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Fall into Degradation

“…A lot of those guys, their drawing style never changes—the content neither—and it seems it never will. I just don't understand that, how you can spend fifty years of your artist life doing the same thing over and over again.” -Julie Doucet, Montreal Mirror, 2006

“[The DC editors] would dominate anyone they could, Bill Finger being an example. Vulnerable people make easy targets.” -Jerry Robinson interview with Jim Amash, Alter Ego #39, 2004

“I walked into the room [to show Stan Lee my work] and Stan said, ‘Massey’s in the cold cold ground.’ I sat down and he said, ‘Messy Massey.’ Then I got up and started to leave, when Stan asked me where I was going. I said, ‘I thought New York had grown past this sort of thing. Have a nice day.’ ...Stan was making a play on the lyrics of a song from the South that was written during slavery times, and I didn’t like it. He explained that to me, saying, ‘I just wanted to see what kind of character you have.’” - Cal Massey interview with Jim Amash, Alter Ego #105, 2011

"It is almost as important as becoming a gazillionaire, explaining why the man sucks so much dick." -Dylan Williams, 2010, in an interview with Jason T. Miles

"Mort’s stuttering and quiet reserve made him a target. Most [editors] knew little about art, but they had valid judgements about writing and storytelling, so anytime they saw something that didn’t match their interpretation of the script, they’d critique it. What we, the artists did—and we never told them—was to change the script if something wasn’t workable.” -Jerry Robinson interview with Jim Amash, Alter Ego #69, 2004

“I said [to Stan], ‘No, I can’t make a living at this. At these prices, you still want the same quality work. I can’t do it. I’m going into book illustration and advertising work.’ And he just said, ‘All your work is going to look like comic strips.’ I said, ‘Stan, have a nice day. And now, goodbye.’ That was that.’ ” - Cal Massey interview with Jim Amash, Alter Ego #105, 2011

“I met Dana Frandon... who was an aspiring cartoonist, his goal was to get into The New Yorker, and he encouraged me to try cartooning, which I thought as a total fall into degradation.’ -Ramona Fradon interview with Jim Amash, Alter Ego #69, 2007

“[Mort Meskin] just suffered from depression. It was difficult for him. Sometimes he’d try to work through it and work 48 hours in a row and draw at an incredible pace. Sometimes he wouldn’t go out for weeks at a time. It was through sheer force of will that he was able to work through those times. Maybe that exacerbated his problems... I don’t know... I think he knew how good he was, but he wouldn’t talk about it.” -Jerry Robinson to Jim Amash, Alter Ego #69, 2004

“American publishers don’t care about the quality of their comics—all they care about is keeping people from saying what they want to say. They’d rather have power than do things well. I don’t have anything much to add. Let’s talk about communism or something.’ -Wally Wood, 1977, from The Life and Legend of Wally Wood

"There were two times during the years I was married to Don Martin that he cried. The first time was when Bill Gaines called to tell him that the Mad artwork was soon to be sold through an auction. Don told me he refused the offer of a percentage of the money that would be made by the sales. Instead, he asked Bill to return his artwork to him. This request Gaines denied. Don wept over the loss of his work. The second time was when Don’s oncologist said to him, “Yes, you are going to die.” -Norma Martin, 13thdimension.com, 2016 (thanks to Tom Devlin for calling this story to the attention of the general public)

”The thing that amazes me about fans is how rumor is instantly translated into fact. It has been established that I am a fraud, apparently to everyone’s satisfaction. Established by whom? On what authority?” -Wally Wood, 1967, from The Life and Legend of Wally Wood.

“The fan press, publications, communications will continue with its pre-selective methods of subjective, emotional gratification crediting, or the intrinsic, inherent in a personality crediting. The actual facts, truth, objective method of crediting will continue to be ignored, rejected and even despised.” -Steve Ditko, from Robin Snyder’s The Comics, vol. 14, #11, 2003

“...I was very shy and mortified whenever I had to go into the [DC] bullpen to sketch out a cover. I hated going in there for a fear they’d all start teasing me or something. It was scary... I tried to keep invisible, figuring they’d start in on me, and I didn’t want to deal with that.” -Ramona Fradon interview with Jim Amash, Alter Ego #69, 2007

“I had a hard time [at Fiction House Comics]. I got used to it, but in the beginning, it was awful... I was trying to be invisible when I was there.” -Lily Renée interview with Jim Amash, Alter Ego #85, 2009

"Stan Lee claimed (in Comic Book Marketplace, July 1998) that he gave me the “idea” for the “famous” Spider-Man lifting sequence (issue #32). I responded (CBM Sept-Oct 1998) that he couldn’t have because he had chosen to stop communicating with me before issue#25 and that I alone was creating the storyline and all panel ideas.

