From the TCJ Archives

An Odd Man Out: Tom Sutton


GROTH: You were doing Topps work. You were doing work for Marvel, you were doing work for Warren. I assume that this was much more fun and much more to your liking than the advertising work you’d been doing in Boston.

SUTTON: Yes. It was. I also loved that Jimmy gave me the chance to paint covers, too. I must have done three or four of them, anyway. The little kids digging up Dracula and other things like that. And werewolves and stuff. That was wonderful! I thought, boy, I got it made now! Who else was there at that time? I think that was about the time when all of these people… You must know about this. This is funny. Things like Psycho and other crappy imitation Eerie/Creepy/Vampy things suddenly flooded the market. And Jimmy, I guess, really got scared there. He thought, Christ! They’re going to put me out of business. In the mail there came this piece of paper.

GROTH: Oh yes. The loyalty oath.

SUTTON: Yes! Yes! And the phones are ringing all over the nation. What does this man think he’s doing? Is that the most absurd thing you’ve ever heard of?

GROTH: For the sake of people reading this, tell me what that was and how you reacted to it.

SUTTON: Essentially it was if you want to go on working for me… Nothing saying that we really like your work or anything. No, if you want to go on working for me, you have to sign this oath saying you only work for me and not for anyone else. There was some other jibber-jabber, but that’s essentially what it amounted to. It went directly into the trash can. There’s no way to require such a thing. You want to waste a lot of time with your constitutional rights?

GROTH: Psycho and Nightmare, the competing magazines you’re referring to were published by Skywald, and they started in 1970. They were black-and-white horror comics competing pretty directly with Warren. We’ll get into those presently. But tell me… Your career is just so amorphous it’s like grabbing smoke.

SUTTON: Sorry.

GROTH: Let me try and nail you down what it was like working for Warren and working for the editors at Warren. You butted heads with Warren.


GROTH: Tell me the unique difficulties.

SUTTON: I didn’t have any difficulties. I would… I don’t know why I did these things, Gary. I didn’t have much to back me up. It was simply the case of No, I won’t do this. Or Yes, I will do this. I remember once he sent me a Photostat, photograph or whatever, of a cover that I’d painted of a spaceship. It was Vampirella Goes Home, or something. And she’s entering this huge vortex in space, a black hole or whatever the fuck it is. There was a lot of stars. He was crazy. He maintained I was trying to get him put away. I was trying to get him put in jail. I was trying to ruin his life. What the hell are you talking about? Well, can’t you see that that black hole is a big cunt! You know what you’re doing! No, it’s a black hole. And that space ship was a dick! Right on the cover! This is the kind of thing that I’m talking about, and if you take it seriously, it’s silly. It’s just dumb. Smile in the backroom. I can’t talk to you about this. You can’t. And you can be sure that in about two days he’ll never even remember. I don’t know what ever happened to it. There was a lot of artwork that was never returned to me, and that was part of our agreement. A lot was made about, “You know, I don’t have to do this!”

GROTH: Return your art?

SUTTON: Uh-huh. And they didn’t at that time, I guess. But you will anyway. He returned some of it. What did you ask me? I forgot. I lost it now.

GROTH: I just wanted to know what the unique circumstances of working for Warren were like.

SUTTON: You could never tell what the hell was going on. I went there after the so-called Warren awards and my bowling trophy. My then-wife, who Mr. Warren was quite enthusiastic about — it was a beautiful condo. He was trying to do Hefner East. The walls were filled with all kinds of covers and illustration originals. There was Frazetta stuff there, too. I don’t know if Frazetta — Frank — ever got paid for it. And there were a couple of covers that I had done, and I had even forgotten about them. They were there. There were a number of interior pages that were nicely matted, done by Mr. Corben, I think, and some by me, and some by other people. It was also the same night, the first and last night that I ever met Wallace Wood, who told me that he really wanted to be Jack Kirby.

GROTH: He told you that?


GROTH: Can you tell me in what sense he meant that?

SUTTON: I have no idea. Yes, I do have an idea. And it’s curious, because the two of them worked together on a newspaper strip called Sky Masters.

GROTH: Wood inked him.

