This interview ran in The Comics Journal #72 (May 1982)
Neal Adams cannot be faulted for timidity. Adams’s influence on mainstream comics artists is still being felt, but aside from his public crusades — the Siegel and Shuster affair, the Comics Guild — little is known of his opinions, or even that he has opinions on practically everything, ranging from comic book artists like Don Perlin, Don Heck, and Dick Ayers) to world economy. (I predict his disquisition on why people don’t kill other people will become a classic.) At one point in the interview, Neal told me that taking people aback was standard practice for him. It must be. I was certainly taken aback a good many times in the course of the interview (his analysis of Hamlet springs immediately to mind), and looking over this interview, readers may be curious as to why I wasn’t more aggressive in nailing down Neal’s more outré ideas. The answer, in part, is that Adams is personally disarmingly reasonable-sounding, has a gracious and unflappable demeanor, and is not without considerable charm. But if the purpose of an interview is to reveal that part of an artist that his work does not or cannot reveal, this interview is a resounding success. Here is Neal Adams at his outspoken best, saying things I never thought I’d hear said, and seeing things in a way I never quite imagined possible. My thanks to Neal for our cover this issue and for his help and cooperation in assembling the visual material illustrating the interview. — Gary Groth
This interview was conducted on two separate occasions in Adams’s studio, Continuity Associates, in November 1981 and March 1982. It was transcribed by Gary Groth, copy-edited by Neal Adams, and edited by Dwight R. Decker.
GARY GROTH: Let’s start off by talking about what you’re doing in comics now, which is your series for Pacific Comics.
NEAL ADAMS: All right. I’m doing a feature called Ms. Mystic for Pacific that I was originally going to do with Michael Nasser. Mike thought it would be a good idea to do a female character, and I came up with all the concepts behind Ms. Mystic. We decided to do it together, but Mike has since deserted various forms of civilization in favor of living a very, very different life from what most of us live. So, until and unless he comes back and wants to join in, I’m doing Ms. Mystic for Pacific Comics on my own. It’ll be 12 bi-monthly issues. That’s about it. It’s a good character, an interesting character. It’s one of the five characters I created for a portfolio for Sal Quartuccio.
Had you drawn a Ms. Mystic strip prior to this?
No. Mike and I had worked on a strip for a while but it was put aside in favor of going our separate ways and doing other stuff. I finished it and it will be the first issue. Then I’ll be continuing to do stories for future issues.
Why did you go to Pacific instead of publishing it through Continuity?
I didn’t go to Pacific. Pacific came to me. The reason I agreed to do it with Pacific is that first of all, I don’t intend to be a comic book publisher. I intend to be a comic book — with the accent on book — publisher in that Continuity will do the graphic novels. Pacific Comics is interested in doing comic books, a field I still wish to be involved in. The reason I went with Pacific is because Pacific was willing to allow me to keep my character, not interfere with any other rights that I would have in the character, not give me a work-made-for-hire agreement and pay me a reasonable though not exorbitant amount of money for the right to publish it as a comic book. I felt it was a fair deal. In return, my job is to give them a comic book that will sell well and make money for them. It seemed incredibly fair compared to the deals that Marvel and DC offer.
Are you writing the strip as well as drawing it?
Can you give me a little information as to what it’s about? Is it a superhero strip?
Ms Mystic is a superhero and her powers are the powers of the Earth and sky. She is or at least seems to be a witch. In her earlier incarnation, she was a witch and she was burned at the stake. And although she was burned at the stake, she survived by casting herself into another reality. However, she was trapped there. She could not leave that reality because she had used all her energy to get there and didn’t have the fare home. And not until today, when a group of people who work for a governmental agency that polices abuses in the ecology get together and do a “thing,” is she brought out of that reality. She sees that their fight for ecology is a valid fight. Now that she’s free from being burned at the stake for being a witch, she is able to make a contribution, which is based on her power and ability to draw elements from the Earth, the sky, the air, and the water to help her in her battle. She fights for Earth. She is a sort of very beautiful Mother Nature. That’s probably the best way to describe her.
An ecological superheroine.
An ecological superheroine. I think there are more problems on Earth than bank robbers, and if you want to deal with an Earth that bears some semblance to reality, you must recognize the problems of today. One of the problems is that we’re screwing up our planet. This is a character who, in an exaggerated form, fights for the Earth.
Will this ecology-consciousness run throughout the course of the strip?
Oh, yeah. That’s her purpose, that’s what she does. She doesn’t stop bank robbers, she stops people from polluting the air.
I understand you’re also involved, through Continuity, in publishing books by Wrightson, Michael Golden, Ed Davis, and yourself.. Could you talk about them?
We’re involved in a lot of books. The first is a Dracula-Werewolf-Frankenstein book I’ve done. It’s now complete and in the process of being colored. That book has been sold to Spain, where we will get our first color plates, and we’ll sell it to as many places in the world as we can. Another book that I had commissioned is a book called Freakshow. It was drawn by Berni Wrightson and written by Bruce Jones. Freakshow has been sold in Spain, and the color separations will be brought back to the United States and used in Heavy Metal. There’s also a book called Bucky O’Hare that’s written by Larry Hama, drawn by Michael Golden. Unfortunately, it’s not complete yet. It’s been held up because Michael had to move to Florida. There’ve been more delays than I would’ve hoped for in this book, but it’s so good that it’s worth waiting for. The book will appear eventually. Since its completion date is not yet known, it’s difficult to plan for it. However, the Belgian magazine Spirou has asked to run it. That may be the first publication.
Then there’s Cody Starbuck, which I commissioned Howie Chaykin to do. I’ve also purchased the rights to all the other Cody Starbuck stories, and they will start running in Spain and hopefully around the world. The first novel was printed in Heavy Metal and again will go to Spain with the other stories I purchased from Mike Friedrich. The whole idea is to consolidate all the Cody Starbuck rights so that we don’t find Cody Starbuck appearing drawn by someone else. It’s always been Howie Chaykin and it always will be Howie Chaykin drawing Cody Starbuck. If there’s ever the possibility of it growing into a greater property, it’s all consolidated and all under one head. Howard’s stuff is getting better all the time; he’s doing a wonderful job on Cody.
We also have Riders To Galaxy’s End, which is being drawn by Ed Davis. Ed’s not too well known in comics, but he’s a brilliant artist. He’s done some comic book stories, though not many. He’s slipped by most people. Ed has stopped working on the strip and may not have an opportunity to finish it because he’s doing something for Uncle Sam in South America. I don’t know exactly what it is, but he’s been forced to leave for about six months. He’s about half into that now, so he’ll either be back in three months or will not be back and we may never get to see it. Or it may have to be finished by somebody else. But like all the other projects, which are so ambitious that they’re really worth raking the time to create them correctly, it’ll be done eventually. Whether it will be finished by Ed or not, I don’t really know.
Finally, there’s a very strange strip called Tippy-Toe Jones, which was written by Lynley Farley, whom no one knows, and drawn by Lewis Michell, whom very few people know — he used to be Howie Chaykin’s assistant and he has a unique style. It’s very interesting, very different, and very strange. I’m rendering (inking) that story. It’s very hard to describe Tippy-Toe Jones. It’s a strange kind of book. It will stand on its own and people will either love it or hate it. It’s that kind of a thing. When I first read the story, I didn’t understand it. When I don’t understand something and it seems to be fairly well-done, I assume that that’s a mark of quality. So, I decided to go ahead with that project. I really don’t know what’s going to happen to it.
If you don’t understand it, how do you gauge if it’s well-done?
Well, you can cell whether or not it’s written well, and whether or not the person has a grasp of what he’s trying to do. Sometimes you can listen to a person’s conversation and realize they’re obviously in left field; they talk like they know what they’re talking about but they really don’t. I’ve also been around a lot of talented and creative people and there are many, many earmarks beyond what I just mentioned that show a person’s quality. Lynley, the writer, is a strange character. But in his own way, he’s very creative. And it’s hard to understand that kind of magic when it comes out of somebody, but when it’s there it really becomes obvious. It certainly becomes obvious to me. On the other hand, I have sometimes missed recognizing that magic, which makes me fallible, and this is no surprise to anyone. But I think of myself as a normal person, and if something tickles my funny bone, I figure it’s going to tickle somebody else’s funny bone.
You said all of these books are ambitious. Ambitious in what way?
Well, they’re ambitious in that they’re longer than most American comic book stories, so the artist has to have much more patience to do them. When you get into the habit of drawing 17 or 23-page stories, it becomes hard to draw 46-page stories. It also is a little more difficult to put more into each page, which is what the European standard demands. It’s tedious because each page has to be of a certain quality. It can’t go below that quality, and it has to be of that quality from the writing to the art to the color. Now, when I say, “to the color,” that leaves out an awful lot of American artists because most or them don’t concern themselves with color. When they do, they very often fail in their attempts to create a finished package. I think there are some American artists who have tried to do finished packages and have fallen short either because of an incompatibility of color art or the fact that it was done sloppily. An example of this is that thing that John Buscema recently did.
Which was colored and drawn very well, but somehow the combination of elements didn’t come together properly and people got tired of it very quickly. The thing is, when you’re dealing with that number of quality standards — writing, art, coloring, consistency — it becomes difficult to create a whole package. It’s tedious, it becomes more or a job, and it can very easily go wrong. So, it’s a harder thing. It’s harder because we’re not used to it.
You once said something to the effect that you at least think of color as an integral part of storytelling. And, of course, you like to have control over the coloring of your material.
Because we have not had control of color, we think it’s okay not to have control, but we still go to movies and watch TV where Mother Nature creates color and it’s augmented by camera, and lighting people. So, our audience is trained to accept color as being part of what they view, and they’re interested in seeing or hearing a story. I’m not so sure their imagination sees in color, but certainly their eyes see in color. So, for us to keep up with the times, color has to be part of what we do. It doesn’t have to be, but in my opinion, the less it does, the more we fail. It doesn’t make any sense to me to take the attitude that color is not important. It definitely is important, and if a person wants to take the opposite attitude, he makes a large mistake.
On the other hand, it’s difficult to control so many elements and still turn out a story. But after all, we are competing in the modern world and we have to create stories that compete with other forms. We have to compete with Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, and all the other good movies that are coming out with all the technical tools available to us. If we don’t think we’re competing with that stuff, then we’re making a very big mistake. I have a tendency to want to do the whole job, so it becomes much easier for me in particular to compete on that level. Someone may say that that’s a self-serving statement. Because I’m interested in it, therefore it’ s important to do. I think it’s just luck that I’m interested in it and that it is important to do.
So, you’re saying that because of audience expectation, color is superior to black-and-white?
Superior to black and white? I don’t think you can say a thing is superior or not superior. I think people expect to see color, and if you don’t give it to them, they won’t like it. See, it’s a tough world out there. If people expect to see something and they don’t see it, they don’t buy it. If they don’t buy it, you don’t make money. If you don’t make money, you can’t do it a second time. So, if you want to do it a second time, then you’d better do it right the first time. And I don’t mind living in a world like that. I think that’s fine.
You don’t view that as a compromise?
Not at all. I view that as competition, and competition is always a matter of compromise. But it’s a standard ingredient. It’s like making a take without using flour. It’s possible, I think, to make a take without flour, but it’s part of the ingredients, so why not do it?
In life you make choices for anything that you do. In other words, in the next five minutes or the next day, you have 500 different things that you might want to do. You make a choice and do one specific thing. When you do that one thing, you can’t do the other 499 things. You’ve compromised. Under those circumstances, it’s very hard to call it a compromise. You shoot for an average; you shoot for a percentage. I’m always shooting for a percentage. I’m always saying to myself, “Well, do I want to do this more than I want to do that?” And then I say, “Well, how much more?” And if it’s enough more, then it really is worthwhile to go ahead and do it. You don’t ever get 100 percent on anything because you’re always making sacrifices. So, you look for the best compromises. The idea is to make the fewest possible compromises and get the best possible percentage.
So, you do think these considerations of commercial competition should be the concern of the artist?
They have to be. If the artist presumes to be part of the world — which he doesn’t necessarily have to be (he can always go off and do it by himself) — he has to take the world into consideration. And once you take the world into consideration, you start making compromises. You don’t have to make compromises, but if you go off and decide to paint or draw by yourself, aren’t you making a compromise by giving up the rest of the world? That’s a pretty big compromise to me. So, from the point of view of creating something, if you are going to accept reality and society and the way things are, then you might as well go into it hip-deep and slug it out with everybody. You can’t decide to become part of The Machine and not accept certain aspects of the machine. You either accept it all and fight it out or reject it all and go off by yourself.
I think a lot of us tend to go off and be by ourselves for part of our time in order to lick our wounds when we get beaten badly around the ears. I think that’s part of dealing with society. After a while, it becomes too much and we go off, lick our wounds; and refuse to deal with it. After we get to feeling better, we come out and compete again. It’s a cycle, and everybody deserves and needs that time of going off and feeling sorry for ourselves so we can come back and fight again.
To get back to these albums you’re doing, will they be published first in Europe?
And then will they be brought over here?
Will they be published as albums?
Yes, they will be published as albums here.
Will Continuity publish them?
Possibly. I don’t like to say I’m going to do something if I don’t have solid plans to do it; that would be idle speculation. I think if Continuity can do the best job, then Continuity will do it. But my first responsibility is to the product property and the best deal it can possibly have. I’m not going to let Continuity deal with something that it can’t deal with properly.
You said the books are ambitious in terms of length; are they ambitious in terms of content?
Nah. They’re comic books. They’re good comic books, I would say. I really don’t expect them to be more than that. I don’t expect them to have any great message or preach anything, but I do expect them to be good comic books. If they’re not good comic books in my eyes, they have failed. And, as a matter of fact, if and when they’re completed — and several of them are — if they fail in the eyes of the reader, they deserve whatever disgrace is laid on them. In my opinion, the best work that the artist can do is in those comic books. There’s no excuse for any falling down on the job. A reasonable amount of money was paid for them, enough time was given, and they will be paid even more if they are good work. If they’re not good work, it’s a failing that I’ll be willing to take total responsibility for, and I’ll be willing to lay it onto the other people involved. “We screwed up.”
Is your criterion for a good comic book essentially superior craft across-the-board, or is it anything more than that?
No, it’s not more than that. Anything that a person adds beyond craft has to do with his personality. I’ll go to Berni Wrightson to get a book because he does have something above craft. But the thing I demand from Berni is craft, at least. Beyond that, whatever else he puts into it is up to him and his desire to add something to it. So, the Berni Wrightson story is not a story that doesn’t have a story. The story was written by a good writer, it’s clear, the words are not in unreadable type, the coloring is easy to understand, it’s not hindered by an artistic desire to create a new, super-involved type of graphic novel. It’s clear, simple storytelling, and anything Berni adds to it, he’s adding to it above and beyond that in his style, not destroying anything having to do with comic books.
Since comics have been almost chronically adolescent throughout their history –
Whew! Chronically adolescent! That’s an interesting phrase.
Do you disagree, or have any thoughts on that particular phrase?
It’s an interesting phrase. I’ll roll it around in my head a little bit. But go on, ask the question.
Have these albums broken any ground in terms of content or story quality?
Chronically adolescent. It sounds, at the first hearing, like it comes from a comic book reader who feels he’s finally grown up and maybe outgrown comics. That’s interesting.
By that same view, James Bond movies are chronically adolescent, Hamlet is chronically adolescent. Why is Hamlet chronically adolescent? (So is Romeo and Juliet.) If you remove the flowery speech (which was the normal speech pattern in its day), then the story is very simple and easy to understand: it has to do with a family bullshitting each other, and it has to do with sword-fighting, cutting people, using poison, and stuff like that. So, all the elements are very plot-solid and easy to understand. There is very little subtlety and very little interreaction of a deep, psychological level. The emotions are very clear and easy to understand, usually: anger, jealousy, and rage, and not a whole lot more than that. [Address letters to Gary Groth.] Introspection to some extent. Full of thoughts that have been true since (and probably before) Aristotle.