"That contradiction was ignored by readers as of no real importance, meaning nothing, affecting nothing and thereby ignored, evaded all the implications of such two contradictory claims—that—someone is lying.

"Too many are still just passively wanting some others to fill in some professional trivia or gratification for them, for feeling that they are now in the know about what pleases them and denying, evading, ignoring all the rest.

"They remain dominantly silent supporters or silent opposition, choosing to be passive, irrelevant to the truth.” -Steve Ditko, from Robin Snyder’s The Comics, vol. 14, #11, 2003

“First of all, my family needed the money. Badly. Second, my editor, Mort Weisinger, mean as a snake at his nicest, would have screamed at me more than usual if I was ever late.

"Mort would call me every Thursday night, right after the Batman TV show to go over whatever I’d delivered that week.  He’d call me other times, too, whenever, but Thursday night was our regularly scheduled call.  The calls mostly consisted of him bellowing at me.  “You fucking moron!  Learn to spell!  What the hell is this character holding?  Is that supposed to be  a gun?  It looks like a carrot!  These layouts have to be clear, retard!”  When you’re 14 and the big, important man upon whom your family’s survival depends calls you up to tell you you’re an imbecile, it makes an impression…” -Jim Shooter, March 2011, from Jimshooter.com

“...I sat near the window at Fiction House, and I was envying all those people who were walking on the street, because the Museum of Modern Art was right down the street. I thought, ‘Oh, they’ve got the time to go to the museum, and they’re so free. And here, I’m sitting, drawing.’ Like a slave, you know.” -Lily Renée interview with Jim Amash, Alter Ego #85, 2009

“It got to the point where any time I’d hear a phone ring I’d clench up, white knuckled.  Very Pavlovian.  Even in school, or some other place that was ostensibly safe, a ringing phone jolted me.

"Mort used to tell me I was his 'charity case.' He said that the only reason he kept me on was because my family would starve otherwise.” -Jim Shooter, March 2011, from Jimshooter.com

“Alex [Toth] came in at lunch time and asked for his paycheck. Julie [Schwartz] told him to wait until he’d finished lunch. Now, everybody knew not to bother Julie during that time, but Alex didn’t care. He wanted his money now. Julie could have given Alex his check, it’d only have taken a moment of his time, but he didn’t want to do it.” -Carmine Infantino, Carmine Infantino: Penciler, Publisher, Provocateur, 2010

“[Julius Schwartz’s] hands are practically crawling up my dress, under the table. Jo [Duffy] got up to use the ladies' room, and [Schwartz] grabbed me and tried to shove his tongue down my mouth.” -Colleen Doran, in a sidebar to Julius Schwartz's obituary, "Two Sides to Julie the Ladies Man", The Comics Journal #259, 2004

"From the very beginning I was on Spider-Man there was a fight. 'God, Todd, why are you making the eyes so big? Todd, why are you making those spaghetti webbings? Todd, why are you making so many webbings under his armpits? Todd, why are you curling his wife’s hair? Todd, why are you doing this?' Any company, I don’t care if I’m working for IBM, if you don’t do it their way, they instantly take it in their head that you think their way is wrong. It wasn’t that their way is wrong — and I’ll never make them understand it — it’s just that there’s more than one way of doing something.” -Todd McFarlane to Gary Groth, The Comics Journal #152, August 1992

“...where has the community feeling gone... gotta do comics as good as Jaime Hernandez or Chris Ware... production value... graphic novel/book... color... sex... manga... like real fiction... pseudo fiction... like comics used to be... or the ever so wonderful: must get into the bookstores. The new (or) old comics are boring... they’ll give that grant to/publish anyone... it’s small potatoes compared to music and movies. The only real comic books are the arty, money making, big time, underground ones, oh, yeah, yeah yeah.

