From the TCJ Archives

An Odd Man Out: Tom Sutton


GROTH: I want to skip over now to Skywald. You started working at Skywald in 1971, where you did at least the Heap that I know of. Skywald was a competitor to Warren. They put out black-and-white magazines.


GROTH: The Sky and Wald of Skywald was Sol Brodsky and Israel Waldman. The editor was Al Hewittson. Can you tell me how you became associated with Skywald? They obviously just started up. Sol Brodsky came from Marvel.

SUTTON: I knew many times, when I was in Marvel, they had no intercom system, you know. Stan would come to the door of his little glassed-in office and scream the length of the building, “Brodsky!” I got the impression that this guy was a nebbish. A step and fetch it. I didn’t realize that this guy had some clout. I met him, had a hotdog with him or something. I don’t know. That was it. Then I got a call two or three weeks later, We’re starting this magazine and do you know the story of Frankenstein? I think it was something like that. It was the opportunity to do Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, rather than another version of the movie Frankenstein. I was very excited about that. There was another one called Psycho. Sicko, or whatever.

GROTH: Psycho.

SUTTON: A lot of them. But that’s all there was to getting into Skywald. Just a phone call. Again, we pay so much per page. That’s it!

GROTH: So they laid down the ground rules, and that was pretty much that. So that was not a better deal than Marvel, DC or Warren were offering?

SUTTON: The same damn thing.

GROTH: Do you remember working with Hewittson as the editor?

SUTTON: No, because the story was mine.

GROTH: The Frankenstein adaptation?

SUTTON: It wasn’t very good, but it was mine.

GROTH: You adapted it and drew it?

SUTTON: Yeah. And I don’t recommend perusing it very carefully.

GROTH: Tell me what you remember about working for Skywald. Were they…

SUTTON: I don’t know. Maybe a couple of stories that I did for them. Maybe a couple of books that I did for them. That was it.

GROTH: Were they easy to work with? Did you get paid on time?

SUTTON: Sure. Absolutely.

GROTH: Did you see Skywald as possibly an alternative to Marvel, DC, the established publishers?


GROTH: They were just one and the same.

SUTTON: They were somebody who wanted to pay me money.

GROTH: You didn’t think in those terms.

SUTTON: What I thought was, no matter who it was that came along, and there were a number of them at that time... We used to call them the Uggles. They would come and they would go and Marvel and DC would be right where they were. You don’t fuck around with them. By gosh, look at that. There they are.

GROTH: Well then, God help you, you started working for Charlton, in ’72.

SUTTON: Yeah. But also working for Marvel. Also working for DC at the same time.

GROTH: You worked for everybody, it seems like, simultaneously.

SUTTON: Yep. I did the Marvel or DC stuff during the day, and I took a nap, which is my habit. And about seven o’clock I’d start in on the Charlton stuff.

GROTH: Tell me how you contacted Charlton and why.

SUTTON: I didn’t. I didn’t even know Charlton existed. Cuti was at Charlton. He called me up. I said, OK. I just couldn’t believe the price. Come again? And Nic said, I’m sorry. That’s all there is. But they’re very loose about things here. That meant, to him at least, I guess, that the deadlines were flexible. If you wanted to paint covers, you could paint covers. You get somebody like me, and you wind up with painted covers.

GROTH: Was Nic your editor at Charlton?


GROTH: Most of the stories you drew, as far as I can tell, were written by Joe Gill, who was one of the most prolific hacks in the business.

SUTTON: I talked to Joe just six months ago. He’s in one of those homes for retired people. He’s pretty old. But he’s sharp as a tack. Wanted to finish our conversation because the bingo match was starting! I like Joe. Joe’s all right.

GROTH: He really turned it out.

SUTTON: The problem with my getting scripts from Joe was you had the feeling like you’d seen this thing. And you had! That was Charlton. You just went ahead and you did basically what they had assigned you. But you could change it around the way you wanted it. And you never heard about it.

GROTH: They didn’t really care.

SUTTON: You could put it that way. I like to think of it as being flexible. And the covers were very much the same. I had a lot of fun with those covers. They didn’t take much time, either, but they were all right. [My wife] Donna and I went down there. We went down to Derby, Conn. Have you ever been to Derby, Conn.?

GROTH: Never.