I think that almost all good entertainment — and I separate entertainment in a lot of different ways — But good solid basic entertainment is adolescent. In other words, it appeals to the adolescent side of our nature. There are certain entertainments that don’t appeal to that side, and usually the adolescent in us finds them fairly boring. A person can be entertained by reading Freud, to a certain extent; a person can be entertained by ballet, by opera. (A person is usually entertained more easily by opera if he doesn’t know the story because almost all opera stories are really foolish.) I think because entertainment appeals to the adolescent side of our nature, the old man in us, which perhaps develops over a period of time, is not so much in need of adolescent entertainment. He’s more in need of quiet nights by the fireside or watching the sun set or reading a book in his own field that gives him information. But even he will go out and watch a James Bond movie and be entertained.
So, I would say, no, probably none of these stories are breaking new ground outside of appealing to the adolescent entertainment side of our nature. Tippy-Toe Jones, on the other hand, appeals to the devilish side of our nature, the nutty, the humorous side. I think it’s difficult talking about Tippy-Toe Jones because Tippy-Toe Jones is really a humor thing, but on a very strange level. So, perhaps one could say that, because it’s a humor thing and there are very few humor comic books, it could be breaking new ground. But I don’t really think so.
Your question excludes most forms of entertainment because of its basic assumption. Let’s deal with whether or not any of the comic books breaks any new ground: no. [Laughs.] But they’re pretty good at breaking up the old ground.
The last time I heard somebody breaking new ground was Byron Preiss.
[Laughs.] And it’s true that Byron broke some new ground. I find a certain amount of difficulty with people trying to break new ground before the end of the old ground is in sight, before the potential in comic books has been reached. I think there is so much potential in comic books that the idea of going off in some other direction at this point is really a waste of time. We don’t really know the extent of that potential.
Can that potential be reached unless we break new ground?
We’re having a problem with semantics here. I don’t think comic books have seen their greatest day, so if breaking new ground means turning it into another form, I think we have to wait until we finish with this form. That seems to me to be a long way off: The potential of comic books is the potential of the human imagination more than any other artform that I’ve ever seen in my life.
When you talk about the potential of the imagination being the end result, you’re talking about movies and comic books in the same breath. The only new ground that can be broken is experimentation within comics. If you’re talking about experimentation within comics, within the form, then anything that is new is different. I would say that, given that as a criterion, Ed Davis comes the closest to breaking new ground. I would say that, by comparison, mine and Berni’s are mundane, and Davis’s and the Tippy-Toe Jones thing are the closest to come to breaking new ground.
By breaking new ground, I was speaking entirely in terms of content, not form and packaging, if that clarifies things.
Yeah. I think we both came to the same conclusion at the same time, and based on that, Tippy-Toe Jones and Ed’s strip would be the closest. I really, honestly, don’t have the desire to break new ground. It has been said that I’ve broken new ground in comics. I would have to disagree with that because all I’ve done is drawn comic books a little bit better, but I’ve done comic books. I’ve stretched the medium a little, but I haven’t really broken new ground. I haven’t done anything that wasn’t already done. I just did an exaggerated form of it — nothing really new. If I do, I’ll let you know. I think that Corben may have broken new ground. [Pause.] It’s so hard to say, it’s such a nebulous concept, breaking new ground. What does that mean?
I think we need a new metaphor.
Let he who is without sin break the new ground … without sin? What does that mean?
Well, when I think of someone who’s done something extraordinary in the medium, I think of Kurtzman and his EC war books, which legitimized the dramatic form in comics. That’s more in terms of what I’m talking about.
Yeah. I think you could say Kurtzman has broken new ground. On the other hand, Will Eisner did it too, only Eisner did what Kurtzman copied. To a certain extent everybody’s breaking new ground. Everybody’s feeding everybody else ideas. It’s so hard to be so clear-cut and to make such big, sweeping statements like “you’ve broken new ground,” because every artist knows his own origins, every artist knows that he owes what he is doing to somebody else, or to 15 different other people, and there’s very little new that’s happening. It’s like cooking: you just put the ingredients together a little different. l think the guys who broke new ground are Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. After what they did, it’s really hard to find people who’ve broken new ground because Jerry and Joe created a concept, visualized superheroes, visualized humans beyond what they are. That was an incredible concept. And I’m sure they didn’t create it. They just visualized it and made it possible for us to jerk around with it.
Do you still think that superheroes are a vital concept?
Sure. Superheroes are terrific. Superheroes are totally stupid postulations that could never exist in real life but are fun to play with. It’s like playing with toys. When we’re little kids, we play with toys, we think of things for them to do, and we use our imaginations. Some of us have gone on to have gigantic toys of incredible potential to play with.
Ridiculous things: there could not be a Superman. If there was a Superman, there wouldn’t be a World War II, right? There wouldn’t be a Viet Nam if there was a Superman. There wouldn’t be all kinds of stuff. He would end up King of the World and that would be it. He would seek power sooner or later, he would achieve it, and he would be the King of the World until he died — or until Luthor saved the world by destroying Superman, and then Luthor would be King. It’s ridiculous, but it’s fun to play with. It’s wonderful mental exercise.
To be philosophical about it for just a moment, the thing that men do that makes them greater than they are is their creation of new things. How does a man or woman — let’s not leave women out of this — get into the habit of putting aside all of the things he knows in order to delve into his imagination for things that he doesn’t know? And thus comes up with the concept that perhaps if you dropped something that weighed 50 pounds and you dropped something that weighed one pound, they would both reach the Earth at the same time? Since it’s obviously an illogical concept, what would make a person’s imagination come up with such a concept? What would make a person ‘think that the world could be round, and people not fall off of it? It takes a certain exercise of imagination, so exercise of imagination has in its own way made all the things that man has become, and with it he entertains himself as well.
Comic books are like training and exercising your imagination and they can lead to all kinds of good things. (Yes, they can lead to a lot of bad things too.) But it seems to me we have found a way to exercise our imagination in very, very safe ways. I would bet that there are an awful lot of inventions and concepts that are created by people who read comic books a lot when they were kids.
You’re saying as a result of their reading comic books?
As a result of reading comic books. As a result of somebody giving them a way of exercising their imagination. If you’re not thinking in terms of things that are impossible to do as being commonplace, then why should you accept the idea that a thing that seems impossible may actually be possible? After all, all new ideas spring from one mind, are disagreed with by everybody else, and are finally accepted by everybody with the statement, “How could we possibly have thought it was any different?” For an individual to think that way, he has to have exercise.
You’re not just going to suddenly come up with a totally new idea and then defend it with your life. You have to have other people creating and assuring you that it’s okay, other people mucking with concepts that seem crazy but are defendable on a certain level, in order for you to exercise your imagination. The exercise of the imagination is a difficult thing to describe because it doesn’t seem like a real thing. How do you exercise imagination? You exercise imagination by doing things that seem impossible. If you can’t do it yourself, you let somebody else do it. Read comic books so you’re willing to accept the irrational and the impossible as being possible. In Eastern philosophy, it’s part of the attitude that anything can be possible. In our system that sort of attitude doesn’t exist. We have to prove everything exists. So where do the new ideas come from? New ideas can only come from our imagination or some accident somewhere in a laboratory, but basically from our imagination, and for us exercising our imagination is not that easy. We need somebody to show us how.
Fortunately, we have somebody to show us how. We have comic books, movies, and science fiction. Those three things give every one of us an incredible freedom of imagination. Without them, I doubt if we would come up with a whole lot of new things.
Do you think it might be unhealthy to be constantly looking for novelty and new things!
I think there are so few people in the world percentage-wise that really do look for new things that it’s hard for me to imagine that it could be unhealthy. Maybe if everybody switched over to trying to come up with new concepts, it might be unhealthy because there would be nobody there to run the farms and build the factories, but I don’t see that as a danger. In fact, I can’t think of anything about it that would be dangerous.
I’m talking about the fact that our consumer culture is constantly looking for new things, novelty, fashion, and trends to jump on.
What about it?
You just said very few people are looking for new things. But obviously we’re a nation of 240 million people who are constantly, endlessly searching for new things with which to occupy our time.
We are indeed, to a certain extent. I think what happens is that we’re being trained to look for and to need those new things. I don’t think it’s to the detriment of society, certainly. The desire to see new things is not as pervasive as it might seem. In some ways, it needs to be a great deal more pervasive than it is for it to even be a recognized concern.
You see, in my opinion, man’s function was to survive. And it wasn’t until modern times that man needed to be entertained as much as he does today, which makes survival so much more fun. It’s the entertainers of a society who make life seem better than it is. It’s the comic book artists, the movie-makers, the dancers, the singers, the writers, and the entertainers who make the hard work or what it is you do through the day seem better than It is because they do something for you. The entertainer has no function outside of that. He doesn’t plant food; he doesn’t make clothing. He really lives off society. He has no valid, useful function for survival. Instead, he pleases and satisfies the inner man that seeks to be entertained, that thing inside of you that seeks to expand your imagination. He appeals to that; that’s his function, that’s his job. That’s not a real function, that’s a created function. In a difficult situation, that person is useless. I don’t kid myself that I am a useful commodity in civilization. I’m not. I live off society.
The artist as parasite.
I’m definitely a parasite. If l were forced to survive, I would know how to survive along with everybody else, but I have been given the rare privilege of being a parasite off society and I enjoy that role very much. but I don’t kid myself that it’s not my role. It’s what I do.
We are given an incredible freedom nowadays to exercise that privilege to a greater extent than we ever have in the history of man. There are even many untalented people who are put into the position of being that kind of parasite because there is so much affluence, so much extra money, so much need to be entertained. We are no longer entertaining on a mass level. We can entertain 10,000 people and make a living from it. We have magazines that appeal to tiny segments of our society. We used to sell comic books on the news-stands and we’d sell them by the millions. Now we can sell comic books in “comic book stores” and actually make a living from it. There are people who go to that score and buy nothing but comic books, and that alone can support an industry. That is incredible. And it leads to wonderful freedoms. So, the artist in this day and age, has an amazing ability to do whatever he wants to do. The parasite has become King because he is able to express himself as much as he wants to. It’s a wonderland for a parasite. There’s no stopping him. He can do whatever he wants. He doesn’t have to paint pictures of the King, he doesn’t have to carve statues of Aman Ra, he doesn’t have to paint paintings of the leathercrafter’s guild. He can do anything he wants and somebody will give him money for it. What a concept!
What you’re saying is that we live in an age when everyone can be published and everyone can be appreciated.
That ‘s right.
Do you think that’s necessarily good?
Who knows? Society is hell-bent for its own end, whatever that end will be. I mean, I live a very good life and a very happy life because I don’t presuppose there’s a great destiny for mankind. I don’t believe that there is an ultimate, wonderful destiny that I must help to achieve, so l don’t run into the problem of wondering what the hell it is. I know what it’s all about. It has nothing to do with achieving anything. It has to do with the road to achievement. I’ve never met anyone who was as satisfied once he got where he was going as he was on the trip getting there. The job of mankind in life is to get to wherever it’s going, and the faster we get there, the more fun it is. The more speed we pick up on the trail, the more enjoyment we’ll get out of it. In the end, we might end up blowing ourselves off the planet and out of the universe …but we’ll get there anyway, sooner or later; we’re going to do it. Or we may have some wonderful destiny that I can’t imagine. I don’t know.
All I know is that it’s a good idea as long as we’re doing it to make it good because you can get a lot of satisfaction out of it. I’m curious about what the end will be of mankind, but I don’t know whether I’d really like to be there to experience it. Maybe I’d like to be there to experience it for about five minutes just to get the rush and then cease to exist. But after that, what have you got? So, my goal in life is to make a good race of it, to discover as much as l can, o do as much as I can, to find out as much as I can, to express myself as much as I can, and have a good time with other human beings communicating. But that’s the goal. The goal is the race.
You’re making a movie now, aren’t you?
Yes. The title is Nannaz. Nannaz is short for bananas. That’s my son’s name for this doll that’s been in the family for two years. Other people in the movie are Larry Hama, Ralph Reese, Denys Cowan, Gray Morrow, J. Scott Pike, Dave Manak, Moses Figerowa, Hank Ridley … I’m going to forget some people.
You wrote this movie?
I wrote it.
You directed it?
Directed it? I am directing it.
How long a film will it be?
Full-length, 90 minutes.
How do you go about distributing a movie like this?
That’s a good question. I have no idea. I assume a distributor will distribute it if he likes it. I have inquiries from two Grade B movie distributors at the moment. I think probably what I’ll do is take it around to the best people first and ask them to take a look at it and as they say no, I’ll go down lower and lower until somebody says yes. It’s not a concern of mine at the moment.
It all started this way: I had been working on some movies as a designer, and it occurred to me that I’d like to make some movies. I had seen how some movies are made and it struck me that not a tremendous amount of conceptual work is done by the people involved in movies. Many movie-makers wanted to be comic book artists but went off in other directions and decided to make movies.
They have never been trained as a comic book artist or as an artist: they have been trained as a movie producer or a director. I wondered how would it be for a person who was trained as a comic book artist to make a mid-career shift over into movie directing? I thought, that’s something I’d like to do, and from my observations it wouldn’t interfere all that much with creating comic books — because in many ways it doesn’t take anywhere nearly as much time, although it does take certain concentrated periods of time.
So, I thought, well, how would I go about making movies? Here I am, about to be 40 years old, which I have since become and passed this year, and what should l do if I want to make movies? If l want to be a director, it would take a long time. It would take years, and I don’t really have years. I’ve already done my time. Well, I thought, how about a production designer? I’II become a production designer. They seem to want my stuff. I can join the union and become a production designer. That doesn’t sound like me. Not the joining the union part; I’m in favor of organized labor, but just somehow my going out to Hollywood and doing production design for movies is not quite what had in mind. Beyond that, I’ve already done some of it and I sort of like it but it’s not very satisfying. Not only that: they tend not to do the stuff. You do a lot of work and they don’t make it. So, I thought, what about being a producer? Well, then I’ll learn to be an accountant and that’s all well and good, but I don’t know if I want to be an accountant. I thought, what the hell is left to do? It kind of leaves me out.
I thought, what about just making movies? What if I want to make movies? Then I should make a movie. In other words, to do the whole ball of wax and establish myself as a moviemaker. That sounds a lot better, that makes a lot of sense. How do you make a movie? Well, I guess you learn how to make movies. So, I took some classes at NYU and New School at night. I had one class on Mondays and one class on Thursdays, and they were pretty good classes. One was a lecture class and one was a practical class, a studio class. I absorbed the theoretical stuff, then I took the stuff to the practical class and I put it to use. I immediately went out filming, made a couple of shorts. They’re pretty good; they’re not great, but they’re pretty good. We did some nice effects; we got some good tension, some good drama. Some nice stuff. I showed two of them we did at the last Creation Con. Got a good reaction, everybody liked them a lot. Maybe they were being nice. Then, at the end of the class I decided I would make a full-length motion picture, which took my teachers aback. but that’s standard for me.
Taking people aback?
Yeah. “What? You can’t do that!” But I’d already gone far beyond the class. We had done color stuff and some adventurous techniques. So, I thought, “Well, I’ll make a movie,” but by then I learned that you can’t make a movie, that it’s impossible to make a movie. Impossible doesn’t sound too difficult to me. Impossible: I like that word. So, I thought, impossible, how can I deal with impossible? What do you need if you’re going to make a movie? You need a budget. Well, how much money am I going to need? If l think about that, I thought, I’ll never make a movie. I mean, first I’ll have to be like a producer and collect money from people and sell them this bill of goods. What if I don’t do that? What if I just decide to make a movie? Just go and make it. And I do it week by week, and as I run into financial difficulty I put it off and I just continue. And what if I plead and beg with people? Begging and pleading is not necessarily my nature, but I can do it when put to the test, so begging and pleading became part of what I did. So, I got people to work for free, I got people to give me equipment for free for a week here, a couple of weeks there. There are certain things you can’t get free, but you can actually do it if you know enough people and fancy yourself to be a good writer, and I fancy myself to be a pretty good writer.
So, I thought, what I will do is call upon the writer side of myself to provide me with a script that does not cost a lot of money. You see? I will write it and give this writer, who I am going to hire for nothing, information like there’s an apartment in Soho we can use for as long as we need it. There are the streets of Soho, there are people we know who would make good characters who would be willing to work for free. There’s this and chat. I gave this writer all the elements that were available that didn’t cost anything with the idea that he could concoct a story out of those elements rather than create a story that I would then have to pay for. He was very cooperative. He provided me with such a story. And we have started to film that story.
