Neal Adams interview from Word Balloons #1 (Fantagraphics March 1974)
MARTIN PASKO: How do you conceive of Neal Adams the comic book artist; what’s your self-image? Do you see yourself as artist or craftsman; illustrator or storyteller; what?
Neal Adams: I see myself as a craftsman; I see myself as a storyteller —
Craftsman as opposed to an artist?
Well, I don’t know what an artist is. I never thought of myself as an artist, because nothing ever came easy. I’d always kind of assumed that artists were people that God came down with the magic wand and went ‘plunk!’ and said, “You’re an artist,” and they got up from their crib and drew a picture of whatever, and I was never able to do that. Everything I did came hard, it was never easy, and it took time, and it took study, and it took thinking about it and worrying about it, and it came to me as a craft. Now I know some people who, it seems to me, that the stuff that they do is, as a result of some kind of ‘plunking’ of God, or whatever magic thing that happens, and they seem to be able to do these magic things with their hands, and they don’t seem to think a whole lot about it. As a matter of fact, some people seem very brainless about the things that they do, and I just don't understand that, and I don’t think of myself as that type of person.
Because the comic book is such a visual medium, one would think that anyone capable of drawing pictures in a series would be capable of telling a story. Yet we hear professionals talking about artists who draw well but “aren’t good storytellers.” How is that possible?
Well, there are priorities in your mind, as an artist. If your priorities to tell a story, then you will give up other things in order to do that. You can’t learn everything. Learning to tell a story is like learning to draw anatomy, or learning to draw perspective. If you learn to draw anatomy, you may become so enamored of the anatomy that you don’t put the anatomy to work with you in telling a story, even though that’s your job. You’re so involved in drawing the figure so perfectly that you make the pose the thing, and whether or not the pose fits whatever the character’s supposed to be doing really doesn’t matter because you just dig the pose so much. Apparently, comic book storytelling has to do with some kind of a balance. Now, different people think the balance is in different areas, and that’s why different people work differently. I don’t know exactly where Kirby’s attitude is, for example, toward the balance, but it is, I would think, probably deeper into storytelling than mine is, since I admire Kirby so much for that storytelling aspect. His anatomy is atrocious, but, by the same token, his anatomy is right.
He gets the feeling of figures in the positions they’re in without actually drawing them there. He puts ’em in a position, and the position looks right, if it’s a running pose, a jumping pose, it looks right; the guy would be like that. Another guy who may know anatomy perfectly might not get the pose right. Kirby has learned just enough about anatomy to tell the story well. Gil Kane, for example, approaches it from a different direction. He has concentrated on anatomy, and he has let go of those qualities that add dimension to things to a great degree, and, more often than not. he needs an inker who knows something about dimension and what is the shadow side and what is the light side, to add some dimension to his material; very often it’s very flat.
You think, then, that Gil Kane is dimensionless?
No. I don’t necessarily think that, because he forces dimension into it. and his own inking style is so charming and so interesting to me personally that I forgive him everything. [Laughter.]
You said something interesting there —
I said about five interesting things there —
Okay five interesting things, but I’m focusing on one particular thing —
You said he learned “just enough about anatomy to help him tell the story well.’’ I don’t think that’s getting at the point of the question. There are other things to take into consideration, I could imagine, when telling a story than simply drawing pictures in a series, and what these are is what I wanted to get at —
Except that when I spoke about anatomy I spoke about one of those aspects that are very deeply involved in comic books today. We’re doing superheroes today, we’re not doing bedroom soap-operas. So that anatomy in storytelling is very important, but it’s again, one aspect, and it’s one aspect I personally choose to focus on. Another aspect may be his ability to keep a story moving towards something. Very often an artist will just draw pictures and assume he’s telling a story rather than draw pictures in sequence or draw pictures that will move; will build. My attitude is that I like to get a feeling through a story that I do. If it’s a short story, I like to have one climax, ‘cause there’s not enough room for more. But if I have a longer story, what I tend to do is build toward a climax, and then let it down, build toward a climax again and let it down, and then I build for the super climax, and that’s the end of the story, and I try to end on that note, maybe one extra page of explanation or something like that. But each guy has his own feeling for that type of thing.