SUTTON: I think what Woody could never come up with was the dynamics involved in Super Jack’s stuff. Woody was my God! It was impossible to try, and other people have just gone mad — thankful it’s all over with now — but they had tried to imitate his way of doing things. And he wanted to be Kirby! I think it was to break loose. See, if you look at one of his panels, of his panels like in an EC science-fiction thing, you’re not really looking at a panel; you’re looking into a cube. There are little Aurora plastic people. This is not a put-down. I don’t know how to do that and I never will! And they all have perfect cast shadows. Everything has perfect cast shadows.

GROTH: You mean, you’re looking at a complete illustration.

SUTTON: Yeah. But everything there, everything on his page, is frozen in time and space. And you look at one of Kirby’s pages, and the thing is vibrating out of your hand! I can only guess that that’s what he meant. But he wasn’t happy that night, either.

GROTH: Describe that evening at Warren’s condo. What transpired?

SUTTON: Oh, a lot of people getting silly. A little of people getting high.

GROTH: Who else was there?

SUTTON: Nic Cuti and Woody and who else was there? Christ! I don’t know who else was there. There were a lot of people. It was one of these things where if you move back one step you bump into somebody else. I had had perhaps more to drink than I should have, and I was going around the walls collecting my artwork.

GROTH: Taking them off the walls?

SUTTON: Yeah. And I had a big pile and I was heading toward the door. And he lost it! [Groth laughs.] He came after me. “You’re stealing! You’re stealing!” He’s going to be very angry about that.

GROTH: Well, yes. Such is life.

SUTTON: You could just delete it. It comes off making me sound like a drunken bully or something.

GROTH: I don’t think so at all. I think it comes across as you standing up for the rights that were initially enumerated to you: a source of inspiration to us all, Tom.

SUTTON: That’s what I’ve tried to be.

GROTH: He was going to stop you from going out the door.


GROTH: Did he succeed?


GROTH: You actually grabbed your stuff and walked out the…

SUTTON: No. He was doing this frantic sway-raging thing and I said, Jimmy, we had an agreement you return my things. You lied to me and you stole my things. I’m going to take them away now.

GROTH: You actually had this exchange at the party?

SUTTON: That’s how I remember it. I’m not very proud of things like that, but they happen. And that was it. I left. Donna came tearing down the stairs after me.

GROTH: You left with your art?

SUTTON: I left with my art.

GROTH: That’s pretty impressive.

SUTTON: On account of it’s mine.

GROTH: And he’d agreed to return your art.

SUTTON: Oh yes, but he’d forgotten all about that. So there’s Donna saying, You can’t do that! Uh-huh? Get in the car, Donna. Donna was a person who was brought up in a different world than I was.

GROTH: Who was?

SUTTON: My then-wife.

GROTH: Now is this your second wife?

SUTTON: Yeah. She was a lovely gal. I liked her, actually. But like I say, she was brought up in a different world than I was. You just don’t do things like that. Well, you do, Donna. You have to. I don’t know. It’s so funny. I don’t even remember whatever happened to those things.

GROTH: Maybe Warren slipped into your house and got them back.

SUTTON: I think what got to me, in the mood that I was in or something, Gary, was the audacity of the son of a bitch hanging these things up on his wall! My things!

GROTH: After agreeing to return them to you.

SUTTON: Yeah. Yeah.

GROTH: Well, it is a bit audacious.

SUTTON: And I’m sure when he sees this published you’ll get an angry letter saying that never happened. That’s too bad, because I don’t consider Jimmy a terribly rotten person. I have met a few really rotten people, and Jimmy’s got a way to go yet.

GROTH: He doesn’t quite qualify.

SUTTON: No. He’s a little zany, a little obsessive. Obsessive is the right word.

GROTH: When you started working with Warren, what was your contractual arrangement with him? Did you have any kind of contract with Warren for your work?


GROTH: Did you have a verbal agreement as to what your rights were to the work and what his rights were?


GROTH: What was that agreement.

SUTTON: Oh, something like, I hear people have had problems getting their artwork back, not necessarily from him but from other people. I want it understood that my stuff comes back to me: something like that. You do what you can do. In my case, if the guy says, “Absolutely no way, never,” which is about DC’s way of handling things, at least then you’re clear on the issue. And you send them stats. I think DC probably is… They are the most unpleasant of all of them.

GROTH: You mean, back then or currently?

SUTTON: Always.

GROTH: Consistently?

