From the TCJ Archives

An Odd Man Out: Tom Sutton


GROTH: This was all happening while you were becoming a father and being an art director and working in the real world? In 1967, you apparently got work at Warren.


GROTH: Were you divorced by the time that you hit Warren? Or were you still married?

SUTTON: Bev had found this other guy that she wanted to be with. Such a deal, I got. Such a deal. I couldn’t come up with any support those days, so it was either a thing where you sign the papers or I take you to jail. Court. Blah. Blah. Blah. I was painting —intelligent thing to do when you have nothing. I was painting. Whipping away there. Paul Shapiro and I had a great studio over in a popcorn factory.

GROTH: Paul Shapiro?

SUTTON: Looked a little bit like Gauguin. [Both laugh]

GROTH: So the marriage had become rocky.

SUTTON: The marriage was all done. They had moved out to someplace, much too far for me.

GROTH: With your children?

SUTTON: Yeah. They weren’t mine any more.

GROTH: Was that painful?

SUTTON: Yes. Yes. But as it turned out, the fellow who became their foster father was a really terrific guy. He gave them more than I ever could. The backshot of that is that I have no contact with one of those guys to this day. Todd, we talk every month or so. But it’s a distance.

GROTH: One of these guys meaning one of your sons?


GROTH: That must be very regrettable.

SUTTON: There isn’t anything that you’re going to do about it at this stage of the game. It’s all over with. No, it’s no fun. So what the hell was I saying? I was painting and I don’t know how this happened. Oh, yes I do. Yes I do. You’ll love this one. Shapiro was doing these collages and he had a whole bunch of comic books that he was pasting all over the place. I was looking at some Famous Monsters of Filmland that they had in there, and I started in on this thing and I drew a little thing, six pages I think it was, of the monster maker. I wrote it myself. I sent it off to Jimmy [Warren] and he bought it.

GROTH: Huh. That simple.

SUTTON: That simple.

GROTH: Give me a little context here. You were familiar with the Warren magazines. You bought them off of the newsstands, I assume.

SUTTON: No. This all came out of Paul’s big cardboard box of crap to glue up on his collage thing. I hadn’t thought about comic books in years. Everything else was so goddamn bleak. I still had some of this I-can-do-anything. So I did this silly thing and it really was silly. The first sales to Jimmy were not to his Creepy or Eerie, it was to his…

GROTH: Famous Monsters.

SUTTON: Famous Monsters. To Forrey Ackerman.

GROTH: So did Ackerman buy it or did Warren?

SUTTON: I don’t know. I guess Warren bought it. I have no idea of the internal machinations of that…

GROTH: Somebody bought it.

SUTTON: Somebody bought it and actually sent money. I am so shallow. That was the beginning of a whole new thing. My God, I discovered where the money is. Also, I had this idea, Jesus, I could sit anyplace. In a rented room! And I did sit in rented rooms and draw these things. First, I took the copy of Famous Monsters, with my story in it, and went to New York. Da. Da. Da. Dum.

GROTH: The first story you mailed in got accepted.

SUTTON: Yes. I had the printed copies and I still had some copies from the newspaper strip that I had done, and I put them together in a paper bag or something and went off to see Uncle Stan.

GROTH: This was before you actually got regular work at Warren?

SUTTON: I don’t think I ever had regular work at Warren, Gary.

GROTH: Well, you worked for them pretty consistently from ’70 through the early ’70s.


GROTH: You did a pretty substantial number of stories for Warren in that period.

SUTTON: There was a time there, when the Warren things were going, that I was
working for everybody. I was working for Topps gum.

GROTH: Top who?

SUTTON: Topps gum.

GROTH: Top scum? We’ll have to get into that.

SUTTON: Come on, you know Topps.

GROTH: Oh, Topps. Topps bubblegum?

SUTTON: Yes. I did all of those crazy cards that now sell at the auction gallery for $7,000 or something. I love that. That’s great.

GROTH: So you got on the bus and went to see Uncle Stan.

SUTTON: Yep. Stan looked over the portfolio.

GROTH: Was it easy to get an appointment with him?

SUTTON: Yeah. I told you I’m love with Flo Steinberg, didn’t I?

