, just after Mr. Adams left. But I do remember that the little commies got together there in their cellar.
GROTH: Would Denny O’Neil have been there?
SUTTON: I don’t think I even knew Denny O’Neil at that time.
GROTH: How about Archie?
SUTTON: I don’t know why not. He lived in New York at that time.
GROTH: But you don’t remember.
SUTTON: No, I do not, sir. I’m sorry. I just don’t. I couldn’t wait to get to McSorley’s Old Ale House.
GROTH: All right. Back to Warren. What kind of editorial latitude were you given? You were given a story to illustrate. You illustrated it. Were you enjoined to make many corrections or changes after you submitted the work?
SUTTON: Never that I recall.
GROTH: So it was a pretty easy ride.
SUTTON: Yeah. I told you about the cover. We did several covers. And he was absolutely convinced that I was out to… Underneath Jimmy, there was an attitude, or at least it appeared to me, that everybody was out to get you.
GROTH: Warren thought this?
SUTTON: He was sure I was out to get him. First of all, because he didn’t know me at all, except for the artwork. I had drawn this tubular spaceship about to insert itself in this black hole, which was thought to have incredible sexual overtones, and thereby ruin him forever, right? Like I said, two days later we were talking about an entirely different thing, another story, and we never talked about that again. I think that was about the time when I thought, I’m not going to be too concerned at what he thinks, or says, anyway. I’m going to underscore this thing. There were periods of time when you didn’t have assignments from New York that you went out and found stuff. Because that’s the way I came up. You got out there and you found stuff. And if it was 10 bucks, if it was 50 bucks, sometimes a hundred. It all added up. I have these people — you’ve heard them, too. I don’t know if they piss you off as much as they piss me off. They just sit there and wait for the phone to ring. Good luck! Because they’ve got a good buddy was an editor at a magazine, who, unknown to them, no longer exists. After a while, we went back and did more Marvels and more DCs.
GROTH: You were working simultaneously for Warren and Marvel.
GROTH: That was a little bit later. I’m trying to keep this in chronological order. Skywald you started working for in ’71. Were you doing any work for DC during this period?
SUTTON: Yes. Many little things.
GROTH: Mystery stuff?
GROTH: Did you have a sense at that time that Warren was a kind of maverick publisher? What was your sense of how Warren fit into the scheme of things? I mean, you obviously dealt with Warren, for example, as opposed to dealing with the publisher at Marvel or DC, so it was obviously a smaller outfit. Did you feel like it was an underdog outfit?
SUTTON: No. I was aware of the magazine Help!
GROTH: That was prior to you actually getting there.
SUTTON: Harvey was in there and the name at the bottom was James Warren. So I thought, shit! I think I was sort of impressed. I was also impressed with the idea that it was a magazine. I didn’t know too much about things at all. I saw what happened to Help! I didn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t happen to this thing, too.
GROTH: By which you mean it just went out of business.
SUTTON: I think what I really mean is that Mr. Warren just came to a point where he just shut everything down. That’s it. See you later, Harvey. I knew of Warren before I went there.
GROTH: What did you know of Warren?
SUTTON: That he had produced Help! and other things, I guess.
GROTH: What did that mean to you?
SUTTON: I thought Help! was a beautiful cheap magazine. It was great. It had Gloria Steinem in it. Do you remember Gloria?
GROTH: Of course.
SUTTON: In her pre-Ms. attitude of crawling over the top of the desk. I have that picture blown up here. Fine fanny, baby. Yeah. Anyway. Billy Elder. How could it go wrong with something like that? You know the story of how the first Creepy got done? It was never Jimmy Warren’s idea as it comes down to me. This was a book of artwork that the artist had produced for somebody else who couldn’t come up with the money to publish it or some such.
GROTH: Hmm. I’m not sure I heard that.
SUTTON: This whole thing was this unpublished package. It was an all-star thing. That’s the one with the Jack Davis cover on it, the yellow cover. I think that people were waiting a long time for the same kind of stuff to happen again. Of course it didn’t. Some other very nice things happened. Corben did very well with Jimmy, I think.
GROTH: Did you see the Creepy/Eerie stuff as being a resurrection of EC?
SUTTON: Oh, totally. Oh, yes. Absolutely. I’m glad you asked that question. Why do that? You’ve got the little witch stuck up in the corner, and on page seven you’ve got the little witch stuck down in the other corner. A whole lot of redundant text. The moon came up over the very creepy castle… and then there’s a picture of the mooning coming up over the very creepy castle. Jesus!
GROTH: Let me finish up with Warren. Did you deal with Warren editorially?
SUTTON: No. Not after the first, say, three stories.
GROTH: What was his input on the first three stories?
SUTTON: I don’t remember. I don’t even remember what the hell the stories were.