Now, I do it on a conscious level; I don’t know how many other people do it on a conscious level. Steve Ditko, I think, is an instinctive storyteller. I don’t even know if he knows why his stuff is so interesting; so easy to follow. It bounces along from panel to panel; your eye can’t help but go, follow it right through the panels. You almost have to turn the page fast to get to the first panel on the next page to follow that figure going this way and that. Whether one guy is better at it than another guy is really not the point; whether a guy is able to compensate for whatever faults he has in one area with other things in another area that would make up for it is really the problem. There are some guys who have faults in just so many areas that you don’t care about their work. Guys who will draw even better than Ditko, but not have Ditko’s flair for storytelling, and that stuff just won’t count for anything.
Naturally, being an artist, you deal with the question of storytelling in visual terms. How much of the storytelling in comics is done by the writer, in the script, and how much by the artist?
I don’t think it’s a matter of percentage as much as it is a matter of quality consideration, I think that a good artist can make a bad script good (but he can’t make it read good), he can make it look good and he can make it seem good. For example, Joe Kubert can make almost anybody’s script look great, and he’s had some terrible scripts to deal with. Some artists can take the best scripts in the world and turn them into a crock of crap. And they very often do. If you’re going to make any kind of a value judgment, I would say 50-50. I would feel that the script is equally as important as the artwork, but without the art it wouldn’t be a comic book story, therefore the artwork is equally as important as the script.
It’s been said and widely accepted that the comic book is dependent upon visuals in the sense that without them, the form you’re working in is no longer the comic book. To what degree is this true?
Well, it’s true almost exclusively. The thing that you leave out when you do a comic book story is you leave out all the descriptive passages that show a writer’s style. Very rarely are you able to tell a writer’s style by the dialogue that he uses. When you reach a certain level — a certain quality — of writer, they will write the same character the same way, because they understand him very often the same way; the only way you can tell the difference is the leaning on a particular type of character. You say, well, a particular writer likes to write tough guys, so he puts a lot of tough guys in. The other way, the way that you normally tell a writer’s style from another writer’s style is the way he describes things, the way he leads you into a story, the way he takes you out of a scene or puts you into another scene, and that’s almost exclusively out of character in comic books, You just don’t do it. All that’s handled by the artist. I don’t feel that I’m putting a writer down if I don’t recognize his particular story in a comic book, because the stuff that I would recognize it by isn’t present: the descriptive material, and all that’s present is dialogue, so if I mistake a Denny O’Neil story for a Mike Friedrich story if I’m only reading five or six pages, I can’t blame myself, because it’s very conceivable that Mike’s copy and Denny’s copy, within a certain limited range, would read the same. I think that with maybe a 22-page book, you’d be able to tell the difference, but it would take something like that to be able to tell.
Can you conceive of a totally new physical presentation of a story, one that would still allow the story to be readily identifiable to the general public as a comic book per se?
Not a completely new way to do things. I think that within the framework there’s so much variety that to go outside of the framework would mean a whole different type of item, and I can’t conceive of what it would be. I’ve never found anything that was quite as satisfying as words and pictures going together, whether they’re in a moving picture format — movies or television — or in a comic book format, where the picture is still. It seems to me that going outside of that format would mean that you’d have to go into moving pictures, or just no copy, or no pictures. And there already are art forms that deal in those areas.
Define then, the expression “comic book.”
I don’t think there’s a translation of “comic book.” I think that the best description would be “comic format,” and “comic format” would mean telling a story with words and pictures in a continuity, The origin of comic books, or the comic format, is found on cave walls, [A point made by Stephen Becker in Comic Art in America. -Ed.] where the caveman tried, in his limited way without a language, to describe what happened that afternoon; how come they got Buffalo meat on the dinner table instead of pig meat, because they went out and they killed this Buffalo; and they did it in this series of pictures. As far as I’m concerned, [it’s] probably the first and the most original art form that has ever existed outside of man maybe banging on a hollow log.
Well, I can pick up a copy of the old Saturday Evening Post, or even any children’s book or magazine, for that matter, and show you a story told in words and pictures, but it’s not a comic book.