SUTTON: Always. Yep. You never lose sight of the fact that you should bow down and be ever so grateful that they exist. I don’t like the attitude. I don’t like a lot of the people who work for them either, and that’s my problem, nobody else’s. All right, so we do the Warren thing for as long as he was running the thing, and I think the fellow Du Bay, was it?

GROTH: Bill Du Bay.


GROTH: Did you work for Warren after you took back your art?

SUTTON: Oh yeah!

GROTH: That’s odd.

SUTTON: I know. This is what I’m trying to tell you. This man, he’ll rant and rage and all this and it’ll take five or six days and he can be less interested in it or something. At least that’s the way it worked with me.

GROTH: Easy come, easy go.

SUTTON: I don’t know. There are other people you may have heard from who have terrible stories to tell about that. When Archie left things got bad.

GROTH: Just in terms of his relations with creators such as yourself?

SUTTON: Yeah. And he would pick up these people and god knows where the hell they came from. I don’t mean just Mr. Du Bay right now. I think I got along reasonably well with Du Bay. I think the others who, because I was writing everything myself at that time, and these were all would-be writers. And you know what that leads to.

GROTH: Let me talk about the content of the work that you did at Warren. You illustrated scripts by a lot of different writers, including Nic Cuti, Archie Goodwin, Bill Du Bay, J.R. Cochran, someone named Lynn Maron, Steve Skeates, Doug Moench, John Wooley, and Bill Parente. Possibly others.

GROTH: Did you make a distinction between writers you preferred and those you did not?

SUTTON: Make a distinction? What way?

GROTH: Well, a qualitative distinction.

SUTTON: Oh yeah. I think it was obvious working on them. Moench was extremely good. He still is. I like Doug very much. We did Planet of the Apes, the Chronicles of Planet of the Apes, and worked our asses off and discovered that they didn’t really want that. They wanted the fucking TV series over again: great choices of the 20th century. What was the other one that you… There were a couple of them there. I liked Nic’s stories: most of them. Some of them I didn’t, most of them I did. And of course Archie was so damn good, because Archie could draw. He understood what you were going to have to do because he wrote this this way. You could always reach Archie, and you could always talk about it. It wasn’t just a one-way street. That’s the kind of thing that you’re looking for. The other fellows, I don’t really remember them. Of course, most of all I enjoyed the things I did myself.

GROTH: I was going to bring that up. You wrote several stories yourself. I was wondering how it came to be that you would write your own stories.

SUTTON: Sheer audacity. One of my favorite ones was a snowman. The little boy, he’s a rich little boy and he lives up on the top of the hill. His old man doesn’t allow the little boy to play with the townies.

GROTH: This is called “The Snowman?”

SUTTON: Yeah. So what the little fellow has done during the wintertime, is that he has put all of his little townie playmates into snowman. Then the sun comes out and there they are, looking like Graham Ingels.

GROTH: I haven’t seen that one. One story you wrote yourself, which I thought was a stand-out, was “Spawn of the Dread Thing” in ‘73. And you wrote “The Mound.” This was in ’72. The drawing seems to vary wildly in quality.


Ghostly Haunts 38, 1974

GROTH: You did some absolutely gorgeous wash work. And yet, some of the work could also look rushed and stiff.


GROTH: Assuming you agree with that…


GROTH: What was the reason for the wildly varying quality of the work?

SUTTON: I think it was having this idea in the back of your head that this Warren thing could end next week. I mean, this is really fun, but how much time can I expend on it? At the same time, you have jobs for Marvel. You have these little jobs for DC that somebody got you that pay much better. Well, they paid better. They did pay better. You have to do all of this stuff to get the mortgage paid, right? So there would be times that if you had to slack off on one, it’s going to be Jimmy’s. Thank you for the $40, Jim. I’m sorry. It’s shitty, but that is the way that it is. His stories are the ones that you probably want to do more than some of the others, but you can’t.

GROTH: It was just a matter of, well, expedience.

SUTTON: There also have been stories in back issues of whatever damn magazine he put in there, which I still consider to be pretty good comics.

GROTH: You paid a lot of attention to atmosphere in your work. There’s a story called “Hide from the Hacker,” written by Steve Skeates, where you paid a lot of attention to detail. It looks like it takes place in a Victorian setting.