GROTH: But he was somehow involved in…
SUTTON: I would talk to Archie, and sometimes he’d pick up the phone or already be phone tapping our conversation. He was going to grow up and be Mr. Nixon, you know that? Jimmy, I’m sorry. You gave me that impression.
GROTH: You worked under a boatload of editors. You worked under Archie first.
SUTTON: Oh yes.
GROTH: And then, not necessarily in the order they appear, you must have done work for J.R. Cochran.
SUTTON: I do remember Cochran. Nice man. Yeah.
GROTH: Bill Parente.
SUTTON: Bill Parente. Also a nice man.
GROTH: Billy Graham.
SUTTON: Was Billy an editor there?
GROTH: He was listed as a managing editor in at least a couple of issues that feature your work.
SUTTON: I never knew Billy in the office. Cuti and I would go out and we’d have a couple of beers or something if I was in New York. Billy would always be there. He was sensational. That’s what he really did. He was a comic. He was a stand-up comic. He used to describe himself as the poor man’s Rich Little or something. Consequently, he was a wonderful fellow to have around. But he loved his drawings.
GROTH: I think he was also an art director at Warren for a while.
SUTTON: Yeah. I guess so. Again, I… See, that was my mistake, that I didn’t stay there longer. That is, in Manhattan. Not at Warren. A lot of stuff. A lot of story assignments, which are taken care of in the cafeteria downstairs. You never heard about them. That kind of thing. But you can’t have anything.
GROTH: And you worked under Bill Du Bay.
SUTTON: I’m afraid Mr. Du Bay and I had problems.
GROTH: My next question was going to be if there was any distinction among the editors you worked for and it sounds like there would be one between Du Bay and the rest.
SUTTON: Oh, there may have been things. “I would like to see it this way. It would be better this way,” or whatever. OK. It’s your magazine. Or it’s his magazine. To get nasty about it? No. The problem with the last gentleman that you mentioned…
GROTH: What were those?
SUTTON: Here you have a frustrated writer. That was my take on it. Sorry if you don’t like this, Bill. I would get an 8 1/2” x 11” envelope, you know those big envelopes? He would have crossed out half the story. He had written the last half of the story.
GROTH: And this would have been written by a different writer than himself?
SUTTON: No. It was written by him. To my understanding, this is not the function of an editor.
GROTH: I mean, the original story would have been written by someone other than himself, and then he went in and edited it to such an extent that he rewrote it?
SUTTON: Exactly. It’s his story. Great! Now all he had to do was draw it. It went from bad to worse. On to things like, You’re not very cooperative. Right! Throughout all of this time, as I can remember, the money never changed. It never got any better, no matter what you did and all of the shit that you had to take. It was amazing. When you went in, it was really OK, because you didn’t have to take any crap. You get what I’m saying there?
GROTH: Do you remember what you were making?
SUTTON: Gosh. It wasn’t $50 a page.
GROTH: It was, in fact, $40 a page.
SUTTON: What was it, $40?
GROTH: Let me ask you what your business relationship with Warren was like. It just so happens, I have some correspondence between you and Warren. Actually, it’s mostly correspondence from Warren to you, from which we can infer your own correspondence. At one point, you apparently requested a $10-a-page raise. Do you remember this?
SUTTON: Outrageous, isn’t it?
GROTH: Yeah. I wouldn’t have put up with that for a second. This was in February of 1972, and you were making $40 per page. You asked for $50 per page. Warren sent you a letter, and the letter, in part, reads, “Tom, you have requested a raise of $10 per page. This represents a 25 percent increase over the $40 per page rate you are now receiving. I’m confused. Does this mean that the work you now want to give us will be 25 percent better? Or will this work contain 25 percent more detailing? Or does it mean that you don’t want to give us finished jobs like ‘Beginning’ unless we pay 25 percent more? Or if we do not pay 25 percent more, will you then give us finished work similar to the jobs you did for us prior to ‘Beginning’?” Do you remember this letter?
GROTH: Well, it was a written letter he sent to you, and you were living in Mystic, Connecticut at the time.
SUTTON: Down where they make the U-boats.
GROTH: I would interpret that response to that — your request for a raise — as basically giving you shit. Can you illuminate your relationship based on that? How did you take that? The answer was “No, you can not get a raise.”
SUTTON: Of course you couldn’t get a raise. I don’t remember that. I don’t doubt that it happened, I just don’t remember it. With Jimmy, you did learn to just turn a deaf ear to so much of this stuff.
GROTH: Were you amused by something like that, or were you offended?
SUTTON: I don’t think I was amused by it, but…
GROTH: Were you offended by it?
SUTTON: No. No. It was…
SUTTON: If I in any way expected that it might happen, I might be turned off by it. But I don’t think I ever expected that it was going to happen. I think that it was probably because Thomas said, “We need more money!” And Tommy sat down and wrote a letter. “Now, will you shut up!” I don’t know if this happened before I got my Ray Bradbury writing award or afterward.