If the story was completely told by that series of pictures and words I would call it a comic book. I would call it a comic format. It could be done in photographs — Harvey Kurtzman has done it with photographs before. If a thing is done so that the words and pictures do the whole job of telling the story, not just give little excerpts; not just pull little incidents out of it; but tell the whole story, then it’s comics format, and validly part of a comic book, and validly part of any potential comic book that somebody might come up with.
What is the greater value of doing something in panels as opposed to spot illos in text fiction?
No, there’s nothing to oppose it. You either do it in a sequence of pictures with words or you’re into another field, you’re into illustration. You do an illustration. For example, if you do a book and there’s an illustration every ten pages, well, you can’t very well say that it’s an illustrated story. Somebody has taken an incident out and illustrated it. It really has no validity as far as helping you read the story; it’s not even within the context of the story. You may read it on one page, and not until the next page do you see the illustration. It’s a whole different thing. The bigger field, to me, is the comic format field. And there are a lot of things that fit within that area. There are very few things that fit within the area of illustration, or painting, or whatever you want to call it. That is a very limited field. It seems to me that painting or illustration or whatever you want to call it, is an offshoot. It’s really taking one element of the comics format, or one element of what those guys did in the caves, and isolating it. The other is writing. Taking the other element, the communication by symbols, and turning them into writing, is taking another element out of that double format and turning it into an isolated thing.
So you have paintings on the one hand and you have written stories on the other hand. It seems to me that the ideal thing is to put ’em together and make a picture thing. Which we have done in the last half-century, and made motion pictures and television of the extension. Comic books are closer to what it originally was; comic book format material.
The comic book cannot do without visuals, but can it do without text? Can you conceive of a story totally without narrative or dialogue still being able to make the kind of statements, for example, that you and Denny O’Neil make in the Green Lantern series?
Yes. OK, how?
Yes. Just do it. It’s not really that difficult. If a person doesn’t speak and experiences something, it’s a story. When he doesn’t speak, there are no words, and if you can describe everything through the action, then you don’t need words to describe it. The essence is not the words you use to tell the story, it’s the story you tell. Words are merely a tool to help you tell the story. You can either do without that particular tool, or do with the particular tool. The object is to tell the story. Words and pictures are not really that imperative. Something that you can look at and understand is important. A circle — an animated circle within a square — can tell a story, but you can do it in a sequence, or you do it motion. If there’s a story to tell, and it doesn’t need anything but the story to tell. And that’s what we do, we tell stories.
I think perhaps the greater context of that question will be a little more evident as we carry this a bit further. What I have here is a copy of a fanzine called Mysterian. This is the first issue. In the Adalia story, the captions could very easily be isolated from the story. You could collect all those captions, type them up and run them in a magazine by themselves and tell a story with one or two pictures from these panels run to illustrate, as you put it, excerpts of the story. What’s the value of this type of approach, where the pictures and their captions can exist independently of each other, rather than work together?
I would say that there is very little value in something like the thing that you’ve shown me, because you’ve done the job twice. If the artwork has done the job, then you don’t need all the words. If the word has done the job, then you don’t need the pictures. What you’re saying is that you have such a stupid audience that they can’t visualize what the words are telling them. Or, you’re saying that you have such an illiterate audience that they don’t have the patience to read a whole page at once, they’d rather read 22 words or so, then look at a picture. Now, I’m not saying that this shouldn’t be done that way because there are a lot of people who don’t like to read, and there are a lot of people who like to look at pictures. I happen to be one who likes to look at pictures myself. I would feel by the end of this particular story as if you were wasting a portion of my time by making me read all these words and doing the same thing in pictures. It would seem to me that you could have used up the time and effort a great deal more usefully. The words really should say a little bit more; maybe what is behind these characters. You described this to me earlier as something that was meant for a twelve-year-old mind and I agree. It seems to me that there are deeper thoughts that you could have —
Perhaps I should have said looked like it was meant for a twelve-year-old mind.