"All I can say is: bullshit. It’s the bullshit. If it is all true, do comics suck or not and should you quit talking in my ear, you devil? Yes! You, you’re the problem.” -Dylan Williams, introduction to Reporter #3, 1999

"I hate to say, but this business is weird in that they give you the next bone depending upon how well you did: 'What have you done for me lately?' I had to prove my merit by saying, 'OK! Your business, as Marvel or DC, is to sell comic books, and you hire me to sell comic books, and I do that job very well. Whether you like my style whether you like the way I do it, whether you think that I’m good or not is irrelevant. I’m sorry to say, that’s irrelevant. Just accept the fact that I sell comic books. After you accept that, now we can delve into whether you think I’m actually good at what I do, but you got to get past the first hurdle, which is just accept it. Don’t like me personally, don’t like my style, don’t like the way I write, don’t like the way I lay out a book, just accept that I sell the comic books and don’t even try to understand it.' You can talk to me now about trying to improve those areas, but they couldn’t even get past that first hurdle.” -Todd McFarlene to Gary Groth, The Comics Journal #152, August 1992

“The guys tend to be nerds. They’re pretty obsessive, and they’re generally not very interested in anything outside of comics.” -Julie Doucet, supplemental interview in Dirty Plotte: The Complete Julie Doucet, 2018

All images in this article are by E.C. Segar from his strip Popeye.

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22 Responses to Fall into Degradation

  1. Nick Wyche says:

    Whoa… ouch… *sniff*… maybe one day, it’ll be better. Probably not.

  2. Abe Scott says:

    Austin, I used to rent movies to you at a Manhattan video store about ten years ago and have quietly followed your writing in the years since.

    This is heartbreaking. Though making “suggestions” would be completely disrespectful to your editorial voice I do feel that the lives of Gene Day and Mike Parobeck (among many, many others) would be relevant to the discussion that will surely follow this piece.

    There is a little-seen recent interview with Robert Crumb that parallels many of these excerpts, in which he appears deeply pained at how the industry hurt Harvey Kurtzman: https://vimeo.com/237066820

    Thank you for the implied respect shown to Ramona Fradon, Colleen Doran and Dylan Williams.

    Though this compilation says so much about cruelty, sorrow, exploitation and cyclical hatefulness, I am trying to focus on a more subtle aspect that it seems you are very conscious of – the overwhelming beauty of the human spirit. A good (and strangely overlooked) piece on this subject can be found here: https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/116021/a-find-unlocks-comic-mystery

    As Jack Kirby said, “We can do better.”

  3. Jon says:

    You are doin’ the Lord’s work.

  4. Eel O'Brian says:

    He once said, ‘I’m in love with telling a story in pictures.’ But, he found, most writers and editors lacked his passion. They were ‘rejects from the pulp field… [with] no foundation in the grammar of pictorial continuity.’ The reaction of one editor at Standard to 50 pages which Toth presented so enraged him that Toth snatched them back and ripped the entire folio in half with his bare hands.” — Bob Levin, “The Mark of Tyrone Power.” The Comics Journal #262.

  5. Ant says:

    Well, that was a barrel of laughs, and no mistake…

  6. Jack says:

    An entertainer has an obligation to the audience and the market. If you make comics for yourself, you only have obligations to ideas. A lot of these quotes come from people who are working for entertainment industries and wanting to make art.

    Not hating on anyone who makes money off comic books or entertainment! I love entertainment, I love being entertained. Being an entertainer is really hard, too, in some ways harder than being an artist. But entertainment and art are not the same things and should not be confused.

  7. Corey Bean says:

    @Jack – Sure, but there can still be respect in an entertainment field. Abuse is abuse no matter what the product is.

  8. Abe: I remember you, of course! I miss that place :( There are so many people whose stories should be in here. I’d really like, if some publisher was into it, to do a long realy arcades project for comics, combing through every interview archive and including an avalanche of experiences from this angle.

    Jack: Don Martin, Wally Wood and Todd McFarlene are extremely mainstream iconic artists. I dont understand the logic…they were succesful entertainers AND highly creative artists. Why did they have ti be maligned by those making money off of them? A desire to be entertained doesn’t justify it.

  9. Because in entertainment industries, artist’s visions aren’t valued, so obviously they aren’t going to pay their artists. I’m not defending these companies, just looking at the patterns.

    It was a completely different era back then, and in order to get any type of significant exposure, you had to play ball with publishers. These days we have the luxury of online printing, zines and photocopy machines, etc. This brings up the question of the significance of exposure, but that’s another story.

  10. The vast majority of the entertainment industry does not value artistic visions, so they aren’t going to pay their artists. I’m not saying it’s right. I see a lot of cartoonists do insane things to make money off comic books, like completely change their style, or attempt to appease the largest markets, and these artists get their hearts broken because the entertainment industry lives in a false reality where their jobs (advertising, distribution, editing, administration) far exceeds the significance of the artist. I don’t see this changing at all. Again, not saying it’s right, and you can call my cynical.