SUTTON: You’re really missing something. That is something.

GROTH: Tell me what the physical layout of Charlton was like.

SUTTON: You get this eight-story building. A real old building, I’d say probably put up at the turn of the century. And it’s right next to the railroad tracks, which meant at one time they were shipping stuff. Because the tracks, at the time I was there, were very clean. They were making something else. You can cut that out of there, too. I could probably get sued for that.

GROTH: You mean in the building?

SUTTON: Yeah. The owner of Charlton lived in Sicily. What are we doing? You know all of this already.

GROTH: I do, but…

SUTTON: You go up two floors. I don’t know what the hell they were doing on the first floor. You went up two floors, and boy, let me tell you, this is not DC. This isn’t even Marvel. You go up there and you meet… Well, Nic was there. Donna was being very careful. She might get something dirty. You sure could in that place. You asked me who the editor was. Nic was the fellow that I talked to. Many times he was the writer; he was also the editor. The actual editor, his name escapes me, he did Popeye. They had a Popeye comic book. He used to draw the Popeye comic book. Nice fellow. How nice do you have to be to say “Hi!” But obviously no interest in what you’re doing. None at all. That was awkward. I forget the guy’s name. He’s going on about all of this stuff. I can’t help but think that there were other things going on there besides making comic books.

GROTH: Did you get the impression that it was a mob-affiliated company?

SUTTON: I don’t know, because I don’t know anyone in the mob, so I don’t know if they were affiliated or not. They were scrupulous with me. They paid me exactly what we agreed, and they paid it bingo! On time. That’s all I ask. I don’t care if you’re affiliated with the Martians. One thing that did tick me off was when a fellow in Australia sent me a couple of my Charlton comic books. This little place in Derby, Conn., has worldwide distribution? And inside covers, you know where the adverts were? They were all Australian!

GROTH: So they were printed in Australia.

SUTTON: Perhaps the covers may have been and the insides… I don’t know, Gary. And I certainly did not concern myself about it. To me, it was another place where I could do as much stuff as I could possibly accommodate myself to. It could be as zany as you wanted it to be, and nobody was leaning at you.

GROTH: Charlton paid less than everyone else, correct?

SUTTON: I doubt that.

GROTH: I thought they were well known for paying less than anyone else.

SUTTON: They paid little, but there’s sure to be somebody around that’s paying even less.

GROTH: But they paid less than Marvel and DC, right?

SUTTON: Oh yes.

GROTH: If they paid less than Marvel and DC, why would you do work for them if there was work at Marvel and DC to do? Or was there too little work at Marvel and DC to do?

SUTTON: The latter. It’s inconsistent as you probably have run into before. You get tons of stuff and then you get nothing.

GROTH: In order to fill your schedule, you used as many companies as possible.

SUTTON: That, and the kind of material that I could do for them.

GROTH: Which was horror, supernatural stuff.
SUTTON: It was hokey, but it was a fine way to spend an evening.

GROTH: If I may say so, some of this work looks like it was fairly rushed: especially some of the Joe Gill stuff. Would your work vary at Charleton, where you would put a lot of work into some and less work into others depending on how enthusiastic you were about the script?

SUTTON: Well, once again, a lot of those scripts were mine. If I had a new plaything… If I had new markers, it was an ideal place to fuck around with them. That kind of thing would go on. And, I was tired. I think the biggest one was you knew you’d never hear about it. That’s not really correct, but that’s the way it was.

GROTH: It looks like you were doing a little bit of visual experimentation.


GROTH: Or almost practice. Some of these strips look very design-oriented, like you were focusing on design as opposed to drawing and playing with that aspect of it and maybe trying to master it.

SUTTON: And there are photocopies in there, and there are other strange things.

GROTH: One strip you did in black and white, which is very weird because it’s in a color comic. And yet your script is in black and white with tones. Did you see it as just an opportunity to play with your work and experiment? Refine certain approaches?


GROTH: So it was sort of you were getting paid while practicing.

SUTTON: Yeah. But they were getting their money’s worth.

GROTH: Oh yeah. I wouldn’t suggest otherwise.

SUTTON: Something that you wouldn’t find someplace else. I also got my artwork back.

GROTH: You did?


GROTH: How did that come to be?