The big advantage to doing a story that way is that it ends up not looking like you were working with no budget. All of the things that were there were actual things, places that existed, people that existed, and it ends up looking like it cost a good deal of money. but it really cost very little money. When I say very little money, I’m at the point now of having spent $30,000. Now, a moviemaker recently went to a small house with a bunch of different people and made a movie in that house for $70,000. I guess I’m ahead of him because I have 10 minutes to go and it isn’t going to cost me another $40,000 to do it.
So, I’m doing what I’m told is impossible. The movie is actually happening. The goal of this movie is to show people that I know how to make movies. This is my first movie and there will be things wrong with it. But I think it will be entertaining and fun. I will try to sell it and I think I will sell it. And the people who were nice enough to help me will receive a portion of whatever it is I make on it and I will pay them back in some way, and I will begin making movies.
This sounds like the way John Cassavetes goes about making movies.
Perhaps. It seems to me that’s the only way people do get to make movies. They just decide to do it. It’s like becoming a comic book artist. You decide you’re going to do it and you go ahead and do it. I mean, you can’t let people stand in your way. If you have an ambition to do something, you’ll never get it done if you listen to other people. So, I just tend not to listen to too many people.
Can you give me a gist of what the movie’s about, the narrative thread?
There is a man who has two children, and he has been working on a piece of engineering gear for the last three years. The company that he works for has its home office in New York. He’s finished the project. He brings it to New York and stays over the weekend in an apartment of a friend of his. The following Monday, he will deliver this piece of equipment. That Sunday night, he tells his children (as they have been asking for a couple of years now) that he’ll allow them to babysit themselves for the first time. They are respectively 13 and 12 years old. He figures it’s fine. It’s a secure building. (The upstairs neighbor is an old friend and will look in on them from time to time.) No problems. They know where he’s going. And he goes out to dinner (his wife having died two years previous).
The kids are left alone with their doll Nannaz, who they have both agreed will be in charge, and a little valise that carries this piece of electronic gear. As it turns out, unknown to the father, that valise, the piece of electronic gear, has attained a value on the open market in the area of industrial espionage of approximately four million dollars. It’s unknown to him because he just-made the damn thing. It doesn’t mean anything to him, he just built it. He’s just being paid a salary, so he doesn’t understand the value of it. He has no conception of it.
But there are people who work for other corporations, and they will be paid a good deal of money if they can get their hands on it. Industrial espionage is a very mean business. If they steal it and they’re seen, they’ll be arrested and put in jail. If they steal it and they’re not seen, they’ll have four million dollars. There are three companies that are aware of this equipment. They know the family is staying in Soho, but they don’t know where. Each group has a different type of personality. One group is sort of street-punks, another is very dressed-up, very conservative, and the third group is a regular bunch of guys. They know that if they get this piece of equipment and they’re seen, whoever sees them will have to die. But each group is bound and determined to get that piece of equipment and to make that four million tax-free bucks, with which they’ll be set for the rest of their lives. The story is about them trying to acquire this case.
The two kids’ lives are endangered from the first, and their doll Nannaz will save them… we think. That’s his job. He’s been given this as an assignment by their dad: “You take care of that case, Nannaz.” And Nanna, does, without ever doing anything. Very mysterious little doll.
What film courses did you take?
The film course at New School is given by Arnold Eagle, who is a documentary film photographer. The film course at NYU is a lecture course given by Jim Manilla, who is a director and producer.
What were the courses about, specifically?
They were preliminary and basic courses in filmmaking. The first one by Manilla was a lecture, a three-hour lecture course once a week. The second by Arnold Eagle was a preliminary film course, which we disturbed by turning it into an advanced film course. Drove poor Arnold crazy. We went from black-and-white to color, then to sound almost immediately. He has three levels of courses. And a lot of the people in the class went along with us, because we formed a group and we rapidly went from beginner to advanced in the same course. We drove the poor guy crazy. He sat at the end of the course talking to us, saying, “This is the first class I’ve ever had that by the end of the course I discovered a group of my students was making a full-length motion picture, with sound. I’m going to have to revise a certain number of techniques.” “I don’t quite understand how this happened.” It was a lot of fun. Felt like a kid again.
I have the impression you were very interested in films before you took these courses.
Yes, true. I guess I’ve been interested in films for as long as everyone else has been interested in films, since everybody seems to be interested in films and filmmaking. It’s become part of our everyday conversation.
Did you grow up watching movies as a kid?
As opposed to what? Growing up in a convent?
Were they an integral part of your youth?
I read comic books and I went to movies as much as any other kid. My big thing, my interest in all of these things, is storytelling. I like to tell a story. I like to mold people’s emotions; I like to affect people. I get a charge out of it. It’s part of that entertainment aspect. I don’t like to go up on a stage and tap dance, but I do like to tell stories to people and get a reaction.
Did taking those film courses affect your approach to comics, alter your perception in comics in any way?
I don’t think so. I’ve had a very cinematic attitude towards my comics stuff anyway. That’s not my opinion, that’s everybody else’s opinion, so I suppose I have to agree with it. I don’t know quite what that means, but that’s what everyone else says …
How is it possible not to have a cinematic approach?
Yeah, you’ve got to wonder about it. “That’s very cinematic.” As opposed to what? I’ve done a lot of that — even in the commercial studios we have here, we’ve done a lot of storyboard work for commercials. And the truth of the matter is, it’s very frustrating not seeing the thing carried out, or seeing other people carry out your work. And I’ve gotten close enough to it that I really want to carry it out myself. It doesn’t seem to be getting in the way of doing my comic book stuff. but it does seem to be a rare opportunity to translate some of this stuff that I’ve had ideas about or even produced books about into movies. My Dracula-Frankenstein-Werewolf I would very much like to see as a movie. I think it would make a terrific movie. I would like to see even Superman vs. Muhammad Ali made into a movie. I think that would be a terrific movie. You see, they’re doing the Batman movie, and I’ll be goddammed if I think anybody in the world could do a better Batman movie than I could. I would love to write and direct the Batman movie. Somebody else is going to do it. Well, if somebody bought that right a year from now, I want them to know they should’ve contacted me. But next year they’ll be able to because I’ll be making movies. I don’t like to see that stuff slip away. If somebody does it wrong, I’d like to be there to do it right, either on that same character or on another character. I just have so many damn opinions that I’m not able to express, and I really don’t like sitting around telling people how I would do it. It galls me to do that. I’d just rather make the movie and show them.
When you talk of how to do a movie, you’re talking from a director’s point of view?
I think so. A writer’s point of view, too. There are a lot of areas of imagination that movie writers don’t understand. We’re getting a rash of movie writers who are actually able to write with imagination these days and it’s a surprise and a delight to see. But most of them don’t. When you turn a character like Batman over to a regular movie writer, how he could possibly, from his background, create a Batman movie is beyond my understanding.
Even someone like John Milius, who is probably one of the better writers, created a Conan that none of us recognize. I look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, I look at the photographs, and I don’t see Conan. I know what Conan looks like. Conan looks like what Frank Frazetta paints. Or Neal Adams draws. I mean, I know that guy, I know what he looks like. I’ve certainly got a general impression. Arnold looks like something else; he doesn’t look like that guy. For all I know, it may be a terrific Conan movie, but I have a feeling that it won’t be Conan. I think the only way you’ll be able to like it is by accepting that it’s not Conan, that it’s some other interpretation of a Conan-like character but not really Conan. And it galls me to see that happen, it really does.
So, I figure, rather than express that gall and get it out of my system, I’ll make movies and get it out of my system. I’m having a lot more fun doing that. I don’t like to bitch a whole lot. If you bitch a whole lot, that means you’re really not doing what you should be doing. I don’t think people have a right to bitch as much as they do. I think it’s a matter of put up or shut up. I don’t like people bum-rapping comic book artists who really try to do a good job, and it’s a shame to bum-rap people who aren’t doing a good job. I think it might be valid to bum-rap attitudes, but how can you say anything bad about Jack Kirby? You can say he’s not handled well. You can say he perhaps should be given a little less editorial freedom.
You’ve seen Captain Victory?
Yes, I’ve seen Captain Victory. But how can you bum-rap him? I mean, for Christ’s sake, it’s Jack Kirby. My attitude is, go out and do it better. You do it better. I’ll listen.
Gil Kane, for example, really has a right to say most of the things he has to say. He does perhaps say more than he might, but he’s earned the right to say a lot of that stuff, so you have to think, “He’s got the right to say it.” He’s earned the right to say it. He can show it on paper. So, it’s all right. There are other people I could say mouth off who really haven’t earned the right to do it. But that’s the way of the world.
Who are some of the directors who impress you the most?
I don’t really know directors too much. I’m not aware of names.
Or movies. I’m trying to find out what kind of moviemaking appeals to you.
My kind. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking of other people’s work. If a good movie comes along, then I like the movie. I’ll read the credits, then I’ll forget. When someone says, “What do you think of John Milius?” I’ll say, “Gee, I don’t know, what’s he done?” and they’ll remind me and I’ll say, “Oh, yeah, that was good, that’s fine.” I’m not an aficionado of any of this stuff. It’s just entertainment to me. When I stop entertaining, then I’m one of the entertained. I’m not a critic. My taste generally goes along with the general public’s taste. l like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, and movies like that.
But you must view things critically.
[Pause.] No, not really.
I keep making these silly assumptions.
Yeah. Things have to be really bad or really good for me to say anything about them. Most of my answers are nyah-nyah. Like, yeah, sure, what the hell. Y’know. Very few things are so bad that they’re just sludge, and very few things are so good that they make you glad you’re a human being. And if you ask me about one of those things, I’ll say, “Wow, that’s really great,” or I’ll say, “Yeah, that’s a piece of shit,” but all the stuff in between doesn’t concern me very much.
Could you have drawn the film you’re making as a comic book?
I would say I could’ve drawn an unsuccessful comic book of it.
Why do you say that?
Because it doesn’t deal with the realms of the imagination. That’s because of the budget problems. See, I understand the comic book audience; the comic book audience is not entertained by the same thing that entertains a TV audience. You don’t do a soap opera in a comic book because it’s so much better to watch it on television. The only areas we can really survive in as comic book artists are areas that are almost impossible to create in movies and in television. In some ways, people like George Lucas should’ve scared the hell out of us because he’s actually able to produce a lot of that stuff on the movie screen.
But for example, when you reduce Star Wars to a comic book, the truth of the matter is that the Star Wars book is not as interesting as The Avengers or The Fantastic Four. It still hasn’t gotten to that area of imagination. So it’s those areas where we can be successful, where we really extend our imagination out so far that it’s to the breaking point. Clearly it’s not to the breaking point [now] and won’t be to the breaking point for a long time.
But for me to make a movie, I have to make it on the level that’s within my ability. In some ways this is a very restrictive movie because it’s made for the budget that l have, which is nothing. If I were put to it, I think I could figure out a way to make Nannaz into a comic book that people would buy. But I would really have to be clever. It couldn’t be typical. It couldn’t just be drawn. I would have to add some stuff to it. I would have to add some fantasy in sideways to make something interesting out of something that was really not meant for a comic book. It’s like … [snaps fingers] what’s that movie about the husband and wife who have a kid … ?
Kramer vs Kramer?
Yeah. Nobody wants to read a Kramer vs. Kramer comic book, but Kramer vs. Kramer is a good movie. That’s the kind of thing that I mean. Not that Nannaz is anything like Kramer vs Kramer. Nannaz is more like Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock put together. [Laughter.]
That’s an interesting…
Well … if you think in terms of — what is it? — Journey to Witch Mountain?
You mean Bambi gets murdered in the shower or something like that?
[Laughs.] Sort of like that. In this movie, it operates on three levels of concern. The first level is the concern of the little girl, who feels that her brother is taking her on an adventure and that she’s having a good time. The concern of the brother is that somebody is possibly trying to steal this thing and that there’s a danger here from the thief, or maybe it’s a mugger. But his attitude is that the danger ends if he decides that, if the guy gets too close, all he has to do is turn around and give it to him. That’s the second level. The third level is the danger that the audience realizes: if the kids give up this thing, they’ll die. You see? Up to the point where the brother is concerned about the danger, that’s Walt Disney. Beyond that is Alfred Hitchcock. That’s what I mean. It’s truly a deadly situation, but the children can’t think of it that way. Not only can’t they think of it that way, but the little boy has to convince his sister that it’s just a game. And he needs Nannaz to help him do this because he’s a little bit worried about this situation.
I have the feeling that you’ve been using the word imagination as a synonym for fantasy when, in fact, this film you’re making probably requires an imagination but a different kind of imagination.
Nah. I haven’t been using it for fantasy, but it’s a good point. No. When I said that I could have done Nannaz so that it could sell as a comic book, I meant that I could do it by using a little bit more imagination than I did in writing the script, but I still wouldn’t turn it into a science fantasy or anything like that. There are ways of doing it, there are ways of expressing your imagination. Remember, my career started, as far as it being felt, doing a syndicated strip called Ben Casey, which competed with all the other strips and did very well. When I did it, it was a very popular strip and sold as well as any other realistic strip at the time and better than most. The reason for that was that I added things to It that went above and beyond the soap opera aspect of it, things that you don’t necessarily expect to find in a syndicated strip. You’d have to examine it carefully to note those things. One of the things I added was that I told a story every day, in three panels. And even though it was part of a continued story, there was a little story within those three panels. So, it was an exercise in imagination. That I consider an exercise in imagination. Comic books are an exercise in gross imagination: incredible, gross imagination. So, when I use the word with regard to comic books, I really mean imagination in every possible way. It just happens that comic books just tend to be very fanciful.
I really think Nannaz shows a great deal of imagination despite the lack of a budget. I still consider it a good movie, and I hope people will talk about Nannaz the way they talk about the first Green Lantern/Green Arrow story, as something that was wonderful for what it was. I hope they forgive it for its sins, but I also hope that it will be good enough that people will really like it.
You said you couldn’t make Kramer vs. Kramer as a comic book…
But you could! But you could. See, that’s sort of like … how can I put this gently … I don’t think Sal Buscema could necessarily make it into a comic book. I think Michael Golden might be able to.
Or Neal Adams?
Or Neal Adams. Neal Adams … l don’t like to use Neal Adams as a basis for comparison because, first of all, I’m Neal Adams. So, it’s just unfair to begin with. Everybody thinks they’re capable of doing anything. Most of us are not. I know for a fact that Michael Golden would be able to because he’s not Neal Adams and I can say more about him than I can say about Neal Adams.
You think very highly of Mike Golden.
I think he’s probably one of the three most intelligent young comic book artists around today. I exclude the old guys because they’ve been pared down to such a concentrated broth that we have the Jack Kirbys and the Will Eisners who will never be touched in their own realms. But in the new group we have the Frank Millers and the Michael Goldens. Then, we have the middle group (chronologically speaking), the Chaykins, and the Wrightsons and the Walt Simonsons.
I have a feeling we’re going to see some brilliant work by Walt Simonson soon. He seems to have turned out a lot of solid stuff and I think he’s on the verge of doing something fantastic.
What do you think are Simonson’s best qualities as an artist?
His best qualities as an artist? They used to be design, and a lot of people have come along to do Walt Simonson’s design. I think that when you distill out the design, it has to do with storytelling. Not storytelling necessarily as facial expression, but as body movements and placement of figures and movement, moving through a panel. I think that sometimes if you’re the only guy out there creating design, people tend to think that that’s the only thing you do. So, there was a lot of concentration on design. Then other people came along that did a lot of design work, and Walt’s stuff tended to look not-quite-so-spectacular because of the other people. Because there were more people. I don’t know if Walt recognizes it himself, or if it’s just my speculating and laying it on him, but I suspect that underneath it all the good storytelling is really the thing that counted for more and the design is secondary. Now with more people corning along, he might concentrate a little bit more on that. I think that the Alien book, for example, is a good example of storytelling and less design, considering what Walt has done in the past.
Can you explain what you mean by design?
Well, design is about a three-hour lecture. I don’t think we should get into it.
I just wanted a condensed version.
I wish I could condense design.
Would you say design is the most important element of comics?