GROTH: That would have been ’72, so I’m not sure. Maybe you got the Ray Bradbury Award and were really feeling your oats.
SUTTON: I don’t think… No. No. No. Because I remember going out of that gigantic… Wherever they used to have those things, Phil Seuling has them. Did you go to the Phil Seuling cons?
GROTH: Sure. From ’69 to…
SUTTON: Oh yeah. Were they at the Bradford?
GROTH: They were at the Statler Hilton when I attended them.
SUTTON: All right. Whatever. It was a huge, gigantic place. We left with this thing and we were going down — I think Frank [Frazetta] was there and that fellow who we both admired for his fine pen and ink work. He very infrequently appeared in comics. I’m sorry. De-de-dee. I have some nice books of his in the next room. But we were all going down, and my wife was holding onto this thing, clutching this thing, and she hit me with it. Not on purpose. This goddamn thing. “Lose it!” “I can’t do that… What’s the matter with you!” It was funny, because she actually thought that this was a genuinely real honor. And she was very proud that her odd husband had acquired this thing. Jesus, go put it in the car! I don’t want to see that thing. What is the matter with you? I was embarrassed.
GROTH: Because of the award?
SUTTON: I was embarrassed because it truly did look like one of those things they give racing drivers in Indianapolis. Or bowling things at the annual bowling club. I was double embarrassed by the fact that I don’t think that Mr. Bradbury knew who the hell I was or ever read a word I wrote. And here I am parading around with this grotesque thing. Fortunately the other fellows were just, Ha! Ha! Ha! They found this amusing. Yeah. And we played softball down in the parking lot.
GROTH: In ’72, Warren was doing pretty well. I don’t know how much you knew about Warren.
SUTTON: I didn’t.
GROTH: I think he owned a helicopter. And he owned a palatial estate on the Hamptons. And yet he told you he couldn’t afford to pay you $10 more a page per story. Did you note the incongruity at that point?
SUTTON: Did I note the incongruity? There’s a part of me that says, “That ain’t fair! If I’m making money for you like that…” There was a distinct point, if you go over those various Warren books. I don’t know how many of them you have. But there was a point in there when most of the good people left, and he was left with some European artists who were pretty good artists but had no idea what the hell they were doing. He had local talent — he was unashamed of putting in the same pages that Frank had been in, that Williamson had been in. That tells you something else about what’s going on there. Yeah. Go ahead, you fuckers! Leave me. You can be replaced.
GROTH: You evidently butted heads with Warren over money on more than one occasion. Do you remember any of this?
GROTH: There’s another letter about money that Warren wrote to you.
SUTTON: I’d love to hear it.
GROTH: The date is not recognizable. But he wrote, “I wanted to quickly send you a few thoughts after our phone conversation a while ago. Probably the reason for my anger now is that I’ve never liked anyone telling me my business unless they first knew the facts or at least did their homework before expressing an opinion. I spent the entire day on company business, mostly with our accountant, so there are a few facts still very clear in my head, and they were right there an hour ago when I spoke. It was when I told you that we could not afford to pay you more than $40 per page that you commented something to the effect that ‘You couldn’t believe that.’” And he goes on to justify why he feels he couldn’t pay you another $10 a page. And then he writes, “Yes, Tom. You’re one hell of a lot brighter than the current president of Warren publishing, and maybe you should take my job. Do you want me to arrange for you to talk to our board of directors? If so, just say the word.”
SUTTON: I didn’t know he had one.
GROTH: “Your offer to finish the two jobs you now have is, as I’ve told you, certainly accepted, and I’m sure the jobs will be excellent.” So apparently you had quite an altercation about that. Do you remember that?
SUTTON: I think I know where that letter derives from. There was a telephone conversation between he and I, where, among other things, again, I wanted more money. I always want more money. Give me more money, Gary! He started in on, “I suppose you know how much it costs for me to publish this thing.” He started in on a list of details that — how would anybody know? I think I cut him off by saying, “I don’t want to know any of that crap. That’s yours. That’s how you make your money. I’m just trying to get more for my product.” I don’t like that word as it is applied to art. He was very pissed off. I think he either hung up on me or something. I think [the letter you quoted] is the letter that he sent back to me. It may have been.
GROTH: You felt confident enough to assert yourself and argue with him.
SUTTON: Yeah. What are you going to lose?
GROTH: Well, you could lose that venue for your work.
SUTTON: Yes. You could. Yes. You could.
GROTH: I’m not sure that many artists did that at that point.
SUTTON: Too few.
GROTH: I think that’s safe to say.
SUTTON: I also think that they wouldn’t have gotten any further than I did. He had the same attitude. He would go on these little speeches about how his working policy was far superior to DC’s or to Marvel’s. His working policy wasn’t any different than any of them.