If you want to change it, that’s OK. But I read this as something that is wasting my time. I would rather know the motivating factors behind what’s going on in the pictures. You’ll also find in here that you have put in copy that would normally be in balloons: “She’s escaping me for now, but only for now.” All you’ve done in those cases is removed it from the balloons and put it in the caption and I can’t really see a whole lot of value to that except that the person wouldn’t have to put the lettering in the picture and interrupt the space. And it’s another way of doing it. It just seems to me to be quite the —
It’s a condescending approach –
I say, this approach appears to be somewhat condescending to the audience to which it is aimed —
Yeah, that’s a valid criticism of it. It just seems to me – no, I don’t know about “condescending.” I think it’s an amateurish approach, and I think something of value can come of it, but I don’t think it’s very valuable at this point. I don’t think it tells a good story. But I think it’s a good effort. Any effort in any direction that’s a little bit different will sooner or later result in something that will be worthwhile. I would say to anybody who was doing that to continue doing it, because sooner or later, again, something will come out of it that will be valuable. If you keep on doing what everybody else is doing, you’re just wasting your time anyway because somebody’s already doing it.
You wouldn’t work that way?
I don’t know. I might be able to find something in that type of approach that I would be happy doing. I can see myself going, for example, into the unconscious of a character and doing something that is not quite explained in the pictures, doing that in the caption, to add to what’s going on in the picture. I would be a lot happier with that; a lot more satisfied as a storyteller. I don’t like to tell the story twice; it just bothers me.
In an interview in FANTAZINE conducted with Denny O’Neil last October, he said that the comic book is “restricted by visuals,” especially with regard to depicting intense emotional turmoil, and he cited the “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet as an example. Depicting this is different, if not impossible. To what extent do you find this true?
I think that ultimately it is impossible, but I think ultimately it is impossible under any other conditions. For example, you’ll always find an actor who will do the soliloquy better, and if you have the experience of one actor doing it better, then the expressions that flow across the face of a lesser actor are still dissatisfying. Again, with comic book material,’ if you have a better artist, a person who can interpret the expressions on a face with that much more ability, then he’s gonna put more into it. So, it’s a matter of degrees: you start getting better in certain areas in degrees. You can never become a live performer, but then again, a live performer is not necessarily a great actor, a great actor is not necessarily the greatest actor, and the greatest actor is not necessarily Hamlet. So it’s a matter of degrees. There are limitations in comic books just the same as there are limitations in the theatre; there are limitations in every art form. There are fewer limitations in comics than people imagine; there are greater areas that comics can go into than people imagine. Let me give you an example… There’s a face that I did in the first Green Lantern that I did, of a Black man. No matter what kind of movie you go to, what kind of theatre you go to, you can never turn back the page and look at that face again. Once it’s over, it’s gone. The guy has made that expression. If you got any feeling out of that Black man’s face, you can finish the book, go back to that face and look at it, and sometime, when you’re thinking about it, you can pick up the comic book again, and open to that page and look at it, and get an impact from it. That’s something that can’t be done in movies; something that can’t be done on stage; just a minor indication of the kind of things you can do in comics.
You’ve exploited that ability—to “get impact” from a comic book—to its full potential in your use of close-ups of horrified faces, or surprising close-ups of horrifying faces. I think of the close-ups of the Man-Bat and of the Man-Bat’s bride; Oliver Queen’s face in Green Lantern #85 when the arrow from the crossbow has just pierced his shoulder… there's a trick to laying out a story, conceiving of it as a whole, to bring about that shock effect? Must you conceive of the story as a whole to do it?
I don’t know if you must, I know that I do. I know that I tend to read a story over twice and get a “feel” of the story, and try to understand what I’m driving at in the story. If you pick up any of the stuff that I’ve done, although a lot of the art may look like it’s done by the same guy, each story has a different feeling. You have a different feeling when you put down the book. From the Batman book to a Green Lantern book, there’s a different feeling there. A lot of the faces may be the same, even through the Green Lantern book, [but] you have feeling of, like, when they go into this coal-mining town, you have a feeling of the town, and it’s planned, it’s a conscious effort on my part to give you that feeling. Even in the panels that don’t have any backgrounds, you just follow them, they go into the forrest with the Indians, you get a different feeling from that book. You can remember the book not so much by the pictures, but by the feeling. If I talk about the Indian book [Green Lantern #79: “Ulysses Star is Still Alive”- EDITORS], you have a feeling in your head, it was kind of cool and green, and it was about these Indians that had a little darker faces, and some old ladies, and you just have a feeling.