No, not at all. l don’t think there is a most important element of comics, just the same as there isn’t a most important element of life. I once did an animated sequence for Donna Gillespie that was never aired because it was semi-pornographic and had allusions to lesbianism. Right near the end — it was a thing I’m quite proud of in it — there’s a very tight close-up of a girl’s face, perhaps from her lower lip to her hairline, a profile, in animation, done in line. Then, in color, a tear comes our of her eye and runs down her cheek. Donna Gillespie’s face comes in from the other side in animation, goes over to the girl’s face, and licks the tear off the girl’s cheek very slowly, onto her tongue, and pulls it into her mouth. It’s very sensual, but it’s done very subtly for animation. You don’t see that kind of subtlety in animation; that’s the reason I did it. And the most important thing in that whole thing was the tear. Now, you say, well, what about design, what about storytelling, what about these grand things? No. The tear, which doesn’t fit into a category. It’s a thing. It was the most important thing, and all of your concentration was on it. The way it was done was important, everything else was important, but the most important thing was the tear. So, someone might look at that as all of art and ask, what is the most important thing in art? You would say, the tear, and everybody would look at you a little funny. So, in each given circumstance it has to do with the values that are being presented and accepted. It becomes a very difficult question.
People who do not respect design, though, tend not to create good stories. There are a lot of people who have a natural design sense. For whatever I may have said about Sal Buscema, Sal Buscema has a natural composition and design sense. One of the things you can always count on in his stories is that every panel is always well-designed. It’s almost like the nature of the beast: he always designs it well. Whether he designs it great is a matter of debate, but whether he designs it well is not a matter of debate. He always designs it well.
John [Buscema] does the same thing. His is a little more erratic, Sal’s is a little more consistent.
Does design by itself mean anything if there’s no content underlying it?
Design by itself…
In other words, you were talking about Sal Buscema, and I’m thinking of the things he does for Marvel — The Hulk and things like that, which are essentially devoid of content.
[Pauses and whistles.] What I’m trying to say to you and failing is that I don’t have a right to comment on that. But the way you phrased the question implies that I clearly must have an answer, but I truly don’t. What I mean by that is, yes, of course, it is not possible just to have design and to tell a good story or whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. That is clear almost by definition if you accept that. Art is many things.
On the other hand, it is possible to express yourself in simple and pure design, as our museums will tell us. But you won’t tell a story about the Hulk. Whether or not the Hulk has content I think has more to do with whether or not you’re a seven-year-old or a 20-year-old. I think most seven-year-olds would say the Hulk has content, but they probably wouldn’t know what they meant when they said it.
I am not critical of the stories Sal Buscema tells because it is just slightly outside of the area in comics that I’m concerned about. What Sal Buscema does is what Marvel refers to as good, solid comics. And I think he does it very well. It’s the Sal Buscemas who are the mainstay of the industry. So, it’s difficult to talk about it from the point of view of creating your own definition and then judging it based on that definition. I would refuse to create my own definition. I think you are incorrect in saying that it does not have content. It has content for what it is supposed to have content for. It does not have content from the point of view of a Swamp Thing or a Green Lantern/Green Arrow or almost any Michael Golden book. But it does have substance that is valid for a kid and for some adults. But taking it one step further, Sal Buscema, for those of us who have actually paid a little bit of attention, has in some issues done more than he used to do. And there are some stories having to do, not with the Avengers, but another group… Do you know what the other group is?
The Defenders. He has actually done some stories that have surprised me. I think a lot of us have put Sal Buscema aside and then don’t read him assuming he’s continuing to do the same thing, but there were a couple of Defenders stories that surprised me because they were actually quite different and highly charged with emotion. And that goes beyond what I said before about it being for a seven-year-old.
The wonderful thing about this industry is that it constantly surprises us. And if we become too critical of it, we tend not to look for the surprises. All of a sudden, Dick Ayers is off Sgt. Fury and goes over to DC Comics, where he starts producing very interesting comic books, some of them the better ones of the DC line. That’s because he’s not inking them himself and a certain amount of attention is given to him. All of a sudden we discover Dick Ayers is alive. Then there’s Don Perlin, who was over at Charlton producing relatively bad stuff. I spoke to him at an Academy meeting once. I looked at his work and I said, why is this guy working at Charlton and why isn’t he getting stuff? He’s not getting stuff because people ignore what seems to be mediocre stuff and don’t look for what’s underneath it. Now, I’m not saying Don Perlin produces the best comics in world but by God, he works at his craft and he tries to do a good job. And it took a certain amount of desk-pounding to get the people at Marvel to realize this, but once they got Don in there, they had a valid addition to their staff. And it was a surprise. It was like, Don Perlin? Don Perlin does those terrible things for Charlton. All of a sudden, Don Perlin is turning out good comic books: good story, good content, well-composed. What’s this all about! It’s a surprise. That kind of a surprise causes me to look with a jaundiced eye at people who are so anxious to criticize what’s going on or what seems to be going on, because all of a sudden somebody will do something …
Sam Glanzman. There are some things that Sam Glanzman did that are great, I mean just great! Most of his stuff I don’t like a whole lot, but by God, at some of those things I go, “Wow! Where did this guy come from? These little stories he’s telling are great!” I never like to take a negative attitude about it in general. Again, that’s one of the reasons I take the safe path. If something is terrible, really really rotten-terrible, it’s terrible. And if something is good, fantastically good, I’ll comment. But all the middle-ground stuff I leave alone because you never know when something will surface.
Are you saying that the story content can raise the standards of the artist drawing the story?
More than that. In every artist who’s doing what we call mediocre work, there’s the desire to do good work. A lot of times it just has to do with the situation, a lot of times it has to do with personalities. Look, everybody says bad stuff about Don Heck. I’ll say this about Don Heck. This has been a long time coming and I gotta say it. Don Heck produced some of the best early Marvel Comics ever: Ant-Man, Iron Man. Some of that Iron Man stuff was terrific. Whether he worked with Kirby or he didn’t work with Kirby, the stuff was really good comic books. l got off on it. Don Heck lost his wife. When she died, he fell apart. Only people who knew about it knew and understood what happened to Don and his work. I didn’t find out about it until three or four years ago. His work really went to hell. But the man lost his wife. He was just surviving. He was hanging on by his fingernails. And it took a lot out of him. Here’s an artist who has really been down, not a guy who never did anything, but a guy who did good stuff, and we know it was good stuff, and then he got shot down by life. And he’s tried to work his way back up, but it’s been really tough on him. Now, nobody’s letting him come up. Everybody’s ready to dump on Don Heck. The same potential he had when he was doing that stuff he has now. And I say this now: Don Heck is going to turn everybody’s face around. Remember, Don Heck did a job after I did my X-Men that everybody thought I did. Maybe Tom Palmer saved a lot of it, but Don Heck did a lot of that work. If people get off Don Heck’s ass and he’s given the right opportunity, Don Heck is going to show everybody that he is a major comic book artist.
In an interview you gave a couple of years ago, you said: My feeling about newspaper strips is that they should reflect the newspaper’s attitude. If a person is working on a syndicated strip, he should be working as a newspaper man. If he is doing a syndicated strip, he must become a newspaper man. He must take the newspaper’s attitude. His meat is information, the thing he presents is controversy, and the things a newspaper represents… Certainly a strip like On Stage has no real reason for existing, because it fulfills none of those functions. Wouldn’t that narrow and pragmatic an approach, if applied to earlier strips as it’s being applied more and more to today’s strips, have meant that strips like Krazy Kat and Segar’s Popeye and McCay’s work would not have been allowed space in newspapers?
Remember that when Herriman did Krazy Kat, the complexion of the world was very different. There wasn’t that much entertainment, so when you were doing a syndicated strip, the newspaper asked you to be entertaining. In other words, that’s how you could sell newspapers: by being entertaining. If it were true now — if all the televisions, radios, and movies were destroyed, or our economy got in such a slump that all we could do was buy the newspaper — then it would be the job of the newspaper to be entertaining. Since we have all those other things, it’s ridiculous for the syndicated strip to be entertaining because it’s outclassed everywhere it turns. There’s no way to be entertaining except to make a laugh. You can make a laugh, but even then there are comedians on television every night telling jokes. It’s just all over the place. So, if that is taken away — and it is taken away — if the ability to entertain is taken away by other media competing, then what is there left to do?
Krazy Kat would never be done now. It’s just not as entertaining as Saturday morning television for kids or the television shows or movies are for adults. That’s why it would never be done. We’re in a different time.
Do you consider that to be unfortunate?
No, not at all. Again, it’s a matter of percentage. You give up this so you can have that. But if you know that this has a greater value than that, you give that up and you try to give it up willingly without shedding a tear. I shed my tear and walk away. But I can’t say, “Gee, I’d like to have it back” or “Let’s try to save it.” It’s beyond saving, let’s close down the buggy-whip factory, it’s time to go. We have horseless carriages now, I’m not sorry that we don’t have blimps flying in the air. It would be nice to look up and see the Hindenburg, but it’s a waste of time.
Beyond that, there are much better things for a comic artist to do, like create a comic book or create an album. To put all of that energy in one place in full-color — how much better that is! Things don’t really go backwards. It’s just that people cling to the little things of the past, Not that they were better, but because in the past they were important. I’m not trying to laugh at them, I’m only saying that from an objective point of view — if such a thing exists — if I had my choice of doing a whole bunch of daily strips, I’d rather do the album. It’s so much more fun to do and see someone read the whole thing. I got a certain amount of joy doing my strip, but I didn’t get as much joy as I now get out of doing the stuff I do now.
Before Ben Casey, did you draw a Bat Masterson?
I worked as a background artist, as an assistant on the Bat Masterson strip for Howard Nostrand.
Was that a rewarding experience?
It was a rewarding experience because I worked in a studio that had an illustrator, two retouchers, and Howie Nostrand, and all of these guys had experiences to share with me from the commercial industry. They were really a great cross-section of the commercial art field and I learned so much about the potential of what was out there. That was more important than the work. Beyond that, Howie was trying to turn out a good strip. He introduced me to artographs and he taught me how to use the tools of the trade. So, it was an incredibly valuable experience.
You must have been in your teens.
I was 18.
And after Ben Casey you worked on a strip by Lou Fine?
I think that was during Ben Casey. It might have been after. I did a couple of weeks of dailies of
Peter Scratch for Fine, that’s all.
Did you actually work with Fine?
No, no. He had personal problems and I just did some fill-ins. That was at a very low point in Lou Fine’s career. He had many, many, many personal problems. His artwork had declined in many ways from the life that it had originally, to being a well-drawn, dull style, and it reflected the life that he lived.
You went from Ben Casey to comic books. Was Deadman the first comic book character you worked on?
No, I did some war stories for Bob Kanigher and some stories for Creepy for Archie Goodwin. The first character I did was the Spectre. Actually I did one short Elongated Man story. It was terrible, an atrocious story. Then I did some Spectre stories, then I did some Deadman stories. Burst upon the comic book scene! [in sensationalistic tone] It was strange because nobody at that time expected somebody to show up with so many new ideas or what seemed like new ideas. I took everybody by surprise. As far as I was concerned I was around for a long time. It was just that I wasn’t doing comic books and my entrance into the field caused a lot of uproar and mixed up even more a bowl that had already been mixed by Jack Kirby and other people, and just caused it to go crazier.
It was a lot of fun, but I couldn’t understand why everybody was taken aback by all of this stuff. l thought that’s what comic books were all about and that it would actually be a temporary excursion into comic books for me. I thought I would go into illustration and when I found that I enjoyed comic books more than illustration, I stayed in comic books.
You enjoy them more because of the continuity, the story?
The story. A lot of people have preconceived notions of what an artist is; they think of an artist as a thing that is born with talent and somehow becomes an artist through magic. The first incorrect thing about that is that I never met anybody who could say they were born with talent; they all developed it and worked on it. Some of them seem to have more facility than others.
The second thing is that my suspicion is that most comic book artists, or most artists, would do well in most creative endeavors, whether it’s writing or science or whatever. I don’t think of myself as a comic book artist so much as I think of myself as a storyteller. My profession is a comic book artist but I’m a storyteller. I was once asked if I had to give up one of my faculties — my sight or hearing or speech — which one would I give up. And I realized that the one I would give up most easily is sight because you don’t really communicate with sight. You communicate with your voice and you hear with your ears. But if I had to give up one, then not seeing things would be a lot less important than not hearing things and not being able to express myself. And I realized that I didn’t have a whole lot attached to drawing, that I could easily give that up in favor of writing or something else. But I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t speak or hear.
This would be a very boring interview.
Yes, it would be very boring, It would be very frustrating. So, I don’t think of myself as a drawer or an artist. I think of myself as a storyteller who uses drawing.
Drawing didn’t come easy for you.
No. I don’t think It comes easy for anybody.
Are you of the opinion that anyone can be taught to draw?
Anyone, sure. Anyone. It just takes the desire. And anyone can be caught to draw better. In my studio I teach the people who work for me how to draw on a very limited basis, very scientifically, very mathematically. Not all of them are interested in drawing. Some of them are colorists who do a lot of coloring for us, but they draw with color. They do very good modeling, better than a lot of professional artists, because they’ve been taught how to do it. It’s like math, 1+1 makes 2. It really does work that way.
I wanted to ask you about the Teen Titans material you worked on. As I understand it, the story was nixed after it was drawn by Nick Cardy because it involved a black superhero.
Well, the truth of the matter is that it was nixed because there was a lot of reverse prejudice in the story and a lot of ballsy stuff. I mean, it was a really ballsy comic book. The thing was nixed even though these guys [Marv Wolfman and Len Wein] had worked so hard to get it done. I guess nobody had read it before it got to Nick Cardy and Nick went and drew it. Nick is very amiable and he just does it, he doesn’t stop and say, “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.” He did it and it was handed in, and it was finally read by Carmine [Infantino]. No, I think it was read by somebody else and then it was read by Carmine. Carmine didn’t read too much. l don’t think he reads too much.
Yeah, right. It’s not to his detriment, he makes out fine without it. But he read it and he or someone got outraged. And l said, “C’mon, what’s the problem? It’s contemporary, it’s a good thing to do.” He said, “Oh, yeah? Read this.” Then l was forced to read it. It was really hard to defend, you see, because it pushed it really hard.
What was the problem exactly?
I have to tell you that I don’t remember each specific thing. All I remember is the experience of reading it and going, “Ooohhhh shit. Ooohhhh shit. Why did they write this?”
This was Len Wein and Marv Wolfman?
Len and Marv, right. I wish I could give you examples. It was heavy. It wasn’t heavy material, but it was like people calling other people names, bad names, “Honky,” things like that. It was rough, it was very rough. Management wanted to throw it out. I figured, well, if I make a stand here I’ll just find myself on the side of the good guys and it’ll all get chucked out. So, what I’ll do is take copies of it home and rewrite it, cutting out all the mean stuff. I knew that it would never satisfy Len and Marv totally, but at least they might get it printed.
I spent the whole weekend rewriting it and brought it in. I thought I did a good job. It was a good job. It wasn’t necessarily a good job of writing but it was cleaned of heavy nuttiness. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how adamant Carmine was about it. Anyway, I handed it in and asked that it be given a little bit of consideration. At first Carmine refused to read it. That got me a little upset because I worked a whole weekend on it. So…I caused it to be read and somehow the thing had come down to, “No, it would not be used under any circumstances.” It was just killed, that was it. There was no way to do anything about it. It was like we had run into a stone wall at this point… and we shouldn’t have. It would have been valid to have rejected it and to have asked for changes because it was pretty mean. But when it was changed, the objection wasn’t valid. An arbitrary decision had now been made; therefore it would not go through, period, that’s the end of it. No matter what you do, it’s not going to happen. Carmine rejected the story and wasn’t going to use it at all.
Nick Cardy got dragged into it because he had done the work and now there wasn’t any way he could be paid for it. It got to be very negative. The deadline was all shot to hell. So, what happened was that since I had pushed myself into it, I said, “Look, I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll take it and do a new story.” I very quickly penciled a new story. I kept as many of Nick’s pages as I could. There weren’t many, maybe four or five. Nick inked over my stuff and the job got done. I think it kept the same title.
I remember there being Cardy pages in the story.