    My statements are made to perhaps suggest that comics are far more liberated, interesting and significant once removed from economics. One can say it is sad that one cannot make a living off ones art, and I would completely agree with this. But when art then stops caring about an audience, it starts being more and more about ideas, more individual, more off the beaten path. I am advocating for art outside economics. The best art I’ve ever made I made negative money off of. The best Ditko comics are self published.

  11. A. Concrete says:

    I kinda think the art/entertainment dichotomy is false. Good art is stimulating. To be stimulated is by and large to be entertained.

    Regardless, “commercial” entertainment is the best way to dupe people into consuming art in general, and is often the only means by which creatives can profit from their talent. It seems weird to fault artists for wanting more (regardless of their own taste or limitations) from the available opportunities, especially when those opportunities are as feeble and infrequent as those in comics have historically been.

  12. Jack: But some of these people, like Jim Shooter, are fairly conservative entertainers. Part of what I find when researching comics history is that while special disrespect was reserved for uniquely creative artists, there wasn’t any lack of malice towards the less assertive or vulnerable journey men and women.

  13. Danny Ceballos says:

    Jack is confusing platform with content. Globo-tainment corporations or a mom and pop xerox store are merely platforms for distribution of art. Amazing art happens in a wide panoply of distributors, whether it’s Showtime’s TWIN PEAKS reboot or a self produced and distributed King-Cat. Art can be described as entertaining, but now we are talking about taste. Artists create ART and wherever they decide to distribute it has its own merits and tortures. By making this argument he is sideways saying “They (the artists) asked for it (abuse from a distributor).”

  14. Josh says:

    There are two separate issues that should be drawn out of theses interviews. One is a debate about a corporate hierarchy stifling the creativity of the artist which is working with corporate owned entities. Disputes among creative types about story or style is certainly important for sales or self fulfillment. The idea of abusing your power for something other than the creation of a comic book is different altogether and is a much bigger deal than whether a character should look like this or the story should go in whichever direction. Calling a fourteen year old a retard and threatening to take away his families primary income is abusive and done for no other reason than to control the subject and make yourself feel better (maybe about the abuse you felt you received from your bosses over the years). “I just wanted to see what kind of character you have” is an excuse for casual racism. Sticking your hand down someone’s pants and attempt to force a kiss upon someone is sexual assault.

    I don’t think anyone can legitimately argue that these ideas could have been taken out of context. I know some will dispute the veracity of the claims but none could or should say they should have been or should be standard operating procedure in any industry. One would hope the greatest benefit to the corporatization of comics (and everything else) is that these instances are fewer and farther between.

  15. Josh: i’m a little confused by the idea that ‘the corporatization of comics’ will decrease the amount of assault and racist behavior seen from the higher ups in comics. Look at NBC news or Fox News, extremely corporate enviornments with newly reported cases that rival the abuses written about here. And…DC/National in the 50s was reknowned for being one of the most corporate enviornments in comics of all time.

    Corporate hierachy stiffles and resents creativity (despite profiting from it culturally and with dollars) while also abusing those without power in the company’s structure. I don’t think those are seperate mindsets…they’re often very linked ways of thinking, as this article tries to show. Schwartz degraded Toth’s creativity by humilating him in terms of normal payment and the same Schwartz engaged in physical abuse.

  16. RSM says:

    I’m going to defend Schwartz re: Toth. I’m inclined to see this incident as a couple of jerks acting like jerks towards each other, but to be honest, it’s perfectly appropriate for Schwartz to establish boundaries around his personal time. People in supervisory positions often find they have to do this with regard to lunch breaks and so forth, or they’ll never get left alone. How Schwartz spent that time was his prerogative, and it is not the place of Toth, Infantino, or anyone else to be passing judgment on it. The fact that, instead of just leaving and coming back in an hour, Toth would sit there and work himself up into a tantrum says a lot about his notorious personality problems. This is not an instance of Schwartz “degrad[ing] Toth’s creativity by humiliating him.” Toth humiliated himself with his childish behavior.

  17. Rsm- yeah! Clearly toth is the child for not seeing how logical it is to wander around for an hour rather than have some one take one second and reach into a drawer! Bosses are always right, their time is valuable, no one else’s! And, yeah, clearly toth IS the child, not Schwartz, because we know toth had issues with physical abuse of people below him at DC…Oh wait, no! Toth has no allegations like that. But i guess it’s right for history to think of an artist who believed in his own dignity and asserted it in an industry where few others did as ‘crazy’ and ‘difficult’ and ‘childish.’ The boss who physically used other artists was just setting boundaries with Toth, i get it now.