I don’t necessarily believe that I do faces just so much for shock value, but for emotional impact. And sometimes the emotion can be very subtle, and I’ll try my best to do a subtle face. In the last panel of the next Green Lantern, which is the second drug book, there’s situation going on that I thought originally was very hard to interpret, and, as it turns out, I was correct. Where —
Is this the withdrawal sequence?
No, this has to do with the character Speedy who just completed withdrawal and he faces his guardian [Green Arrow] with ambivalent feelings. He is mad at him for not helping him, he is enraged at society for not helping the drug problem, and always attacking the symptoms. He feels that he has a purpose now in helping some of his friends, but he’s not too happy because he knows that his friends are going to die, even though he’s trying to help them, and he doesn’t think enough of his guardian. Although he appreciates his guardian for what his guardian has done all these years to help him, he doesn’t want to stay with him… And the way we have him go away and the look of Green Arrow’s face where you have a mixture of he’s just been put down (the kid, as a matter of fact, even punched him in the mouth) … He’s been put down, and the kid told him that he’s just like everybody else in society. But he also has this feeling of pride toward this kid who has just grown up in a couple of minutes, and is walking away from him. So he has one of these smiling expressions with the tears coming down the eyes, that he can’t hold back, but he’s got one of these really proud expressions, and we describe the lump in his throat, and I’ve had three people start to cry looking at that panel so far. I don’t know how many are going to cry when they see the thing in the book, but just in the original form, three people have cried. Now, it’s a very subtle expression, and very hard to get and it was gotten, I guess, because it was so clear in my mind I was able to put it down, and the the thing worked out that way. But that another example of not necessarily using it to shock you, but there was some kind of emotion that I want to turn on, and in spite of the fact that people think they have control of themselves, when you’re reading a comic book, or involved in a piece of art, I can control you like I’m pressing buttons, and you will do exactly as I say, and there’s nothing you can do about it except put down the comic book, and walk away from it, and that option is always there. But if I know what I’m doing, and I do often enough to make me at least partially successful, I can do that to you. I can make you feel unhappy or get mad at somebody or cry almost, almost to that point.
After O’Neil cited the Hamlet soliloquy example in that interview, FANTAZINE suggested that such a conflict could be effected in terms of montage- techniques. John Benson has cited, in ALTER EGO #10’s interview with Gil Kane, Russian filmmaker Nikolai Pudovkin’s technique of taking an expressionless face and giving it expression by superimposing scenes of suffering and torture, for example. Benson seems to think this can be done effectively in comic books —
Well, I don’t know about that particular technique, but I would be willing to bet that I could get more out of a scene than a bad actor could. I don’t know if I could get more out of it than a good actor, but if I were given that particular soliloquy, and I did it for two pages and I balanced the page, I think I could get quite a bit out of it, if I set it up right. I’d have to set it up right, but it could be done. I do things for advertising agencies, things that are called storyboards, which are layouts for thirty-second and one-minute commercials, in which I have to take just a face and run it through a series of expression changes, because this particular commercial might just have to do with a guy holding up a toothbrush or something, and they lately (it’s not lately any more, it’s been going on for years), they don’t use pretty models any more, they use what they call “ugly models” and people who have those kinds of expressive faces that move around and do things. I’ve been able to do storyboards where I’ve done 50 frames of just one face and I’ve moved his expression all over the place, so that it’s never the same in two panels. So I’ve had a lot of experience with this stuff.
Even though the comic is a visual medium, because the pictures are static, it can’t do without writing. This is why it is so difficult for me to conceive of comics making effective statements without writing –
Except there are some panels that aren’t without movement. When you see a fight scene, or an animated action scene, you don’t miss comic, because you’re following that figure across the panel. Now that’s a limited form of action within the panel –
Because it doesn’t move in the sense that a movie “moves”…
That’s right, but it does “move,” in other words, you will follow it with your eye. There’s another thing; there’s another type of movement that you don’t notice, that you’re not aware of, but if you place balloons and figures in angles in backgrounds in the right positions, you can take he reader through a page and into a next page, and have his eye constantly moving over that page, and it’s an action that he is doing. He doesn’t understand it; he doesn’t understand why, for example, a page flows so freely, or why there are times when I can do a sixteen-page story and it will be like reading three pages; you just go through it so fast, when you get it to the end you say, “Wait!” You know, “I know there was a story there, I remember all the stuff,” but I’ve taken you and I’ve just zipped you right through the thing, you know and you’re like helpless, you’re just blown along with it. and you’ll see figures bouncing around and doing this and running upstairs and swinging and then falling and doing that –
I think the reader is aware of it; not so much when it’s happening as when it’s NOT happening.