GROTH: How was he asserting that it was? Do you remember?
SUTTON: Oh, Christ no. It was like he was your pal. He loved the stuff. It was his milieu. That part may have been partially true. I remember talking to Pat Boyette about that. Pat had more or less the same feeling that I did about it. Never take Warren seriously. And don’t get upset about him, because it isn’t going to do any good and things are not going to change. If he went back into business tomorrow, at 77 or whatever he is — which I hope to be someday — I don’t think he’ll be any different. He won’t be any different. And that comes from having dealt with a lot of people who do tattoo books.
GROTH: How so? What’s the connection?
SUTTON: A lot of these fly-by-night, direct-mail advertising people who have an office one month and aren’t there the next month. You’re astounded when you get a check in the mail. And then you learn from other people to make sure you get your goddamn money before you ever drop off the artwork. You have to learn all of these things. If you learn them, you don’t get too upset by people like Jimmy. I keep saying that. And I know you get tired of hearing it. I refuse to believe that Jimmy was really an evil person. I think he was very eccentric. Being a little eccentric myself, I can appreciate that. And there came an end to it. I can’t remember when the end was. I think it was because I couldn’t work with Du Bay any more.
GROTH: So during this period, in the late ’60s, you were taking as much work from Marvel and Warren as you could get.
SUTTON: Yeah. Topps, too.
GROTH: And Topps. OK. Why don’t you go ahead and tell me how the Topps assignments happened.
SUTTON: They were little tissue paper things, little tracing paper things. Like on the cards, there would be a photograph, or would it be a rough — I don’t know — that somebody else would do of a box of Tide. I wasn’t to touch that. But I could have Madonna farting all over way on the left-hand side. And then you would pencil this very tightly and you would send it back in again. And if it came back approved, they would send me hundreds of these things at one time. And if it came back to you approved — they probably had rubber stamps — then you could sit down and you could paint the son of a bitch. Of all of the things that we did, I think that they paid better than anybody. And it never made any sense to me. It was total junk. And it’s never proven wrong. That which pays best is total junk.
GROTH: Did you regard it as total junk at the time, as opposed to your stuff for Warren? Did you make a distinction?
SUTTON: I loved the stuff I did for Warren. Warren also was one of the first people who let me write my own material. And I think that works best for me. I had a fellow a while ago who called me up and said that he had several of the cards that I had done, the originals, from Topps. He’d bought them at an auction for some God-awful amount of money. Some of the paint had come off or something, as tempera paint will, and would I fix them up at a figure we could establish. For a while I didn’t know what he was talking about. He was such a… not a fanboy. He sounded like an older man and he’d spent fortunes at Sotheby’s buying these damn things. He had a wall full of them. I’m afraid I came back and said, “You have a wall full of these things?”
GROTH: You were appalled by this?
SUTTON: “What the hell is the matter with you? You can go out and buy several real pictures.” That was the end of him.
GROTH: How did you hook up with Topps? Did you just go into the offices and show them your portfolio and resume?
SUTTON: No. I never went there. I know how that happened. In Boston, Bhob Stewart was always popping up. You know Bhob?
GROTH: Of course.
SUTTON: God bless him, Bhob. Bhob is so disappointed in me.
GROTH: Oh yeah?
SUTTON: My attitude is terrible. He was friends with Lenny Brown, is that his name?
GROTH: Yes, I think so.
SUTTON: And Mr. Gelman, who has passed on. I talked to Mr. Gelman several times. He was a very nice, gentle guy.
GROTH: Woody Gelman. Right?
SUTTON: Yep. I think it was Bhob who got them to send me some stuff. Why not? They were sending them to everybody else.
GROTH: So Bhob acted as an intermediary and got them to give you work?
SUTTON: I think he worked for them in the office at one time.
GROTH: How did you meet Bhob?
SUTTON: How did I meet Bhob? I was sitting in a saloon. There had been a thing called the Warren Awards or something. Oh, by the way, if you’re looking for a picture, you can pull that out of your library. There’s an image of myself and I’m being presented with the Ray Bradbury writing award, which is actually a giant bowling trophy. It’s in one of the Eerie/Creepy/Vampy magazines. I couldn’t believe that anybody would do this. I was embarrassed. I had to carry this thing. The damn thing was about five feet tall.
GROTH: Are you serious? It was a bowling award?
SUTTON: Well, it’s that kind of thing, isn’t it? It serves no other purpose. Or skiing award or triathalon award. They were these gigantic things, and he actually put Ray Bradbury’s name on it. I’m sure he never asked Mr. Bradbury if that was cool with him.
GROTH: You’re not saying that this was a bowling award that Warren bought on the cheap. It was an award designed specifically for the Warren awards.
SUTTON: Oh, I use that term. I wouldn’t know a bowling thing if I saw it. It was just a huge, baroque piece of shit.