Yeah, there were definitely Cardy pages in there. It was all an attempt to smooth over things so we could get back to normal and Len and Marv could continue to write. It just blew out of proportion. It was just crazy. I think Giordano was helping me at the time. We tried all kinds of stuff to do something about it and it just got out of proportion. But we got the book out, the book got done. Nick got paid for his pages and got paid for inking my stuff, so it worked out all right in the end. It was a tough experience. Len and Marv were, up to that point, skulking about DC Comics. There seemed to be a tendency to beat off young artists and writers at DC Comics. To get them before they got in the door and beat them off.
You understand the connotations of your phrasing.
Huh? [Evil grin crosses Adams’s face.] Dirty young man. Although this was happening… There were forces at work sneaking these guys in. So, they would come in and say they were doing an interview or something. We’d get them in, they’d meet people, and they’d try to get to do some stuff.
It was a very strange time at DC Comics; they didn’t understand the concept of new people. As a matter of fact, to my knowledge there wasn’t anybody new used at DC Comics for 10 or 12 years before I started there. Getting these guys in was like pulling teeth. It was really insane and funny, very funny. They’d come in and hang out. There was this room that they’d all hang out in. I’d have this artograph and guys would come in, they’d hide under the desk, and we’d turn the lights out so nobody’d know they were there. We’d walk in on an editor. “Murray, this is Alan Weiss here.” “Huh? Huh?” “He’s really good, you oughtta’ use him on something.” “Yeah, I might have a short story.” And they got started. Then the attitude changed. Now the attitude is a little different, a little too different.
Your attitude towards Marvel and DC now is very different from it was then.
Oh, no. My attitude’s the same. How is my attitude different?
Well, you won’t work for them now under the same conditions that you worked for them then.
No! I never worked for them under the work-made-for-hire.
Didn’t they have an agreement on the check that you endorsed in order to cash your check?
I crossed it out.
Isn’t their “contract” on that check still binding?
No, it’s not. It’s as binding as my crossing it out. The standard that you go by, the standard under the law, is that you can’t make an agreement at the moment of payment. You make an agreement before you do the work, so you can’t enforce a contract at the moment of payment, when you sign it and take it to a bank. Unless it becomes what’s call a Standard Practice. In other words, if you sign such a check and the statement is on the back of the check and you accept it — then the law assumes that you agree with it, so the law will defend that position. But if you cross it out, that means you object to it and if you cross it out consistently, then It’s not binding.
And you crossed it out consistently?
And that didn’t seem to bother DC at all?
It’s none of their business. It is really, truly none of their business. Under the law, it wasn’t any of their business. As a matter of fact, we had an interesting case where an artist went to a bank one time with the statement on the back of his check, and the bank refused to cash his check unless he crossed it out. Their position was that they were being put in the position of witnessing a contract. By cashing the check, you agree to the stated terms on the back of it, blahblahblah — they are, in effect, witnessing a contract, because it’s the fact that you signed it in front of them, which they ask you to do, that makes them a witness to your signature. They say, “We’re not in the business of agreeing to or witnessing contracts. This has nothing to do with us. We just cash checks.” It became a hassle and finally he crossed it out and cashed the check. Very interesting.
Has your position, as you’ve outlined it, been proven in a court of law?
In which case?
That by crossing out that agreement on the back of a check, you in effect cancel the agreement itself.
Dick Ayers took it to court, fighting for reprint money, and his lawyer insisted that the statement on the back of the check was illegal and improper. And although the court agreed that it was relatively improper, the fact that he had signed it without crossing it out made it a standard that he accepted. Therefore, they could not rule in his favor. The interesting point in that opinion is that had he crossed it out, they would have ruled in his favor.
The court did say that?
That’s what they said to the best of my knowledge, since I don’t have the papers in front of me. They said it became a Standard Practice between him and the company, therefore he accepted it since he made no objection to it at the time. Since it was Standard Practice, therefore he couldn’t defend it.
Does that mean that DC has to ask your permission to reprint your comics work?
Have they asked your permission before reprinting your work?
Are you going to do anything about it?
[Pause.] If I did it for me, it wouldn’t be worth that much to me and it would be long, drawn out, and expensive. So, if I did it, I would have to do it under the conditions of a class action suit, which means I would have to get a bunch of other people who did. There were only a few people who crossed that out. But those people, if I could get them together, might be worth a class action suit. And it might be supported by other people. Still, you must understand that I’m not in for destroying DC or Marvel. I want them to survive. And although they have been unethical and continue to be unethical to a certain extent now, I’m not out to get them. I’m out to change them. So I’m not out to make them think I’m against them.
To use a simple example. DC and Marvel insist that they own the artwork. They also insist that by contract, although they own the artwork they are returning it to the artist. But they make the statement that they own the artwork. Now, it may be that under the new law, under work-made-for-hire, they can say, because they have a law to back them up, that they do own the artwork. That’s a thing that will be decided in court at some point when somebody brings work-made-for-hire before the Supreme Court. I think it will be thrown out and declared unconstitutional. But before the work-made-for-hire provision in the law, they did not own the artwork, although they insisted and still insist that they own the artwork. I can tell you that when the sales tax people came to the accountants of DC and Marvel and asked them, “Do you own that artwork?” they said, “No. It belongs to the artist.” The reason they said no is because if they said yes, it belongs to us, the sales tax people would say, in that case we have to collect a sales tax from you. If you assume the accumulated sales tax that both DC and Marvel should have paid for the last, say, 25 years, I suspect that sales tax would go into the many millions of dollars for all that artwork at its proper market value. For example, on my work alone, if I sold one page at $500, they would tax every page that they say they own at $500 at 8 percent. Five times eight is 40.
Can’t the government only levy a sales tax on merchandise that is sold?
Yes. On things that they buy. OK? You see, what the companies do in reality, according to the sales tax people, is they buy the rights to print or to reproduce. They don’t buy the actual, physical property because if they did, it would be a sale! They wouldn’t have reproduction rights. If they bought it, if it was an outright sale, they would have to pay sales tax on it. Therefore, we are selling as artists the rights to reproduce. We are not selling the actual artwork. So, under the law, the artwork belongs to the artist, not to the writer, to the artist. Only to the artist. Now, if it belongs to the artist, why do the companies tell the artist it belongs to the company? Because they’re strong and the artist is weak. But what happens when the sales tax people come around and ask, “Who does that artwork belong to?” Why, the company says to the sales tax people, “It belongs to the artist.” That’s a fact.
How long ago were Marvel and DC telling the IRS that they didn’t own the artwork?
Not the IRS. Sales Tax. That’s the State. New York State.
And they continue to do that?
I don’t know what they do now. Under the. work-made-for-hire, the assumption that the law makes is that anybody who hires somebody under the work-made-for-hire is hiring him like an employee, not like a freelance contractor, so they own anything that person produces as an employee without buying it. They own it as though they created it. Just like General Motors owns whatever their employees make. The creative person has been reduced to the status of an employee without any of the benefits. That’s the difference, and that’s why I no longer work for DC or Marvel, because I’m not an employee.
If I were an employee, I would want all the benefits of an employee, but they’re not willing to give the benefits of employees to the various freelancers. If they did, they’d have three floors instead of one floor. They’d have to pay employment insurance, they’d have to pay Social Security, they’d have to have work space, they’d have to supply all the materials, they’d have to buy insurance. They’d have to do incredible amounts; it would cost them three times as much to have their artists. And then what happens if an artist asks for overtime, doesn’t want to work in the evening? Artists would quit. So, they got a thing in the law that says you can treat a person like an employee, but not give him any of the benefits of being an employee.
By the way, what I was going to say about the sales tax is that it might be a good idea for me to call the sales tax people and say to them, “Hey, they’ve told us for 35 years that they own our artwork. What have they been telling you?” The only problem with that is that I don’t want to see them hurt. I would rather see them deal with it like honorable people and our industry be cleaned up. OK? So, I have refused to be part of that part of the industry until it does get cleaned up. And it will get cleaned up.
But you are helping Steve Gerber with his lawsuit against Marvel.
No, I’m not helping Steve Gerber with his lawsuit.
You inked the Kirby cover for the comic that will help finance his lawsuit.
Yes, I inked the Kirby cover, but I am not helping him.
You don’t consider that helping him?
No. I was asked to ink a cover. I was told what it was for. It’s like a loan of money. Somebody needed money because they’re having a lawsuit. I’m not defending Steve Gerber’s attitude. He’s just another creative person up against somebody who is much more powerful than he is. I am not saying that Steve Gerber is right, although it may be proven that he is right. All I’m saying is that it’s an unfair fight, I’m trying to help give a gun to the other guy. It’s like a showdown. I’m not saying that this guy is right or that guy is right, but this guy’s got a gun and that guy doesn’t. I’m saying we’ll give him a gun, too, and see how it goes. I mean, I want to see a fair fight.
You really don’t have an opinion whether or not Gerber is morally justified?
Yes, he’s morally justified. I don’t have an opinion as to whether or not he’s legally justified because I don’t know what kind of a piece of paper Steve Gerber might have signed. If he signed the piece of paper that said, yes, you have these rights, and now he’s trying to take those rights back, l think it would be a long stretch to insist that Steve Gerber, when he signed that piece of paper, was an innocent kid from Cleveland, Ohio, trying to sell Superman to a big publisher. Steve Gerber is no dummy and he’s not from the boondocks. He’s been around, and if he signed that piece of paper, he signed it after he read it and hopefully after he showed it to a lawyer. The Academy [of Comic Book Art] was in existence at that time and was giving advice, so it would be very difficult for me to say that if he did sign that piece of paper, I could defend his position.
However, mitigating circumstances being what they can be in situations like this, he may have signed it under duress. He may have signed that piece of paper truly not knowing what it meant. He may have been promised one thing and the piece of paper went against that. He may have been told the piece of paper was for one purpose and it wasn’t for that purpose. It’s just that I don’t know the circumstances.
Beyond that, I think that it’s very good to clear a certain amount of air. For example, a piece of paper notwithstanding, if you’re a creator of a thing in Europe, the law assumes that you created it and will always own it. Therefore, it is yours. No piece of paper you can sign can change that. Now from that point of view, whether or not he signed that piece of paper or not wouldn’t matter. He would’ve given away something he had no right to give away, that should have belonged to him. So, it gets kind of gray. I would like to see the fight happen.
If I’m adding one bullet to the gun of the guy who didn’t have the gun to begin with, I’ll be glad to do that. I’d do the same thing for the other side if it were in a bad situation. I think that it’s unfair that, in the United States, in the way our court system is set up, the person with the most money has the most power. That’s one of the things wrong with our system. So, anything we can do as individuals to even that our a little bit ought to be done. That’s really our responsibility.
Speaking of such matters, I’m interested in what’s happening to the Comics Guild. Dick Giordano said in his Journal interview that the Guild was dead. Is that true?
The Guild cannot be dead. It is not possible for the Guild to be dead. One of the good things about a Guild is that once you institute it, once you create it, it cannot die. It can only die if a lot of people get together and kill it. And all people are doing now is ignoring it. The Guild exists for the problems that come up. What happened when we last spoke about the Guild was that a lot of people started putting pressure on the companies, a lot of movements started to take place, a lot of people became aware that artists were looking for other creative outlets. So, what we have as a result of all that rigamarole is the companies offering better conditions for their artists. They’re offering employee conditions for their artists like health benefits and stuff like that, raising their rates, agreeing to pay reprint money, incentive programs, like if you stay on a book so long you get a bonus. The companies starred to treat the freelancers very much better.
Young publishers began to think that maybe there was enough dissatisfaction among regular comic book artists that maybe they ought to try publishing, so we’ve seen new publishers come into existence, offering fair contracts, agreeing not to take rights away from the creative people. And what’s happened as a result of all that is that those people who are working the hardest at the Guild discovered that they were being kept so busy by the companies and independent projects that their interest waned in the Guild. They had less to fight for. So, in effect a lot of the goals of the Guild were accomplished almost immediately without the Guild having to walk into someone’s office once.
Do you think these benefits were accomplished indirectly because of the Guild?
Of course. The companies started to react almost immediately. They started making things so much better for people, especially at Marvel, that it was incredible. The fact that this happened caused a lack of interest. People wouldn’t come to the meetings. They would call and say, I can’t make it, I have a deadline, I gotta do this, I gotta do that. They were snowed under with work. There was an incredible amount of work people had to do, at good prices, good rates… rates went up considerably. So that that lack of interest was reflected in non-attendance, and those of us who were holding down the fort just let that happen.
What happens now is that everybody who paid a membership has their membership intact. As soon as things get difficult, or as soon as people realize they were only given a little and they really want more, as soon as they realize that the smaller publishers are doing better for creative people than the larger publishers, and as soon as they realize that they ought to get back together, the Guild is sitting there. It took a year and a half to get it constituted, but now it’s constituted. It exists. It’s got its seals, it’s got its papers, its dues are paid to the State. All they have to do is call a meeting and institute whatever things they want to institute and start it up. So, it’s just sitting there in limbo waiting for the conditions to exist that would make it necessary to get together again.
It’s like a union. How often is a union necessary? A union is necessary when things get bleak. When times are good, the union, in effect, disappears, goes underground. The same is true of the Guild. There is a time when it’s very important to have it and another time when it’s not so important. The fact is, it exists, it’s available for use at any time. All that has to happen is for one person to say, “Hey, I’d like to call a meeting,” and a meeting is called.
How many professionals are members of the Guild?
Isn’t that a relatively small number of professionals?
That’s because we didn’t solicit memberships after that first membership drive.
Shouldn’t a Guild solicit members?
Oh, it should, and once it becomes active again it will.
Isn’t the biggest bone of contention between the creators and the companies the work-made-for-hire contract?
I don’t think so. I think the companies are trying to make the work-made-for-hire contract palatable. They’re offering things… it’s a lot easier to fight for a dollar than it is to fight for an idea, so the biggest active bone of contention is the dollar and not the idea. And it’s very hard for those of us who make it our business to be concerned with ideals and ideas to make it clear to people why it’s more important to fight for the idea than it may be for that particular dollar, and that the dollar follows from the idea.
A person who works for a comic book company, once he signs the work-made-for-hire agreement, puts himself in the position of agreeing to it. Then it’s very hard to fight against it because he’s already agreed to it. So, there’s a certain embarrassment. “I’ve signed it, I’m sorry I had to do it.” I’m constantly getting people who will say, “Well, you know, I signed the work-made-for-hire agreement. I didn’t mean to do it, but I really needed to work, blahblahblah.” People are apologizing for it. That’s the best thing about it, that people are apologizing for signing that damned agreement. Then there are certain people who are not signing that agreement, who have held out, and they’re martyrs.
There’s Jack Kirby, who is a very interesting example. He’s a martyr to the goddamned ideal of it. He’s made out all right since then, but he’s fought for it. If Jack Kirby came to me and said, “OK, I said I wasn’t going to do it and I’m not doing it, so what’s happened?” I’d have to say, “Weil, they didn’t back you, Jack. The rest of the industry should’ve, and they didn’t and I’m sorry.” I can say I did, as a couple other people did, but that’s it. The industry will eventually back it, l think. But Jack is making out all right and I probably will never have to say that, but by God, at least a couple of guys refused to do it.
Are reprint rates equitable?
No, not at all. They’re approximately 10 percent of the original rates. Considering the fact that the comic book that’s reprinted sells approximately the same number of copies as one that isn’t reprinted — and I think the companies will verify that — what we’re talking about is an awful lot of profit for the companies and none for the creative people. But it’s there. I don’t like it. I fought for that 10 percent, and when I got it, I thought I accomplished something, but now that I look at it, it’s only 10 percent. In retrospect, It’s a helluva low price. Fifty percent would be equitable, make money for the company, and be terrific for the creative people. They would save half the money on a book as far as creative is concerned and the creative person could walk away and say, hey, this is pretty good. In my opinion, that would be equitable.
On the other hand, the companies take those same books and send them to every country they can get their hands on. They sell that stuff over and over and the comic book artist gets nothing from that.
The artist sees no foreign reprint rates whatsoever?
No, none whatsoever. I’ve had experience with foreign reprints and I can tell you that there is a whole other company at DC that does nothing but handle overseas reprints. Its income is not necessarily counted in DC’s income. It’s run by a man named Caroll Reinstrum. He does not run that part of the company well, in my opinion, from my experience, but he pulls in a tremendous amount of money that’s almost all profit. It’s like a man raking in profit, incredible dollars. And he’s selling at low prices.