Yeah, maybe. And you can stop something, you can stop it by just having figures stand there and talk to one another. You have to do it carefully, so people don’t get bored, but you want them to read. You’ve done all this zippy, entertaining stuff, so that they want to rest. They stop and they rest. In the middle of that Green Lantern story [GL #85: “Snowbirds Can’t Fly” -Ed.], I wanted people to read the copy that went on when Green Lantern and Green Arrow went into that apartment with the two boys. Now. you read that because your eye had been zipping around quite a bit before that, and now you’re in this apartment, there’s not a lot of bright colors, and everybody’s just kind of standing there. You notice the two rhinoceroses sitting there, a little bit of entertainment, you know, you get thrown off for a minute, then you continue reading the copy, and then things start flying all over the place again. Now I stopped you and I’ve made you read that copy, in spite of the fact that if there were too many pages to that, you wouldn’t’ve read it, you’d have stopped and said, “I don’t wanna read all this crap.” and you go on to the zip-zip stuff, but you’ve read it, there’s nothing you can do about it.
But the two rhinoceroses wouldn’t have made any sense unless you read the copy about the weapons the Chinese boy’s father collected . . .
You can read into those rhinoceroses, but those rhinoceroses were a very “in” gag, and I’m always ashamed to do an “in” gag, but it was just too much fun to resist. Denny wrote a panel in which he said, “In this panel, I want to see Green Lantern talking to the Oriental boy and the Black boy, and Green Arrow is standing off to the side with Speedy,” and he says, “and while you’re at it, throw in a couple of rhinoceroses.” So I did!
DICK GIORDANO [breaking in]: Denny does things like that ...
Isn’t it really not the illustrator who’s giving dimension to the story, but very often the writer who’s giving further dimension to the art? A good argument for this is “A Vow from the Grave” in Detective #410, particularly in that one panel in which Batman is shown tackling Kano Wiggins, and the caption reads “– and within a minute, the big man sighs, collapsing like a punctured balloon…” [page 4, panel 3]
I’ll tell you something about that; I found it very interesting in that I got a lot of reaction on that particular thing. I needed on that particular page a lot of room, because on the pages preceding it I didn’t want to have much going on; the pages following it there were more and more panels, 6 panels a page and 5 panels a page. I decided at that point that since Denny had written such a good piece of copy that I would be able to do a panel that really wouldn’t have much in it, merely an action, just like something like that [indicates object falling over], just something like a matchstick falling, and that the copy was so powerful that I didn’t need to do one of these – like I could have taken a page and done one of these Gil Kane things where everything goes CRAASH! and you get those splashes of water and stuff, but it would’ve taken away from that copy that was so good. So if you look at the rest of the page where the copy wasn’t as powerful, the pictures were more than powerful. He jumps on his back; you see the panel just before that?; He’s on his back, he’s wrapped around the guy’s neck, no copy in there that really mattered. And then, when they fall, it’s just copy that tells the story. Now, I did that because I needed the space, and I did it because I didn’t want to overcome that copy because the copy was so good. So what it did was he gave me a breathing space by writing a beautiful piece of copy. Now, any other writer – a lot of other writers – would have written copy so badly. If, for example it were [BH, he] wouldn’t have given me a good piece of copy there, and I would’ve had to swipe space from another panel, and the other panels would’ve been lousy, But I was able to take that much room because Denny wrote a good piece of copy, and I’m thankful to him for it. And he does that enough times so that I don’t have to overcompensate for the writer’s difficulty.