SUTTON: Nic would go and pick it up. That didn’t happen to anybody. [Wally] Woody had to storm the place to get his artwork back.

GROTH: How do you know this?

SUTTON: Because those people who worked with Woody told me so.

GROTH: How do you mean that he stormed the place?

SUTTON: Woody was a paratrooper in his youthful days.

GROTH: In the war?

SUTTON: Yes. And after he discovered that he wasn’t going to get his artwork back, he got a couple of fellows together and they drove — they didn’t have to drive very far, Woody didn’t live that far from there. You know those things you see in the movies, those grappling hooks? You have to have something to shoot them up with or something, and they grab onto the top of the building. He went right up the side of the goddamn building.

GROTH: Wait a minute! Let me get this straight. He somehow threw a grappling hook onto the roof?


GROTH: And then he climbed up the rope?


GROTH: Damn!

SUTTON: That’s part of what you learn in the 101st Airborne.

GROTH: He and who else? Do you know?

SUTTON: I guess Nic was there. I’m not at liberty to say who else was there. The real trick was getting into the skylight and getting down to where the artwork was. Because you had very little time. To me, that’s entirely correct and entirely justifiable, because one of their favorite tricks was to stand there, the dirty fingernail guys, and to see how many boards they could bend until they tore them in half.

GROTH: You’re talking about original art?

SUTTON: Yes. In other words, they’d destroy it before they’d ever give it back to you. Reason being, you’d sell it to somebody else. How much sense does that make to you?

GROTH: Were they somehow worried about diluting their ownership because of giving it back to you or something? Or was it just sheer perversity?

SUTTON: I don’t know. The only story I ever got out of it when some righteous person said, “My God! What the hell’s the matter with you people? We gotta do this because they’ll sell it to somebody else, and somebody else will use it. Who’s gonna buy it?” Never mind. He got what he wanted.

GROTH: So Wood actually mounted this assault on the Derby, Conn., building and liberated his art?


GROTH: Jesus! You didn’t have to do that, right?

SUTTON: No. Nic picked it up.

GROTH: You seemed sort of unconcerned about the whereabouts of your art with Marvel and DC. Why did you care about your art with Charlton?

SUTTON: I don’t know that I did. I think Nic cared more about it than I did. He’d occasionally come over to the house and he’d have a trunkful of this stuff. God bless him. He’s a beautiful guy. He really is. I was interested in it when I was doing it, because it was curious and it was something that I could fool around with. After years and years and years of doing it their way. You know that line? That line ever bother you, that used to be everywhere. For many, many years as we were growing up. There are some in probably the ’30s and further on, that thick and thin brush line? Haven’t you seen enough of that? Oh, God! I’m so fucking tired of that shit.

You know, we haven’t talked about Star Trek.

GROTH: That’s later.


GROTH: Star Trek, I believe, is in the ’80s. We’re not yet out of the ’70s, Tom. Then, you did some work for Seaboard in ’75. At least, Seaboard might have started in ’75.

SUTTON: What did I do?

GROTH: Boy, I don’t know what you did. I think it was horror stuff. Do you remember Seaboard? Seaboard Atlas?


GROTH: All right. The editor of Seaboard was Jeff Rovin. I believe Martin Goodman and his son Chip Goodman started the company.

SUTTON: Is that the same Martin Goodman who used to own Humorama Magazines?

GROTH: It’s the same Martin Goodman who owned Marvel.

SUTTON: That’s the man.

GROTH: Do you remember working at Seaboard?

SUTTON: No. Just like over the phone. That’s all it would be. It would just be over the phone.

GROTH: You don’t remember how you got in touch with them or they with you, or what it was like? I mean, you probably dealt with Jeff Rovin.

SUTTON: Quite possibly. I don’t remember him either. Again, what are we talking about here? We’re talking about two books. Meanwhile Marvel goes marching on.

I’d like to say also that during all of this time there were a lot of other things that had nothing to do with comics that were going on.

GROTH: In your life.

SUTTON: Yeah. What I’m saying specifically is that I was painting. They were mostly studies of folks having fun in bars, because that’s what I liked. And they sold. No one was more surprised than me.

GROTH: You were painting realistic portraits of proletarian life.

SUTTON: Yeah. But they weren’t that tight. There was a nice sepia feeling to them.

GROTH: You were doing this simultaneous to all of the work that you were doing in comics?