I met a couple of publishers from Japan and Italy, and both of them asked me to sign their personal copies of the Superman-Ali book. I asked them what they paid to publish it in their countries. Did they pay any special price for it? Both of them said they paid an initial fee of $5,000.00 apiece. That’s without the royalty. They also have a royalty agreement that they have to pay. Five thousand dollars. Now, here’s $5,000.00 I didn’t see. The reason they paid $5,000.00 where they normally pay a standard fee for Superman is because I busted my ass to turn out a good book. They wanted that book because Neal Adams did Superman-Muhammad Ali, because Italian fans and French fans and Japanese fans cared about it. So, they went out and bought it. It was worth spending $5,000.00 on as an advance. Five thousand bucks, just bang, like that, just as an advance, on a comic book. Comic book artists don’t see any of that! That’s incredible. It doesn’t make any sense. Sure, it makes sense from the company’s point of view. But it’s not equitable, it’s just simply not.
There’s very deep immorality involved with that. It has to do with the fact that a company is able to deliberately keep information from its creative people on the theory that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Or what little you know won’t hurt us. And the companies continue to keep that information away from us. I don’t know how it would be if DC and Marvel published in their annual reports the income made by Caroll Reinstrum and Marvel’s overseas sales, and handed them out to their comic book artists. What if the creative people discovered that although Marvel Comics may have made $40 million this year, their profits were $4 million, but this other company made $20 million and there were no costs?
I don’t quite know what the artists would think about it, but I think they probably would get a little annoyed. I’ve gotten annoyed. And that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that everything the artist does that he has a potential to make money on, he doesn’t. And the companies don’t understand that that is going to end. At some point, the artists are going to get wise. The companies are planting the seeds of their own destruction. I’m not saying that Pacific Comics is going to make it incredibly, but there will be comic book companies like that that will make it. They’ll rake the artists away, and once it starts to happen, it will snowball, and I’m not sure that the companies will be able to regroup fast enough to stop all the artists and writers from going away. Maybe they will. Maybe they’ll catch on fast enough, but if I were them I’d start looking to my heels right away. If Pacific Comics has any kind of success, there are a half a dozen people who distribute comics to this direct-sales market who have enough capital to start their own companies, and they can sell to all the other guys.
It’s true with your publication, too. One of the biggest problems with your publication, I’m sure, is that people sit around and wait to see how you do. And if they see that you’re starting to make money, they just copy you.
Yes, they’ve done that.
They’ve done it! That’s what happens. That’s what business is all about: let the other guy give it a try, wait till he’s successful, then jump in, do the same thing. Exactly. That’s what it’s all about.
You’re in a unique position because you’re a businessman as well as an artist.
That’s right. It’s a very frustrating position in a lot of ways.
Well, because I really have a lot of things to say to the companies that are in their favor, and I have a lot of things to say to the artists that are in their favor, but there is so little communication between the two that there’s no forum for a discussion. Nobody wants to hear that they’ve been cheating anybody; nobody wants to hear. they’ve been cheated and there’s nothing they can do about it.
That’s why people listened when the Guild was talking — there was a shot at doing something about it. And there will be again. So, what I do is I sit around knowing all this stuff and saying, “Oh, man, if we could only straighten this out, it would be so much easier and everything would be so much nicer, and everybody would make money and it would be terrific.” But it’s not going to happen today; I know it’s going to happen after a period of time. I’ve studied enough history to know that in five years all of these problems are going to be pretty much straightened out. But I have to watch it happen, I have to watch a little bit happen here, and someone get hurt there, and someone put up a futile fight, and someone partially succeed, and this happen and that happen.
It’s rough. I don’t like to know that stuff sometimes. I like to sit and talk to artists and say, “Look, don’t sign the contract. Take a chance.” They say, “Well, if I don’t sign it…” But it happens in little ways. An artist will bring his contract up to the studio after he goes to his lawyer and we’ll discuss what things we can do with it to change it to make it better. These trade paperbacks that Marvel is doing, if a really good fight is made on them, a certain standard of equity will be created and it will be very good. Marvel is willing to bend in certain instances. I have an agreement with Marvel on a story I did for a black and white book that’s not a work-made-for-hire agreement, strangely enough. And they have an agreement with a science fiction writer whose story they’re going to be publishing that’s not a work-made-for-hire agreement. So, here are two examples.
The story l did is called “Shadow Hunter,” a little Japanese guy. And there’s no work-made-for-hire agreement there. That means it belongs to me. They have certain rights to it and all the other rights are mine. But it’s in the Marvel universe. How strange! Marvel’s also buying only partial rights to a science fiction book because the author couldn’t give up all his rights to it. Now, if they’re doing that in those two instances and they’re not hurting themselves, maybe they’ll see that it’s not so bad to do it that way.
When other artists and writers find out that they’re doing it for these two people, they’ll wonder why the companies aren’t doing it for them as well. Then they can ask the questions. Maybe the answers won’t be satisfactory and maybe they will. It’s going to generate some action and the action will be positive for the companies. And that’s the most difficult thing, trying to convince the companies that by being fair to their creative people, they’re not going to hurt themselves. “You’re going to do fine! The guys want you to make money, they want you to make money like crazy, they just want their share of it. That’s all! Give them their share of it, that’s all, give them their share and they’ll make money for you like nobody’s business.”
Be fair! It never hurts to be fair. If you go out of your way to be fair, the other guy will work for you and you’ll work out together. If the creative artist and writer in comic books are given the freedom to be creative by the companies sharing the profits, they will be more creative. They will create characters for the companies. There is an underground thing that’s happening now that you may or may not be aware of. Nobody’s creating new characters for the companies. Have you noticed that?
Nobody. Why? Because Neal Adams said so? No! Because everybody knows it’s a stupid idea. Don’t create characters for the company. It’s not because I said it. It’s so clear that it’s a stupid idea that nobody’s doing it. Nobody’s saying anything about it, but no new characters are being created. Nobody wants to do it. Nobody wants to lose them [the characters]. Cut out this shit and let the guys create for you! They’ll do it. They’ll do great stuff.
Well, there are new characters being created, but they’re especially stupid.
I think it’s a plot by the creators, not just not to create good characters but to create incredibly stupid ones.
I think the most unfortunate thing that could happen is that they could have an overwhelming success with a really stupid character like Dazzler and the people who created it would get nothing out of it. [Laughter.] An interesting lesson. What a great character. Dazzler. What does she do? She dazzles you.
I don’t know who created it.
It doesn’t seem like an independent creation. It seems like a committee creation. “What do we call her? Call her Lady Light. No, we’ll call her the Shining Light. We’ll call her She Who Shines. No, we’ll call her the Sparkler. The Sparkler? No, that sounds like something you do on Halloween. The Dazzler. No, that’s a piece of shit. Well, write it down anyway, maybe we’ll use it. Unless we come up with something good.” Two days later: “Well, we didn’t come up with anything good, so let’s call her the Dazzler.” That’s what it sounds like.
When I can, I try to speak to the people in charge. And I think sometimes when I speak they listen. I know Dick Giordano listens and every once in a while Jenette and Shooter listen. What I’m trying to tell them is not that they should do what I say, but I’m trying to warn them as much as I can that we have a terrific industry here, the comic book industry, and it could be made so much better simply by treating the people in it as equal creative partners in a venture of wonder. If that attitude is accepted by the companies, then the sky’s the limit.
What do you think you’ll be doing in five years? Do you hope to be directing films?
Oh, I’m going to be directing … I’m directing films now. I’m going to be doing comic books. One way or another I’m a comic book artist. I’ll always be doing comic books unless comic books are rejected by humans. I’ll be doing comic books, telling stories. The comic books that I’ll be doing might be quite different. I’ve already worked on some projects that I intend to be doing in the coming years that fall way way outside the normal comic book type, and they get into realms that people don’t want to talk about, like science and religion.
Do you have any major interests or themes you want to concentrate on?
In the future?
No. Entertainment. I have an interest in history and my favorite source for material is human beings. I believe that human beings have been entertaining in their own way from the beginning. Certainly entertaining to human beings. The history of how we have been entertaining is taught by movie makers who romanticize it, but who we learn more from, and by teachers who tend to make it dull. Human beings have been through such interesting things that would make wonderful stories, and so few people have approached those stories from an entertaining and truthful point of view that we have a whole area the potential of which hasn’t even been played with. I think it would be very interesting to do in comic form the life story of… who do we know that’s good. William Shakespeare. Just his life story. His life. A human being. What it was like.
That sort of thing would be a real challenge.
Yeah. I once created a concept that never got off the ground. We tried to sell it to a magazine publisher, a magazine called Meanwhile. What it would do is tell history in ten-year jumps. It would be like Life magazine or Newsweek magazine of that particular decade. You would do ads and little stories, but in almost comic book form, except that they’d be enclosed with captions. You could mix and match anything according to whoever wanted to do it. One of the quick dummies we put together had to do with the 1490s, when Columbus comes back. The cover featured Columbus landing in Barcelona. Inside, he’s brought before Queen Isabella. An exclusive interview with Columbus, with a shot of Columbus with “Exclusive Interview” written on the side.
It would feature stories from the decade. It would be what happened in that decade, not just there, but around the world, so you could relate what was happening there to everything else. You remember in history class how you’re taught a date and you go to another class and learn something else, and you say, “Hey, Jesus, didn’t that happen around the same time?” But you never relate the two. At the same time Columbus lands and Queen Isabella greets him, there’s a little feature on a 16-year-old sculptor named Michelangelo who’s turning people’s heads in Florence, and you do a little feature on him. He’s only 16, but this is what he’s done and you show some of his work. We had an ad for Gutenberg’s Movable Type, and it said, “Did you know that Dog spelled backwards is God? Turn your Dog into a God. Use Gutenberg’s Movable Type.” The whole idea was to make history fun, do features, do photographic features. Except they wouldn’t be photographs, they’d be drawings.
The publisher didn’t go for it. But I thought it would be interesting. I’ve expanded that idea. We’ve gone quite a bit further back in time. We’re going to do a very very interesting project, but it’s something I can’t talk about. I’ve been working on it for three years now: The History of the World. The History of the Known World. So, I’m getting into some heavy stuff… and into some light stuff. As far as comic book fans are concerned, Ms. Mystic. They’re about to see Shadow Hunter.
Where will that appear?
One of the Marvel black and white magazines. It’s not too good.
Why do you think it isn’t very good?
I think it’s a good character; I just don’t think it’s a very good story and it’s not that well done. We had done a whole lot of things for Power Records and they said, “Hey, what about Kung Fu? Would it be good to do a Kung Fu story on a record?” We said, “Sure. It would be a great idea.” Before we got to finish it, they cancelled that particular project. We had it lying around and Denny O’Neil needed a project for one of his books. He wanted science fiction, he said. And I said, “We got this thing lying around, but it’s not exactly science fiction. It’s Kung Fu.” So, Denny said, “Close enough. We’ll use it.” [Laughter.] So I said, “Fine.” That was weird. [Laughter.]
And then Nannaz. Nannaz will appear. When, I don’t know. I promise it will be entertaining. And that people who see it will have a good time, an interesting time. And I promise also that it will not be a movie where you say. “Well, I’m going to see a movie made by someone I know, I hope it’s good because if I ever meet him or see him at a convention, I’d like to be able to tell him it’s good and not be embarrassed and not talk about it.” So, I’m making a movie you’ll like at least a little.
PART 2, MARCH 1982
We talked about Marvel’s and DC’s payment policies toward creators, and those policies have been altered in the past month or two.
Marvelously so. DC-elously so.
Yes, that’s what I wanted to hear. l wanted to get your reaction to those changes.
Well, how could one complain about Marvel and DC Comics moving toward the 20th century? It would be difficult to say that it was an incorrect thing to happen. Certainly, I am delighted. And I think that it was not only a good decision for the creative people involved, but it was a good decision for DC and Marvel. Moreover, I feel that DC and Marvel will not only discover how wonderful it is for them as time progresses. but that getting the best out of creative people is what it’s all about. Nobody creates a thing that they love out of the desire to make a weekly salary or out of the desire to feel cheated, to feel that they’re giving something away.
If a very wise man had gone to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster when they were 16 years old rather than 17 years old and told them all the heartbreak they would go through if they ever created a comic book character and tried to sell it, it’s quite possible that they could have been talked out of creating such a character and we would have no comic book industry. And I don’t like the idea that the young people who are coming into our industry are being warned away, or they’re finding out within a very short period of time that they had better be doing something else because there’s no future in it. And then there’s the fact that the people who stick around stick around only because they love to do it more than they love to do anything else on Earth, and they would put up with almost anything to do it. I think if we create an atmosphere of creativity and positive approach in our industry, then we can look forward to more and better stuff. So, this is a step in the right direction.
Another step in the right direction would be to get rid of the work-made-for-hire provision in the comic book industry. It’s terrible for people to think that a repressive attitude will create positive thinking, or that they should fear moving into the 20th century, that Marvel or DC should think that there’s any danger in treating their creative people fairly. The fact that they may think that way is not strange because there is always a fear of greater freedom. Freedom is a thing that has to be fought for and has to be created, and there is a fear on the part of the person who is dealing out that freedom that it’s dangerous. But one of those things that we’ve learned in the world and definitely in the United States of America is that freedom is generally good for everybody. Sometimes it’s a little hard to explain to people why it is, but by golly, it really is. In the comic book industry, the greater freedom, the greater equality that’s given to the creative people, the more the companies will be able to make. That’s because the companies represent a thing that is of a qualitative and quantitative value to the creative person. The company represents the conduit through which the creative person gets to his audience, and if a publisher is willing to be that conduit and just be that conduit, not try to be the creator or not cry to tell the creator what creation is, but simply be the conduit through which the creator can get to his audience, then he will be incredibly successful.
In Neal Adams’s perfect world, what would be an equitable compensation to creators in comics? ls the royalty plan that Marvel and DC have instituted plus the base page rate sufficient, or should they go beyond that?
In the publishing industry, the percentage a writer is presented with for a particular book is eight percent. If he is successful, if he sells books to the extent that the company would like him to sell books, then his percentage goes up to 10 percent. If he continues to be successful, it is possible for his percentage to go up to 15 percent. If it goes up to 15 percent, he is truly cutting into the income of the company. That’s something that no creative person should want to do or think is good for him because the idea is to try to make yourself valuable to the company that you’re working through. So, you want the company to make money. At about 12 percent, a truly successful creative person writing for a publishing company will make money for the company and do very very well for himself.
So, what I’m saying is that a really good percentage would be eight percent. The companies are now at five percent. You would have to say that that is very close to being a great starting point. I think they will increase their percentages to a level that makes sense. If I were DC, or Marvel, I would end up approaching the percentage on an individual basis. In other words, the more sales that a creative person creates, the greater his percentage should be. That’s because what they call in the publishing business the “Nut,” that is, the amount of money they spend to print so many books, goes down as the print run goes up. So, the more you print, the cheaper is actually gets. In that case, then, the creative person deserves a higher percentage. I think that if someone like Michael Golden or John Byrne shows that he can sell twice as many comic books as somebody else, he should naturally get a higher percentage. Not only is he earning that higher percentage by selling more magazines, the cost of his individual magazines would be lower for the company.
The cost per copy goes down as the press run goes up.
Exactly. Which is the way it is in the publishing business outside of comic books. And as long as comic book companies prefer to call their periodicals comic books, and as long as we readers think of them as books, that’s how they should be treated.
What about other areas such as licensing rights, the work-made-for-hire contract, foreign rights, etc.?
One of the things Marvel is doing in their Epic magazine is selling foreign rights to magazines that will be called Epic magazine in other countries, and they are giving 50 percent of the income of those sales to the creative team or the creative person. There are inconsistencies and difficulties with the approach that they’re taking, but it is indicative of a much more positive approach. There are several things that are incorrect about it. The first thing is that Marvel includes a rider [to the contract] that that 50 percent is minus what their representatives get paid, so if $1000 comes in but they had to pay a representative $500 of that, then the creative team only gets 25 percent [of the total]. So, there’s no way of controlling that percentage. Truly, if there is a percentage given, it should be a percentage of the gross and if that percentage is less than 50 percent but is arrived at fairly and there is no opportunity for, let’s say, a liberal mathematics taking place, that would be more fair than a 50 percent with a rider that really can’t control it.