SUTTON: Wonder why, eh?

GROTH: It’s full of fog and…

SUTTON: Blood. Don McGregor wrote for them, too.

GROTH: Yeah. Did you ever illustrate a McGregor story?

SUTTON: Yes. We did. I was a friend of Don’s. He was a security guard in Providence, and he used to come down and visit me in Mystic, and we would talk movies and comics and whatnot. I don’t think I was instrumental in getting him work, but he certainly did. I guess he’s out in L.A. now. He wrote a thing about a mad Santa Claus who slaughtered people.

GROTH: Sounds promising.

SUTTON: I know.

GROTH: Given his penchant for…

SUTTON: Violence?

GROTH: Prolixity.

SUTTON: Oh, God.

GROTH: It seems like you wouldn’t have to do a lot of drawing. You know, buried under those huge balloons.

SUTTON: Did you ever see that little comic strip thing that I think was the last Steve Canyon that was ever published?

GROTH: I don’t think so.

SUTTON: All the lettering was the size that it was supposed to be, and at the bottom were feet. Bye! [Laughter.]

GROTH: [Laughs.] And Don McGregor’s writing made you think of that.

SUTTON: Yeah. Oh, I would have fights with Don. Don, there’s no room to draw anything. I know I’m not the only one. There were others that… I think he was very happy at one point he did some paperbacks or whatnot. He was very happy that he didn’t have to worry about leaving room to draw pictures.

GROTH: They weren’t cluttered up by those damn drawings.

SUTTON: Yeah. He had this fascination with Mike Hammer. He came over one day and he said, “I met Mickey Spillane.” Neat, Don. How was the beer? I think I rather liked Spillane’s stuff, too. It’s almost coming into vogue again. Certainly there was Don McGregor, and Don and I went out and did a lot of stuff. Unfortunately he got involved in the martial arts, which is something I find deplorable. I just… This foot in the face stuff. To Don, the Gulacy people became God. Were there two Gulacys?

GROTH: Well, there was Steranko and Gulacy. But only one Gulacy that I know of.

SUTTON: And we do go astray here.

GROTH: When you say he got involved in martial arts, do you mean personally or creatively?

SUTTON: Oh, he had all of the movies on tape and he just thought it was a great story format, a great idea, see? And I said, so do all of these other people. I don’t want to draw it. I was aware of the fact that the reason that the Gulacys, or Gulacy singular, was that he was involved in it. He knew the moves and he knew the articulation of the body when you kick somebody in the face. I’m sorry. I don’t like this. That hurts.

GROTH: Of course, Doug Moench wrote Master of Kung Fu for many years.

SUTTON: I know. Talk to him about it sometime and see how exciting he thought it was. Doug is a professional writer. Doug came out of Chicago where he wrote short stories for Fling and Zip and Booby and Bare Ass and you name it. Doug has a beautiful home somewhere halfway down the country and certainly deserves it. He works like hell. But he doesn’t make the same distinctions that I do. You do it the best way that you can. Like in the case of the Apes, it’s always a treat, and I don’t know why it should be so damned unusual to have somebody working on a thing who is as enthusiastic as you are.

GROTH: But that was unusual?

SUTTON: It was. Yes. It was unusual. Don’t you think we should do this or this? Do whatever you want to.

GROTH: Well, it was a field dominated by hacks, not to put too fine a point on it.

SUTTON: Yeah. I think they were estimated on how many lines they could bang out in a period of… rather than the content of the lines.

GROTH: Was that something you felt you had to resist?


GROTH: Hackwork?

SUTTON: Oh, I have. You know I have hacked.

GROTH: Oh, I know you have, but I’m asking if you felt that you had to resist that.

SUTTON: Answer? Yes. Because it’s not good for you. It’s not good for your soul. No, it isn’t. If you got to do it, you got to know how to do it, but at the same time, you don’t go out actively looking for that kind of work. If you wanted to do that, you could illustrate the goddamn yellow pages. I do not demean that. I don’t demean anybody for doing anything that they have to do. A great example of this to my mind (and I know I’m babbling) is I first discovered that the all-powerful Stephen King once did erotic short stories for Cavalier, Leer, and Gents: $25, $75. Stephen is a perfect example for your young artists and young writers especially. Keep going. Don’t stop.