He’s probably the only writer aware of the need, sometimes, for imagery to augment –
Well, you see, the reason that we do have descriptive phrases in comic books despite the fact that we have balloons and we have pictures is to add an element that you can’t put in. Now, it may just be possible that if I had 100 pages to do every story, that I could put in all the things that Denny talks about; I could do a guy “toppling like an oak’’ across a double-page spread in a series of animated pictures. But I just don’t have the time, and nobody’s gonna give me all those pages, and I’m not gonna do ’em! So the things that Denny does, and the things that a good writer does, is compensate for those areas that you just can’t do —
“Visual shorthand,” as Denny put it —
Yeah, OK, good phrase.
Do you find Marvel’s system — I saw one X-Men you and Denny did together — do you find the system where you draw the panels from a plot, with the captions and dialogue added later, more conducing to producing the effect of copy enhancing illustration?
No, but what I do find is that, again, with an individual who knows how to write very well, that I can do a small panel, for example, and write a little note that says, “You gotta write good copy for this panel or else I’m dead” and he’ll write it. Now the guy I’m talking about is Roy Thomas. Roy Thomas has never failed to come through for me when it comes to something like that. When I have needed something in the writing, he’s not only been aware of it by my notes, but by his own artistic ability, and he’s been able to put it in. I’ve had occasion to work with Stan Lee, for example, and although Stan does an interesting and competent job, he doesn’t put in those little things that I think a story needs to boost it up to where it should be. There were two Thor books that were mildly interesting books, but there were opportunities for subtlety that you’ll never know that were in there, I had a whole – did you read those Thor books?
That was one case where I took one look at a book and said “Forget it”; I thought, and I still think, that anyone who came up with the brilliant idea of putting Joe Sinnott on your pencils should’ve been drawn and quartered!
Yeah? Well, I did a thing in there where Volstag had been taken – all of Thor’s friends were in Hades or in whatsisname’s world, and Volstag was zapped by – remember the name of the character that wasn’t – what was the name of the devil character? Mephisto! – Mephisto zaps Volstag right at the beginning, and then he does this puppet thing with the other characters, and finally after he’s been defeated, he brings Volstag back. Now I put an expression on Volstag’s face before, with the full intent that was to happen was that something happened to him when he had disappeared, that Mephisto sent him someplace which during the span of time that he disappeared and reappeared, something really important happened in his life, with his eternal life, so that when he came back he was a changed person. So that at some future point, they would be able to do a story in which Volstag experienced this. Well, Stan just wrote over it, as if it didn’t exist! He just wrote, “I’m back again and I’ll kill anybody that stands in my way!” Just fantastic! Just –
He did a thing at the end of the story in which, first of all, six or seven pages before the story was over, Odin sitting on his regal throne and says, “Don’t worry, Thor will take care of everything, solve the whole problem.” Which ended the story right there, as far as the reader was concerned, because he knew that by the time he finished that book, Thor would’ve taken care of everything. So forgetting that he did that, you know, I figured, well, he hasn’t given away the way he’s gonna take care of it, right? So I had this whole battle between Loki and Thor, who were in each others’ bodies, and the thing that Thor has to do is to get Loki, who is in his body, to throw the hammer at him, and to lose the hammer, to switch back to Don Blake, and then the bodies would switch, okay? Now I had it set up so that you wouldn’t know what he was doing; he’s attacking Thor, or Loki in his body, constantly, to make him throw that hammer, and then, at the last moment, he throws it and all of a sudden, there’s this change, y’know, and he’s had this planned all along. The first time they’re confronting each other, Stan writes in a balloon that says, “I’ve got to make him throw that hammer!” And that’s like four pages before the end of the story! Well, everybody – he gets him to throw the hammer, right? The hammer imbeds itself in the wall, and that’s it! He wins the fight! He gave away the whole ending of the story; I might as well have not drawn the last seven pages!
If I were a professional writer, I couldn’t conceive of working in that framework, because I would think a comics story should be conceived of as a whole, and I can see where that system allows for that.
Well, it is conceived of as a whole. I conceive of it as a whole, and I give them an indication of what it’s to be. If you – you ought to take the time out to read those X-Men stories; we did things in those X-Men stories that you wouldn’t believe. We set clues for things, solutions of plots, that came six issues later. The plots were tight as hell, the ones we’re doing now in the Avengers, the plots are really tight. And we’re doing these long-range stories. Roy’s and my mind may not work exactly the same, but we’re sympathetic up to a certain degree, about how a story should be put together.