The other difficulty with that procedure is that Marvel, I’m sure, is making very special deals with the magazines that they’re selling the stuff to, where an amount of money will probably be paid to Marvel for the year for the right to use the title. Then they make a deal that they will sell the pages at a much-reduced rate, which then cuts into the creator’s income again. In other words, his stuff is not being presented on an equal and fair basis to a country like France, where that artist might be able to take that particular job and sell it to a company that has nothing to do with Marvel, and get twice the price that Marvel is selling it to their sister company, Epic, in France.
Marvel’s sister company? ls that a company owned by Marvel or a franchise or what?
Not necessarily owned by Marvel, and I’m not saying such a company exists. This is a hypothetical company. I’m saying that whatever company Marvel does business with, if it is indeed Epic magazine, then the payments made to Marvel will most likely be on two different levels: first, a yearly fee or a quarterly fee, and then a page rate situation. No one would make a deal with Marvel on that kind of basis unless they were getting a really good bargain on the page rate. It makes it possible for them to pick up American comic book artists’ work at a much reduced rate. If the American artists went over there themselves, and made deals, then it would be much more competitive. So, there is the possibility for unfairness.
On the other hand, this is the first time Marvel or DC has ever offered any overseas percentages. The next step, obviously, is percentages of the regular comic book material. But I’m moving ahead in time here. It’s hard to know what the next step is.
Doesn’t Marvel own the rights to Epic material for only three years?
It’s all according to the contract signed. Generally, they try to get as many rights as they can. That would be the most logical for a company to do given the publishing situation the way it is today. If the law is in your favor, you cry to take as great an advantage of it as you can. If artists or writers can say, no, I’ll only give it to you for two years, and they’re strong enough to make it stick, then that contract gets signed. That’s a lot closer to the way it should be.
So, Marvel negotiates different contracts with different artists.
Marvel doesn’t have a standard contract for Epic?
They do have a standard contract. The negotiation has to do with the changes you make in the contract. I have made changes in contracts with Marvel Comics and Epic magazine.
Haven’t you pulled out of illustrating the X-Men album because of a contractual dispute?
I never pulled out of the X-Men project.
Marvel said you weren’t going to do it…
I have five pages of that X-Men project on my shelf. The project hasn’t continued for no other reason than that I was supposed to receive a contract for a long time and I didn’t receive it. And then when I finally received it, it had a work-made-for-hire provision in it. Jim Shooter called me and said I probably wouldn’t want to sign it. I said I didn’t necessarily feel that way, but I did feel that I wouldn’t sign it with the work-made-for-hire provision. I told him, “I assume that the reason you sent me the contract was so that I could consider it and make whatever changes I felt were necessary, and that we will continue to talk about it.” He may have assumed at that point that we were no longer dealing together, but we certainly were. As a matter of fact, I still have the impression from Jim [Shooter] that it’s an open-ended situation now. No one has mentioned to me that that project has been cancelled, but they definitely have scheduled other projects ahead of it.
I was under the clear impression that you were no longer doing that project and that Marvel was looking for another artist.
No, I think they’re looking for an artist to do another X-Men, not that X-Men.
So this particular story by Chris Claremont is still slated for you to illustrate?
As far as I know. But a thing is not slated until you have a contract.
Hmm. So, what do you think will happen next? [Laughter.]
With regard to that X-Men thing?
Yes, I assume one of you will have to contact the other eventually.
Well, the interesting thing about what’s happening to the comic book business is that the rules that apply this week don’t necessarily apply next week. If at one point I was waiting for the comic book companies to agree to return originals to comic book artists, then one could say I was waiting till hell froze over because I would never get my artwork back. Shortly after I would have said such a thing, artwork would have been returned, and I could happily go on my way drawing comic books. If I said, as I say now, that I certainly wouldn’t sign under the conditions of a work-made-for-hire, then that doesn’t mean that next week work-made-for-hire won’t be discarded by Marvel and DC. I’m not saying it’s going to happen next week, but I think it’s in the cards. So then I would have no objection to the contract. I wouldn’t even have to argue with them. The contract is actually sitting in my desk. I haven’t moved on it because there are so many things I’m doing. I’m working on the movie, I’m working on a thing for Pacific Comics, and I’m doing a feature for a French magazine. So, it’s really that the contract got caught in the midst of a controversy and there simply hasn’t been activity on it because there has been activity in so many other areas. Bucky O’Hare is finally finished; we’re halfway through the color and we’re crying to figure out exactly what to do with it. We know what to do with it in Europe because we have sales over there. I’m very busy, very busy.
You would think that Marvel would at lease want to nail your X-Men contract down, wouldn’t you?
In some ways Marvel Comics has gotten out of it what they needed, and that is…
In some ways, to a certain extent. That’s unfair for me to say, but definitely a lot of activity was created because a lot of people thought there was going to be an X-Men graphic novel, so a lot of people arc paying attention to the X-Men graphic novel situation. Also, I was called in to design a graphic novel look for Marvel.
And the first graphic novel I saw unfortunately does not follow my design, but I was made a great part of that graphic novel concept. My input is present in the material that they’re doing: my attitudes about price, my attitudes about the package, the size of the package, what it should be. So, in many ways my impression is felt on their whole graphic novel line without my ever having produced a graphic novel.
It sounds as though you were acting as a consultant.
Yes, I had been a consultant. I had been paid for being a consultant, and, on a commercial level, Marvel paid me very well. They were very fair to me. I was very happy, very happy to do it, and I think I helped to start a good line. So, I don’t think it’s all that important to Marvel that I do an X-Men graphic novel at this point. Now they’ve gotten started, that ball’s gotten rolling, so whether or not Neal Adams does an X-Men graphic novel is unimportant… except to the fans. The fans may have something to say about that. They might like to see an X-Men graphic novel by Neal Adams. But as you know, my drawing a particular comic book is a lot less important to me than it might have been 10 years ago. Doing a movie, doing my special projects, influencing the industry — all these things are very, very important to me. So, one single comic book doesn’t take up all my time and attention.
It sounds as if you have become a propagandist as opposed to an illustrator.
I think there’s an aspect of me that’s become a propagandist. It’s a result of being in an industry that’s 25 years behind the times. To start with, I couldn’t exist in the industry the way it was. My choice was either to get out or to change the whole damned industry to suit my needs. Given that choice, I definitely chose not to get out. I am still in it one way or another, and I have chosen to try to change the industry to suit what I consider to be a good, valid industry to be. It’s actually getting there, and I’m very glad to be a part of it.
So, you weren’t exactly champing at the bit to draw an X-Men album?
I’d like to do it. I have five nice pages in there. It looks pretty good. Chris Claremont wrote the outline, and it’s a pretty good outline and a pretty good story. I’d like to see it done. We kill off Magneto in the first three pages.
And then it gets violent.
Then it gets tough. [Laughter.] Big, hairy chunks of Magneto’s flesh come ripping out of his body, as I recall.
Yes. Not Comics Code approved. We were talking about the Marvel and DC royalty plans. Why do you think Marvel and DC instituted this royalty plan right now?
I don’t think I can tell you the story that I feel is behind what happened, because that’s a private story and will be more fun five years from now. But to go to the obvious and clear reasons: there are independent publishers like Eclipse magazine and Schanes and Schanes in California, who are behind Pacific Comics. Pacific has been in touch with me, Jack Kirby, Mike Grell, and Sergio Aragonés, and have offered us what we have to consider valid, reasonable deals. And the knowledge of these offers and other offers to other artists has been brought to the attention of DC and Marvel. Now, I have a lot of respect for chose people. They have to look at that as straws in the wind. They have to say, well, what’s going to happen now if Jack Kirby and Mike Grell and Neal Adams work for a company like that? What’s to stop John Buscema if the economics are right? What’s to stop John Romita, even? What’s to stop Michael Golden, John Byrne, all these other guys from switching over to smaller companies who offer better deals, who offer fair deals?
Now that the direct-sales market is available to anyone who wants to get into it, it is good to get into it if you have your head about you, if you really have a good business sense, if you’re not stupid and just want to throw money away. If it really has a good business sense, a young company can start in the direct-sales market and make out and offer fair deals that DC and Marvel in the backs of their minds have to look at as a definite threat. In my opinion, Marvel and DC had to come up with an answer to that threat. The answer was percentages. I know that their percentages were a threat to the young publishers and immediately those young publishers had to reconsider their own deals and possibly make their own deals more fair than they were in response to what DC and Marvel are doing.
You’re referring to Pacific Comics’s new percentage plan?
Exactly, exactly. That’s what America’s supposed to be all about! A little bit of competition! DC and Marvel have had no competition up to now. And I’m not saying Pacific Comics itself is competition to DC and Marvel. What I’m saying is that the business as a whole that will go on in the next five years is the competition to DC and Marvel. Who will come up? What smart young whippersnapper out of Chicago will start producing comic books, contact all the people who work for DC and Marvel, and offer them percentages that are fair, and in some cases offer them percentages that are unfair to him in order to get them, to steal them away! So there is an indication of a really healthy competition going on. DC and Marvel could have chosen not to answer it, but I think in two years they might have been out of business. That’s a very, very real possibility.
So this new-found generosity was not the result of benevolence and love for their creators?
It never is. It never is and for us as creative people to expect it to be is very foolish. I suppose there are some of us who think that Marvel and DC are good moms and dads and when we deserve something we’ll get it. But it doesn’t really work that way. We earn what we get by being competitive, by being grown-ups. We don’t need moms and dads to tell us what to do. And DC and Marvel are learning that. They’re OK. It’s not to say they’re not a good mom or a good dad. There’s nothing wrong with that. They’re business people in a business community and that’s exactly the way they should be. They should try to make the best deal they can manage… and not go out of business. And I want them to stay in business, I wane them to do well. I would like Pacific Comics to do well, and I would like other young publishers to do well, but I would like Marvel and DC to do well, too.
My personal pride in anything I do, no matter what deal I work out, is that I bring success to the people that I work for or who I work with, that something about what l did helped them make money. That’s what I’m supposed to do, I’m supposed to help them do that.
At least twice during this interview you’ve expressed enthusiasm over competition and free enterprise, and you’ve said that America was based upon the concept of liberty. They’re political remarks: could you expand upon them?
I don’t know what that means.
I don’t either, but you said it.
I know I may have said it, but... look, the mere fact that I said it doesn’t mean l understand it any more than I understand what Ronald Reagan says.
Or that Ronald Reagan understands what Ronald Reagan says.
Give me more of a tail to hold onto and I’ll expand upon it.
Those were remarks that indicated certain political attitudes. Can you elaborate upon those attitudes?
If I get into this, people will think I’m pompous and arrogant again.
That’s all right. You’re in the right magazine.
I really and truly believe that the strength of an individual within a system that allows him to be strong adds to everything that’s around him. And I believe very, very much that freedom and liberty are not things given to you on a silver platter. Whether they’re in your industry or in your life, they’re things you constantly have to fight for, and fighting for them makes you strong. You can’t expect people to hand you liberty or think that you were somehow born with freedom and liberty simply because they’re there. It’s not true.
Liberty and freedom seem to be things that are easily taken away and constantly have to be fought for, and there are always new battlegrounds to fight for them. I think, for example, that we are on the down side of a liberty-freedom curve. We are sliding down the other side and we are discovering along the way that our freedoms and liberties can be taken away from us once again, and that they are about to be taken away from us. All of the things that we fought for are slowly being plucked away from us. Not by the intent of some evil person, but out of the self-protective nature of the people in power. They want what they have and they want to protect it. They don’t want other people to have it, even though history shows us that the more people that have all that stuff, the better everybody does.
It’s the same in a small way in the comic book industry. Comic book companies think that by withholding liberties and freedoms from their creative people, they will be more powerful and therefore richer. The fact is that the more liberties and freedoms they’re able to give or the more liberties and freedoms the creative people are willing to take back, the more powerful the companies will, in the end, become, because they’re dealing on a more equal level. It’s like the concept of the company that doesn’t want to pay its people more money when, as a matter of fact, it’s the people they pay that buy the product they manufacture. If they don’t pay the people more money, the people won’t be able to buy the product, they won’t be able to manufacture the product and they’ll go out of business. Unless you have rich consumers, you can’t produce rich goods. In order to have rich consumers, you have to be able to pay them a lot of money. If you don’t pay them a lot of money, they won’t buy your goods, so what’s the point of manufacturing goods? An economy is an upward spiral. Unless you keep on moving upward, you fall downward. Once you stop giving people enough money to be able to afford the stuff you manufacture, you can’t manufacture it because you can’t sell it. Who’s gonna buy it? Somebody in Cleveland somewhere, some mythical creature that has money from some magical otherplace that will buy your products, and not people who are working in the shipping department. Well, the guy who works in the shipping department buys the Zenith or he buys some other television set, and if you don’t pay him enough money he can’t buy the Zenith, so what are you producing Zeniths for? I mean, you might as well go out of business. That’s the way it works. People don’t understand that, but that’s what it’s all about. Right?
Now, this is no revelation if you think about it, but it sort of is because there are a lot of people in business who think, “Don’t pay him any more money, godammit, because he doesn’t deserve it, he doesn’t work hard enough; we work for what we have!” But it doesn’t work like that, it simply doesn’t work like that. The more you spread it around, the more you get back.
In our country, for example, we’ve decided not to spread it around too much. We decided that we’re going to spend money on this, that, and the other thing, but we’re gonna pull back; we’re gonna tighten the leashes because we don’t have extra money.
Who is this “we?”
Well … The people who are involved in making the decisions, and they are not mythical creatures. They are not the “they” that everybody talks about. They are easily identifiable people. They are politicians and the people who can spend enough time and money to buy those politicians. I don’t mean actually bribe them, but in effect support them in their own community, state, and country. They in effect support those people. They can create propaganda: they have enough money, they have enough power to do it.
If they don’t have a broader grasp of what it’s all about, then the smallness of the way they think affects the rest of us. Those of us who are not in a position to make chose decisions or point the way. On the other hand, it would be a good idea to look at certain times in history when those same people have been able to make wiser decisions. I envision a world where businessmen get together and say, “Hey, it’s really better to pay our people more money because they’ll be able to buy our products more easily.”
Has this benevolence ever occurred in the history of mankind?
Yes, I’m sure it has. I’m sure there are some enlightened people who indeed do this. I’m not saying anything that ‘s really new. It’s been said by other people in a lot better places than this. I’m sure it’s said on Park Avenue and Sixth Avenue.
Well, it’s probably not said at the Harvard Business School too much.
Perhaps not. I don’t know, not having been to the Harvard Business School. This is a little personal opinion toward the powers that be, whether it be President Reagan or some of the bigger business people: if I were in the business of spending money as a government, I would spend money on those things that would make us a future. I would spend money on a space program because the last time the government spent money on the space program, the money came back to America. It brought prestige, technological advancement, industry, and respect toward our country. All these things we cannot get by being regressive. We can get fear, not respect.
If I were President, I’d say, “l want to wipe out poverty in America in the next five years. I want it to be done on an individual basis using industry and the people, and I want to spend not one dollar of the federal government’s money. I believe we, as a country, should work on wiping out poverty in two years in the United States, and when that’s done, I want us to spend the next 10 years wiping out poverty in the world. In the end our businesses will have consumers all over the world for them to grow rich on and we’ll have a world in which there is no poverty. If we work on an individual basis or a business basis, if we work on it as Americans, we could solve that problem. And I, as President of the United States, want us to do that and I want to see it done by the deadline I set.” I think Americans would like that. I think the country would like that kind of challenge. I think America liked it when Kennedy said “We’re gonna get on the moon in 10 years.” Everybody thought about it and said, “Nah, we won’t make it.” But we got on the moon in 10 years.