GROTH: Jesus!

SUTTON: That’s the only way I can go. If I had to sit there and draw the same fucking goddamn thing every single day, I’d lose my mind.

GROTH: Well Tom, do you have any reproductions of these things? Photographs?

SUTTON: No. Fortunately, they have all been taken away by people who left money behind. Not a lot of money, Gary. Just enough to make it work.

GROTH: Describe the context you were working in. You would do paintings, and how would you sell these paintings? In galleries?

SUTTON: Yes. That’s right. There were two galleries in Newberryport. Mainly through the place where I taught drawing for a little while — a good experience.

GROTH: Where was that?

SUTTON: Same place. Upstairs.

GROTH: Upstairs?

SUTTON: The Newberryport Art Association. Where the privateers come to meet.

GROTH: You were painting because you felt an inner need to paint. It strikes me that you really genuinely love drawing. And yet, you were just picking up assignments wherever you could, written usually by others, only occasionally by you. Had you ever considered striking out on your own and doing material that you would have a greater investment in personally? Where you weren’t working…

SUTTON: I don’t think I understand.

GROTH: Material where you weren’t working for a corporation and the bureaucracy of a corporation who were dictating what you could be working on and the kind of material you were working on. Essentially doing the comics equivalent of your paintings, doing precisely what you wanted to do in comics as opposed to doing a Joe Gill script.

SUTTON: I probably thought of it, but it went out of my head as soon as I did. There was always so much stuff going on.

GROTH: Because, you know, there were underground avenues of publication.

SUTTON: Beer and girls, and… It all got so confusing. Of course, that’s an excuse. There are things that you do… No. No. I don’t paint any more, for the very simple reason I don’t paint any more.

GROTH: Why is that?

SUTTON: The only place I can live has got these goddamn wall-to-wall carpets. You can’t paint with wall-to-wall carpets. You wind up buying the guy a new wall-to-wall carpet.

GROTH: Tom, if you were that compelled to paint, wouldn’t you just put something down on the carpet and do it?

SUTTON: Yes. You would. Yes, I guess you would.

GROTH: So there’s got to be something else involved than just wanting to preserve the wall-to-wall carpeting.

SUTTON: Maybe it’s the same feeling I have about comics. Yeah, it all happens out there someplace sometime. It doesn’t matter. It sincerely doesn’t matter. I can still think about them. I can still look at one. The only ones that I have in this house are the ones that Eros sends to me.

GROTH: That’s kind of scary.

SUTTON: Yes. I think so, too. It comes in the box. You have to accept the box. I threw away probably a collection of stuff that there are certain mad men that we both know would pay fortunes for. The reason that I threw them away they would never understand. They have no meaning to me any more. They were useful at the time, and they’re gone now.

GROTH: Why do they no longer have any meaning?

SUTTON: Oh Gary. They represent a time when there was so much chaos in my life.

GROTH: In your life. Yes.

SUTTON: Yep. I pick up one of these things, and I start over. Even talking about this is sometimes painful. Well, not painful, but it’s a bummer. It was a desperate trip.

GROTH: And your love for the work, your passion for the work can’t supersede the pain of the memory?

SUTTON: No. No. And because, as we come through these things and finalize it, what did these people really do for me? All right. They gave me a workplace. They gave me a place to sell these things for nickel and dimes. But every single one of these fuckers was out to screw you.

GROTH: At this juncture, let me ask you this. You seemed not only willing but anxious to work for virtually everybody. Was that a calculated strategy to not put all of your eggs in one basket and to be known for a willingness to work for more than one company?

SUTTON: Oh, yes. I did not want to become like some people, who personally I liked, but I felt that they had sold themselves into servitude to one or the other of them. I also liked the idea that some were much easier to get along with than others.

GROTH: Who was easier to get along with?

SUTTON: Some companies were much easier. In other words, Marvel was much easier to get along with than DC was. Charlton was easier than anybody was. Damn well should have been.

GROTH: I’d like to ask you a little bit about that. Such as, what do you mean by easier? How were they easier? How were other companies more difficult? How was Marvel easier than DC?

SUTTON: I probably knew more people there, for one thing, even though I stopped going to town at all.

GROTH: By more people you mean employees who worked in the office?