GROTH: Yes, you did. You tell me that in every interview. So tell me what going up to Marvel was like in ’66, ’67?

SUTTON: A giant sandbox. Lots of people throwing paper airplanes around. Was it John Verpoorten, that very fat man who passed away some time ago.

GROTH: He was the production manager.

SUTTON: Yeah. He tried. Up and down the aisle with his big whip! He was a sweetheart. I liked John so much. Helped me out. I guess if I were a real fanboy I would have been totally overwhelmed. There were all of these guys around there who either were great then or would be great very soon afterward. And all I wanted was the money. Are you with me?

GROTH: I’m with you.

SUTTON: Stan, and we talked about this before. Everybody loves to knock Stan. You like to knock Stan?

GROTH: Oh yeah. I’m with them. Give me your impressions of Stan at the time.

SUTTON: He was on top of his desk.

GROTH: When you walked in?

SUTTON: Yes. He was reciting dialogue into his little Sony tape recorder, right? Then Octopus man said this and Spidey said this and — I don’t even know if there was a Spidey at that time. And he would jump off of the desk. He was quite athletic when I was there. He was in very good shape. And his hair didn’t fall off. “Hi! Whatta you got there!” I showed him what I had there. It was a great pile of blank Bristol [paper] at one time. He took a huge hunk of it, folded it over, and stuffed it into my portfolio. He gave me two to four of these very slim little strips. Kid Colt, five pages. He said, Do these and go back and I’ll pay you such-and-such.

GROTH: It was that easy?

SUTTON: I left and I passed Flo and I couldn’t believe it was that easy. The thing is, you actually had printed stuff, you weren’t a fanboy.

GROTH: And you were in your mid-to-late 20s. So you weren’t exactly a kid.

SUTTON: Yeah. He saw somebody that he could use to the last drop. And that’s fine. That’s not the point. The point is that you got work and from that point I didn’t have any problem getting work at Marvel. I never had any problem getting work out of Marvel. I had problems explaining to certain editors that he had why I didn’t want anything that they had. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.

GROTH: So the first job you got at Marvel was Kid Colt, Western stuff?

SUTTON: Yeah. I had one problem with it and that was horses. I couldn’t draw horses.

GROTH: That’s kind of a problem when you’re drawing Westerns.

SUTTON: There was a big Western market at that time. They were selling a lot of Westerns, and I picked up some other guy’s comics that looked like the horses were OK, and I swiped blithely off of those. I learned. I learned. I learned. I learned. This is nothing. It’s been going on forever.

Then I went down to East Village. Do you know where East Village is?

GROTH: Sure.

SUTTON: So I stayed there for a little while. I don’t remember what the hell street it was, or anything. I was just there. That place bothered me. I didn’t like it.

GROTH: The East Village bothered you?

SUTTON: It was, Hey, that’s so-and-so. He does comic books. There’s so and so. He’s going to become Robert Crumb or something, or was Robert Crumb. I don’t know. And none of this meant anything to me. I make a lousy fan.

GROTH: Hold on. Back up a second. When you say you went to the East Village, do you mean you actually moved in?

SUTTON: Well, there was a person there that I knew I could stay with for a little while. What I did was I got out of there as soon as I could and I went over to Dean Street in Brooklyn. I remember that very well. Dean Street is right at the Brooklyn end of the bridge.

GROTH: So you didn’t just take a bus to New York for the day, you actually took a bus and moved to New York.

SUTTON: Yeah. A few weeks. I went and I stayed in Brooklyn with my friend Laslo Carmen Carvonavitch Kubini. You got all of that?

GROTH: Laslo.

SUTTON: Yeah. I’d known him from the museum school. He was a tremendous graphic artist.

GROTH: What year are you talking about? It sounds to me like the East Village Other would have been published at that point. Did you try to get into that scene?


GROTH: Why not?

SUTTON: I didn’t like a lot of the people, OK? And I already had work to do. It was irritating because there was so much noise and so much bullshit going on that I couldn’t get any work done. So I go to Dean Street where Laslo is. I know that Laslo is a very quiet man. He spent his three or four years jumping out of airplanes. I guess that makes you very quiet, and short. “Oh, God bless you, Laslo.” Anyway, he was doing a cat book and we had a lot of fun with that. I did some stuff in there. He even worked on some of the stuff that I was working on. He was another one… “Whatta you wanna do that for? Laslo, how many cat books are there?”