  18. An addendum to the above comment. Dylan Williams, who is quoted twice in this article, made a great point about Ditko once. The subject of how people thought of ditko as a person came up. Dylan said ‘everyone says ditko is ‘crazy’, but i wonder how they’d act if what had happened to him [a creative work being made distasteful for you to continue with, your involvement diminished, that work becoming a universal corporate symbol] had happened to them.’

    Same goes for Toth. I wonder how any of us would act in his situation.

  19. RSM says:

    Schwartz was setting boundaries that every boss (and employee or contractor, for that matter) is entitled to. He would not deal with business matters on his personal time. I am not excusing any other behavior by him, or his personality in general. I met him once, and I thought he was a patronizing ass.

    As for Alex Toth, he had a long, documented history of temper tantrums and verbally abusive behavior. He was known on occasion to physically threaten people. An example is Yogi Bear creator Iwao Takamoto, who worked with Toth at Hanna-Barbera. Toth once threatened to knock him unconscious and break his fingers. Nearly everyone who dealt with Toth professionally has described him as volatile, obnoxious, and ultimately impossible to work with. I recognize some fans are so enamored with his work that they turn a blind eye to his personality, which managed to alienate pretty much everyone he came into contact with. But I think we can admire his work while acknowledging he was an extremely difficult individual. Baseball fans are able to do it with Ty Cobb.

  20. Austin English says:

    Rsm- here’s a funny toth story i heard once. At sdcc, he was chatting politely with the hernandez bros. Behind toth, someone yelled out ‘hey alex! How the hell are you?’ Toth swerved around, spotted the man and said ‘You!!? Fuck you!!’, also giving the guy the finger (the person who told me this story said The Eisners should be renamed The Toths with a statue of Alex’s gesture, an appropriate symbol for comics). Then, he returned to talking to los bros as if nothing had happened. (For the record, this story is third hand…)

    Yeah no one is saying he wasnt hard to be around! But his volatility seems completely different than the control that Schwartz wanted to impose on others. Yes, we dont have to excuse Toth’s behavior, that yogi berra example is a gross way to act, but we also don’t need to use it as an equivalency for what Schwartz was up to. Bad temper vs. a pattern of controlling others.

  21. RSM says:

    I’m not sure Schwartz was engaged in an effort to impose control over others so much as exerting discipline over himself.

    A major pitfall of editorial work is that it can take over your life if you let it. The comics field–and it is hardly alone in this–is littered with examples of publishing and editorial burnout. The most extreme example is Jim Warren, who literally demolished his home with a chainsaw. There’s Bob Kanigher, who left his DC editorial position in opaque circumstances, although it’s been strongly hinted the situation wasn’t pretty re: his daily behavior towards the end. Carmine Infantino has said his position as publisher at DC ultimately became a “destructive grind,” and after his passing, it was revealed that some of what was so destructive was alcohol abuse. Len Wein has described the end of his writer-editor tenure at Marvel in 1977 as a situation where he was demoralized and overly obsessive about his work, and in desperate need of a fresh start. Marv Wolfman described feeling similarly when he left Marvel in 1980. (Fan lore attributes this to bitter conflicts with Jim Shooter, something Wolfman has promoted, but the evidence is that Shooter and Wolfman were friendly for years after Wolfman’s departure.) Roy Thomas, judging from others’ accounts and his own interviews, was firmly in the grip of this obsessive burnout mindset when he left Marvel in 1980. Jim Shooter was in the grip of it himself during the last year or so of his Marvel tenure.

    With Schwartz, the evidence is that he rigorously compartmentalized his work. He determined what he was working on in a given day when he came to work in the morning, and he went home when he finished it. As far as he was concerned, what belonged in the office stayed in the office. He didn’t take it home with him. It’s easy to see this extending to him insistently policing the boundaries around his lunch break. And he never burned out. The four decades he spent as an active editor at DC attests to this. The creative people who respected his boundaries, including Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, and Murphy Anderson, appeared to have been quite fond of him. No one’s excusing his more egregious conduct, such as his harassment of Colleen Doran, but apart from that it’s easy to see editorial people seeing him as a role model. A stable, lifelong career as an editor is a rare and impressive feat.

    Alex Toth’s problem was that Schwartz didn’t think the world revolved around Alex Toth. And if the worst thing Alex Toth had to deal with in life was waiting an hour for a check, well, cry me a river.

  22. So, in summary, some people liked him, some people were humiliated by him (let’s be clear, that’s what he’s doing to Toth), some were abused by him, but in the end it all worked out for him!

    Oh, and we have him to thank for Neal Adams. Hall of Fame!!

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