Would you prefer to write your own scripts?
In the best of all possible worlds, I would prefer to do everything myself.
You would prefer to edit, write, pencil, ink–?
Yeah. Everything. If I could get a thousand dollars a page, you know, that would be fine, I would be glad to do that. Well, the way it is, it’s worked out very well, for example, at National I get Denny O’Neil, at Marvel I get Roy Thomas. You can’t ask for better writers. At National I get Dick Giordano to ink, at Marvel I get Tom Palmer, and you can’t ask for better inkers. And that’s pretty close to being perfect.
And you color your own stuff –
And I get to color my own stuff.
I’ve read that you prefer to color your own stuff because you don’t want “to lose the storytelling.” What has coloring to do with storytelling?
I don’t see a panel in black and white, I see it in color. It’s going to appear in color, I don’t like the idea of somebody else’s mind telling me how my story’s gonna go. If I think it’s nighttime, or I think something is in shadow, that’s the way it should be. Now, people may disagree with me, but I don’t give a crap whether they disagree with me or not. If they want to use me, they want me to do their stuff, and I feel that part of my job is to do that, they can either take it or leave it, I don’t make any bones about it if that’s the way I happen to like to do it. New, I’ve had to fight for that, many times, and as a matter of fact, I’m still fighting to some degree over at Marvel. I don’t really understand their attitude; there seems to be a certain amount of hostility toward me coloring my own stuff, but it really doesn’t mean a whole lot to me.
You mentioned “doing everything”. How do you feel about the results of people doing everything, like Jack Kirby or Mike Sekowsky?
I don’t know that Mike Sekowsky’s ever done everything. He edited his own stuff, and wrote it…
Well, he didn’t ink it and he didn’t color it.
Yeah, he didn’t ink it he didn’t color it. He’s had trouble on deadlines, I think some of the work might have shown that; I liked a lot of what he did; I approved of a lot of what he did. I felt that after the fourth or fifth issue the coloring went down and hurt his work quite a bit. Up to that point, the coloring had been done by Jack Adler, with a little assist from myself. And Mike… well, it was allowed that other people would color it and it really didn’t come out quite as good, and certain areas – I think it’s up to the individual. When you’re talking about being in a position to control everything that you do, certain people do it well, and certain people don’t. Certain people do it well under certain regimes, and certain people don’t. I think Mike Sekowsky should have been given a greater opportunity to do what he thinks was right under different conditions. I don’t think the conditions were conducive to him doing the things that he wanted to do. I think that which you would really do a good job, and the fact is that he did do a good job, for several issues. Even the late books I found quite entertaining to one degree or another, not as entertaining as the earlier ones, but again, he was editing and writing the earlier ones, too, except for the Denny O’Neil issues, naturally.
In an interview FANTAZINE conducted with Dick Giordano, he started that often someone involved in total creation can’t see small, obvious errors in continuity, structure, etc., because he’s so caught up in that creation. He cited the incident with the next Man-Bat story, where Man-Bat is supposed to pick up someone with his hands while in flight, but that’s impossible because his hands are attached to his wings. Do you foresee a likelihood of something like that happening often to you if you “did everything?” What happens when there’s no editor with a distance on your material?
I’d be less likely to get involved in that problem, but the fact is, that the guy who saw the Man-Bat swooping down and picking somebody with his arms actually did finish the job that way. And within his style it really didn’t look that bad. So, I must only assume, for example, my rendition of it is so realistic that I couldn’t conceive of it happening that way. Another person would conceive of it happening that way. I would naturally not make what I would call that kind of mistake when I wrote the story, if I wrote the story, because I would immediately see that it was wrong. But within his style and his framework, the writer didn’t find it wrong, and when he drew the story, he didn’t find it that wrong. So, everybody has their own individual way of doing things. My attitude with writers generally is that if we can agree 80 per cent of the time, that’s a pretty good average, and if the writer is good enough to satisfy me 80 per cent of the time then I want him working with me. Nobody can be a 100 per cent.