GROTH: Tom, when you say that there was a lot of noise and bullshit that was so distracting, what are you talking about?

SUTTON: Oh, when I’m not getting high I don’t like it. There were people getting high, and so and so’s old lady screaming at him, and it became obvious that this was the mode of existence here. OK? I can’t work that way. I suppose that’s why I’m here in Hobbitville. There’s nothing. Nobody. I also had a transportation problem. I could not understand the subway.

GROTH: [Laughs.] You’re kidding!

SUTTON: No. I know. I know. Laslo had no patience with me that way at all. There’s only two directions, Thomas, there’s North/South and East/West. That’s New York. You’re going that way or you’re going the other way.

GROTH: Right. What was your problem?

SUTTON: I’d start out from Madison Avenue and wind up in Atlantic City. I didn’t need any of that shit, either. If I only went down to the ever popular — it’s a wonderful place — what’s that bus station?

GROTH: I’m interested, Tom. if you found that beat scene in San Francisco to your liking, why you didn’t find the inchoate underground scene in New York to your liking? The underground comics were starting to come out around then. Did you see that as a possible avenue of publication?

SUTTON: No. I think I remember looking at a couple of those things, and there were things in there that… I didn’t get it. Is that the time when Crumb had the baby carriage filled with comic books?

GROTH: That would have been around ’67, right.

SUTTON: No, I missed a lot of stuff. I had heard — this part I believe — how difficult it was. It was difficult for me to make a few bucks. These people were doing this for free. Free?

GROTH: Well, not quite for free, but… So you moved into the East Village and you were doing some stuff for Marvel. Now, you didn’t get any work at DC at that time?

SUTTON: Yeah. I had a pencil job. I don’t remember what the hell it was. It was some science-fiction thing.

GROTH: Do you remember the editor you worked with?

SUTTON: Probably Joe [Orlando].

GROTH: You must also have made contact with Warren at that time.

SUTTON: Oh yeah. Yeah.

GROTH: Tell me what that was like.

SUTTON: God, what was that like? That was curious. That came a month or so later. I had come back to Boston and nailed all of the doors and windows shut. My usual thing… I can outproduce anybody in the world. So I was just working night and day and it took me a while to realize that there was a batch of mail there. Part of the mail was a thing that Jimmy had actually looked at Famous Monsters of Filmland, and he thought it would be nice if I looked over the scripts, essentially with a batch of ideas, from Archie Goodwin. I think that Archie was his editor at that time. Anyway, we did it. I had so much fun with the monsters. I loved doing the monsters. I spent too much time on them. I remember that much. One thing lead to another — you may know the story from him. I think it took two or three stories before he started calling me up. That was curious. I liked Jimmy. I did.

GROTH: When was the first time you actually went to the Warren offices? I’m curious as to why you wouldn’t have gone to Warren immediately in New York when you already sold the story to him?

SUTTON: That’s true.

GROTH: It seems logical that that would be the first place that you would go. Do you remember anything about that?

SUTTON: Very, very little. This was not Marvel. It was not DC. This was a little couple of rooms he had… strictly business, like something out of the ’30s.

GROTH: The editor at the time you started working with Warren must have been Archie Goodwin.

SUTTON: Yes. But I didn’t meet him there. I only talked to Archie over the phone. Eventually, Archie put his whole family group in one of these tiny rent-a-cars. People in New York don’t have cars anyway. He drove to New England. I remember him getting out in front of my house and he was petrified.

GROTH: He was?

SUTTON: Yes. So many trees!

GROTH: Your house where?

SUTTON: In Newberryport. So it was sometime after. It had to be a couple of years after I had started doing things for Warren.

GROTH: Because you moved from New York to Newberryport?

SUTTON: I was back and forth from Boston to New York, New York to Boston. Then I had an ugly experience in Boston and Donna [Sutton’s second wife] and I went to Newberryport, where nothing bad could ever happen, right?