SUTTON: Yeah. So called editors, many of whom were no more than page counters. It was not necessarily their fault, either. DC had that policy going where these men — not just men — these people could not approve or disapprove. That’s not exactly my estimation of an editor. They would say, I’ll call you back in a half an hour. That meant they would go and see Joe or somebody.

GROTH: Joe Orlando.

SUTTON: Yeah. Somebody who actually had authority. Sounded like the Pentagon after a while. No one wanted to take authority for anything, God help them. And I was told outright one time, You will never, ever do a superhero at DC ever.

GROTH: What context would that have been told to you in?

SUTTON: It was in a conversation that I had. I remember part of it, actually. It seems that during the inking of many of these things. I had inked many of the superheroes that they had. I always managed to change things. They were crazy about this. You can’t change that! I’m not talking about a major change, like changing the bat into a banshee or something.

GROTH: What kind of changes are you talking about?

SUTTON: Oh, background changes and moods in the panels. Something to keep your head interested at 3 o’clock in the morning.

GROTH: But not something that would obstruct the story or change the…

SUTTON: No. I knew better than that. Plus the fact that really, if you have to go looking that far to get interested in something you shouldn’t be doing it. There were men that were much happier doing it, like [Mike] Zeck for instance.

GROTH: What was your attitude at the time? We’re talking about, I suppose, the mid-to-late ’70s at this point, maybe going into the ’80s, and you’ve been working in comics since ’67. Cartooning was a real love and a passion for you. Was there a sense here that you came to understand the realities of the business…


GROTH: …and you had to segregate the types of work you did between pure assignments that you applied your craft to versus stuff that you were really interested in?

SUTTON: Yeah. There was all of that. Yes. All of that. Plus, we were not exactly running in the black in those days.

GROTH: “We” being you and your wife?

SUTTON: Yes. And Charlotte was doing the best that she could. She had a little Montessori school for little people. Do you know about that?

GROTH: Sure. My son went to a Montessori preschool.

SUTTON: We had this goddamn huge Victorian house, which you couldn’t heat. The bottom floor was the Montessori school, which the building inspector said had to have 1900 sprinklers. There was a middle floor, which was essentially a large apartment that we all lived in. And there was a top floor, an attic, which had been refurbished as my studio. And you were carrying this whole thing.

GROTH: Where was this, Tom?

SUTTON: This was in Newberryport, Mass.

GROTH: Did you own this house?

SUTTON: Yeah. Well, me and the bank.

GROTH: Mostly the bank, I assume. And you were married. Did you have any children with her?


GROTH: So "we" was you and your wife.

SUTTON: This time, despite all of the shit, it was…

GROTH: Now this was your second wife?

SUTTON: No. This was my third wife. My third wife.

GROTH: We sort of glossed over your second wife, but I guess that’s OK.

SUTTON: Donna was the second wife. Beverly was the first wife. We digress here, I think.

GROTH: Charlotte was the third. We’ll see if there’s a fourth later.

SUTTON: No. There will not be. No — and not because they were not all lovely ladies. They were. It was me mostly.

GROTH: So you were having a tough time just maintaining your overhead.

SUTTON: Yeah. These things would come in from DC. Sometimes there would be a note in the big envelope along with the penciled things. They would say, “Give me a call about this when you get it.” There would be no preamble to this, no preface to it. You’d look at this thing and you’d say, Uh-huh.

GROTH: Well, your job was to lay down ink.

SUTTON: That’s right. That’s right and I was quite frustrated. And it didn’t help when I showed up on the front page of the daily newspaper, the Newberryport News, local artsy fartsy in town. I was so embarrassed about it, because I hated the whole thing.

GROTH: That didn’t help? What do you mean?

SUTTON: It didn’t help my attitude. They presented it as, “Gad, what a novelty! Really!”

GROTH: They didn’t buoy your spirits?

SUTTON: They got half of it wrong, of course. They had me inventing Spider-Man or something. Heaven knows what small-time paper people will do. And when it’s in print, it’s all over with. It’s history. I don’t care. Mr. Ditko doesn’t care, I don’t care. I most sincerely believe Mr. Ditko didn’t really care about Sutton’s confrontation. There were all of these little half-assed jobs that would come along, and they’d come along after Star Trek, too. Talk about Star Trek? I do.