I think that that’s what the leaders of a country are supposed to do: set the parameters. They’re supposed to say things like. “Let’s wipe out poverty” and then let the country work on it. The leader of a country doesn’t work on it, it’s the country that works on it. A country needs a goal. We’ve lived on this planet in a civilized state for the last 5,000 years, and all we’ve had to look forward to is whether or not we’ll win the next war. This has been our goal, this has been what made mankind great — winning a war. I say we can replace war with other goals. A leader could present a national goal to the country, and the country would move toward that goal. Keeping itself busy and out of trouble.
Idle hands, they say, are the devil’s plaything. I think one of the biggest problems in our country is that we have idle hands, idle industries. The United States should say to American industry, “We think you people are our best ambassadors. We want American industry to go to every country it can get into. We want it to expand into other countries, but we want those countries to be equal participants. We don’t want to colonize — but we want to help build up other countries. And every company that goes into another country should pay for a school there. If General Motors wants to go to a country, it offers that country a school and get itself invited in. American industry should spread an attitude of equality and freedom to the rest of the world and believe in, and make the rest of the world equal to us.
We in America have sat too long on our duffs believing we are superior to everybody. Wouldn’t it be better if we were equal to everybody, if every African, South American, and Asian nation lived on the same economic basis that we lived on? Are we so arrogant that we can’t believe that those people should make exactly what we make? That we can’t believe that unions can expand to other countries and have national and international unions that support the working people around the world? Are we so egotistical that we have to have so much national pride that we can’t believe we can help solve the problems of the world? I think that would improve our national pride. I think that would improve the world’s pride. I think we can solve those problems. If our country had leaders that would say chose things, I think we could move toward a future.
As far as comic books are concerned [Groth looks around, bewildered, a.s if a new idea just walked into the room] — slipping back to comic books…
Boy, this is called cognitive dissonance.
Yes. The philosophy that guides this kind of thinking is a philosophy that truly believes in equality. It’s the same philosophy that has made me fight for the return of original artwork, equal races, percentages, and all these other things. It’s a real sense of equality, which has to be fought for, and it will never hurt anybody. It will always be positive for everybody.
You sound like a Socialist, Neal.
I don’t think I’m a Socialist at all. I think that I’m a true Democrat, perhaps, I think I’m a true Republican in the best sense of the word, and I think I’m a pretty good American. And I think I’ve learned from all the people who have made mistakes. I’m a big student of history, and I hope I’ve learned from the history of man, which I’ve studied as much as I can. One thing I’ve learned is that people make out a helluva lot better if everybody’s equal. You don’t have to worry about walking into a neighborhood and getting stabbed if everybody there is basically equal to everybody in your neighborhood. Someone isn’t going to break into your house because you have more money than he has if everybody’s got the same thing, unless he is a sociological deviant.
Well… I’m just curious: how would you impose this equality on the social order?
If equality needs to be imposed, then it’s not worth dealing with. I think equality is a potential. It’s like everybody having water. Everybody ought to be able to go to the sink, turn on the tap, and get water out of it.
In which case everybody must be able to afford a faucet, which is a condition that must be imposed.
Which would be terrific. The assumption that I have to make is that for each problem, there is a solution. For each problem, that has a solution, there are probably 50 solutions, and out of the 50 there are only two or three really good solutions. The way to solve problems is first chinking of all possible solutions, and then picking out the better solutions, and paring then, down to the best solutions.
For example, there are industries that pollute the water. There are ways to take the pollutants out of those industries, or ways to alter the process in which they produce their material so pollutants are not created. This may take an investment of money, but it will, in the end, make that money back. There are also industrial wastes that, if refined, would probably be very good for other industries. If an industry makes it its business not to create wastes, then very likely they will develop a technology that creates a new industry. In other words, in the business of solving problems, you always advance. If you have a problem of waste, then you solve the problem by solving the problem, and it’s very likely to create some other positive thing.
To sum up, you sort of see America’s mission as consumerizing the world.
No, I don’t see that. The world is consumerized.
There are certainly parts of the world that are less consumerized than America.
Is India not consumerized? There are things that people think are true but aren’t true. Okay? People believe that people don’t kill people because God tells them not to. The reason people don’t kill other people is because if you kill other people, they won’t trust you. You can see a certain logic there. If you steal something from somebody, he’s likely not to trust you. If you kill his brother, he’s likely not to trust you. So, we don’t do that, we don’t go around killing people because if we do, people won’t trust us. That’s why we don’t do it, not because daddy told us not to, but because it makes sense. If I kill or steal, I won’t be in the tribe any more. They’ll put me up in the hills or bash my brains out.
Yes, but human affairs aren’t that tidy.
No, they’re not that tidy because there are a lot of people, and the more people there are, the more complicated things become. If there are two guys, and you take something from the other guy, he doesn’t trust you, he doesn’t stay awake when the lion comes and you die. So, if you want to trust each other on that basis, you learn not to take anything from him and not to kill him because you need him. Three guys is as logical, but when you get 10 or 15 guys, it’s more complex. If somebody forgets that it’s not all that logical and he bumps somebody off, he gets thrown out of the tribe and he has to learn the hard way that it’s not a good thing for him to do that. Basically, the people who are left are what we call society. Society is human beings living together, giving each other the same amount of trust that they expect back. That’s what society is about, that’s what it should be about. When there gets to be a lot of people, some people can forget and violate the trust of the others, but society can still exist. If, out of five million people, five people violate the trust, it’s a drop in the bucket. But the reason we do those things is because we exist in a society. Now, it’s possible for some people to say, well, we’ve become very societized. No, we haven’t. We are a societal creature.
In the creative arts, we exist as parasites off society. We provide no useful function except to entertain. Everybody else provides food, lodging, or other necessities, but we don’t provide anything. But those other people agree that we should be part of society. We exist as parasites, entertaining parasites, and to think that we are any more than that or any less than that, is incorrect. So here are two basic truths: for man to exist in cohabitation with other men, he has to trust his fellow man, and in order to trust, he has to obey certain rules. If he doesn’t obey those rules, he’s out. Man is a societal creature. Artists don’t provide a really important function for survival. They entertain, they’re part of the entertainment committee, they paint the paintings on the walls of the caves, or they make dances, or they sing songs to remind people of the battles. But they’re really entertainers, they take your mind off the drudgery of the day. We, because we interrrelate with other people, are consumers. We’re consumers of each other’s goods. In effect we’re traders, trading with other people, this for that. This food for that entertainment, this food for that stick of wood to build our house. So we’re all consumers.
Life is a lot more basic than we who delve into a lot of different philosophies try to make it. There are a lot of words and political attitudes that we make up, but life is really quite simple. If we could get down to a little simpler understanding of what it’s all about, then a lot more things become clear. A short while ago, I explained to you that if a guy manufactures products in a factory and doesn’t pay his people, they can’t buy the products. He can’t sell his products and he goes out of business. Now, the reason that that’s so easy for me to explain and so easy for you to understand is because I try to make life, not simpler than it is, but as simple as I think it really is. When you do that, you start to understand a little more about the way things work. They’re not all that complicated. There are solutions to problems. Running around like a chicken with your head cut off and thinking that there is no solution to a given problem or feeling futile about it is not necessarily a course you have to take. You can decide to do something about your world.
An individual in the United States of America or any country in the world can decide to do something to change things. He may have to pay a terrible price, but he as an individual can make changes. He can make changes in his government, in his industry, in his own life and the lives of people around him, or in the whole world, simply by getting a clear image of what the world is all about, of what is positive and what is negative and what is worth working on, and then working in that direction. I have approached my life with that attitude. If you can clarify the problems and keep them simple enough, and base them on some sort of understanding of history and how things really work, then you can go a long way to solving those problems — if you’re willing to take a little time and effort to do it.
The reason we were successful with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster was that we were right. We didn’t say we were legally right. We said on a societal level these guys have done something and however it worked out, somebody took it away from them. Whether it was legal or not, it simply wasn’t right, and some of that should be returned to them to make amends. People were able to see that it was correct and something was done about it. And that’s all it was all about.
Weren’t Siegel and Shuster getting paid a fairly good sum of money for many years from DC?
No. Anything you want to know I can tell you about it.
All right, what was the arrangement? Were they simply paid a lump sum, did they sell the characters outright to DC, or what?
No, they were never paid a lump sum. They were originally paid to do the work. I think it was $15 a page. When they brought Superman to DC, they were offered a piece of paper that gave away all rights to that character forever, and they signed it. Before Jerry Siegel went off to fight in World War II, he made a proposal to DC that they do a character called Superboy, the adventures of Superman when he was a boy. The publisher of DC said that it was a very stupid idea and that he should forget about it. When he was away, DC created a character called Superboy. When he returned, he was convinced by a lawyer and an agent that he should sue DC for the rights to Superboy. He did. The complications of that suit are many and varied, but the court agreed that he owned the rights to Superboy, and that he did indeed create Superman. However, there was apparently some complication implying that he gave up his rights to Superman. They settled for $400,000.00, and DC got Superboy as well. Now, a logical person should have sat down with Jerry and Joe and said, “Out of that $400,000.00, you have two sets of lawyers. They’ll cost you about $100,000.00 apiece. Not only that, the agent that convinced you to do this has asked for 10 percent, so he’ll take $40,000.00 off the top. You’re gonna end up with about $60-$70,000.00 for possibly the rest of your life, because there’s a good chance that DC is not gonna have you work for them anymore because they don’t like you anymore.” They ended up with an amount of money — it went quickly — and discovered that they were in an industry that thought they were too hot to handle. I think that’s probably the gentle way to say it.If there were people in the industry who didn’t think they were too hot to handle, somehow those people were reminded that Jerry and Joe were too hot to handle by agents unknown. So Joe Shuster didn’t draw another comic in his life. Jerry Siegel was out of work. He could write under another name, but not under his own. Why? Who knows? After a number of years, Jerry was able to get work at DC as a writer. The way he got that work was through, I’d have to say, very emotional means. It was very tough for him to get work, and humiliating in a way. But he did get work, and for a period of time he was working until another battery of lawyers convinced Jerry and Joe that under the old copyright law, after a certain period of time, 35 years I think it was, you could reapply for copyright. Once they instituted that potential in court, they could no longer work in the industry. So they were reduced to getting along on the promises of lawyers who told them that they could probably win the copyright back. For 15 years they were silent, for 15 years they did nothing. Why? God only knows. Joe Shuster lived with his brother and went progressively blind. Jerry got jobs in various places to support himself, I assume in the belief that one day they would indeed have the rights to do Superman again — some pie-in-the-sky situation. And in the end, when the question could have been taken to the Supreme Court for reasons I cannot talk about, their lawyers did not take it to the Supreme Court, and they ended up 60 years old with nothing. And for the 15 years before that, they never talked to anybody about it. They had lived day to day for 15 years on the assumption that something would happen, something that would never happen, and when they finally realized nothing would happen, that’s when the fight took place.
So, no, they weren’t getting a lot of money. And l’m not saying there’s a real bad guy. There’s no real bad guy. Business people are business people. I’m sure that the people who got them to sign that piece of paper didn’t necessarily think that Superman would become so popular, but by God they weren’t going to let it go once it did become that popular. They were in business to be successful, and these guys had signed the contract, they’d signed away their rights. And they had gone to court and settled out of court. Now, that is not to say it’s right. A thing does not have to be legal to be right, a thing does not have to be right to be legal. The only way that we won — and we didn’t really win, what we got was a little equity — the way we got that was simply by appealing to as many people as we could as loudly as we could that there was an unfairness. That appeal was heard by enough people to turn the situation around. It was clearly time to do something about it. It took a little effort to get that done. It took a little jumping up and down, it took a little running around, it took some news conferences, it took a little carrying on, and it took effort, but in the end it was a clear situation. It was so clear that everybody could see it. Anybody that was on the side of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster clearly wore a white hat and the other guys wore a black hat, and that’s not the way it should be viewed. It was an unfair situation that happened through a series of circumstances that needed to be righted. A little effort was taken and it was righted, and that’s it.
I wanted to ask you about the Comics Guild. Did the Guild have anything to do with DC and Marvel implementing the royalty plans?
There’s an awareness that the Guild is legally empowered. When John Kennedy said that we should be on the moon in 10 years, that’s not what got us on the moon in 10 years, but that contributed to it, and then the work of individual people made It happen. What moves our business forward is an awareness of what’s going on and people pushing in different areas: Jack Kirby refusing to work under work-made-for-hire, Sergio Aragonés with drawing comic book material from DC Comics that he had done for a project because they gave him a work-made-for-hire contract, Frank Miller and Michael Golden becoming valuable items while also being businessmen and not blindly going where they’re told to go. All these and many other things have contributed to this, and will contribute to advances in the future. There’s an awareness in our industry now that we have been behind the times and that we are going to move forward. So, all these things had something to do with it.
You’ve said that the Guild was not dead, that it was alive. What concrete advances has the Guild pursued in, say, the past year and how has it gone about operating?
The Guild has not had a meeting in over a year. The Guild has not done anything. The Guild merely exists.
Sort of like God.
[Laughter.] Yeah. It’s there. And that’s the thing that’s very important: it just happens to be present. And what it means is that if enough people get mad about something that’s wrong in our business, all they have to do is get together and say, “Let’s have a Guild meeting.” We’ll open the books, take our Guild stamp, and stamp a piece of paper that says, “What are we gonna do now? This is how we’ll proceed, let’s collect some dues and get rolling.” It exists and it’s there. But things are moving so fast in the industry that there’s nothing for the Guild to do. I mean, there really is nothing for the Guild to do because things are happening very, very rapidly. And I think the Guild’s existence had some small thing to do with the fact that things are moving so quickly. I don’t think the companies want the Guild to have a meeting. I think that they would just as soon have the Guild stay on the shelf for awhile, and as long as they keep coming up with things like this five percent, who needs a Guild? But it’s there.
But it’s inactive.
Well, it’s sort of like …
What happened to all the money members paid as dues?
It’s in the bank where it’s supposed to be, where it has to be. We’re not legally empowered to use that money except to pay for the newsletter … which is not being printed [laughter].
People joined the Guild for a reason, presumably. Have the people who joined the Guild felt that it was money well-spent?
Beats me. I don’t know. Everybody had different reasons. As a matter of face, I read a bunch of interviews — I think it was in your magazine — about why people would or would not join the Guild. Everybody had a different reason. And that’s the way It is with an organization like the Guild. Everybody has a different reason for joining or not joining. Whether everybody’s individual reasons were fulfilled by whatever activity the Guild participated in is not the point. Whether or not there has been activity in the industry is the point. Whether the activity is satisfactory will only be answered by whether or not the people are satisfied. If the people are unsatisfied, then what they’ll do is say, “Let’s hold a meeting and show how unsatisfied we are.” The Guild has nothing to do with me. The Guild is, in effect, us, the creative people, and if us are annoyed enough, then us get together and decide what to do. If they’re satisfied, if they’re sitting on their fat asses and quite happy and content with what they’re doing, the Guild will do nothing. The Guild is like the monster that you call up when things get rough, and it belongs to everybody in the industry. It doesn’t belong to the publishers or the fans. It belongs to the creative people. And when they choose to call it up, they’ll call it up, they’ll draw the star on the floor and sprinkle the dust on the floor, and by God, the Guild will be alive again. That’s what it is: the Guild is everybody in the industry.
Uh-huh. So, if anybody is dissatisfied, should they call you!
They can call me. l’II be glad to show them the books.
Who’s on the board of the Guild?
Marshall Rogers was the President at the time we stopped having meetings. Marshall Rogers will be the perfect guy to call. If there is enough gravity to what people have to say, then Marshall will call a board meeting. I was on the board …
Wasn’t Chaykin on the board?
Yeah, he was on it for a while. I think he had to leave, too. What happened is that everyone got so busy that everybody sort of resigned from the board. They said, “Get somebody else,” and at that particular point the Board said, “We’re chasing around for people to be on the board when things are not in such a state that we need it, so let’s just call an adjournment until things get feisty.”
You must understand that when the activities…
It certainly sounds like a peculiar Guild.
Not at all, not at all. Almost all Guilds work that way. Unless it has a job to do, it’s inactive. A Guild is not like an association. An association, you have meetings every month and you get together and you decide where you’re going to contribute your money to or whatever else you’re going to do. A Guild has a specific purpose: it protects the interests of the people in the industry. At a time like this, the people in the industry don’t need to have their interests protected. They have their work to do. Nothing is happening. The reason you call a meeting of the Guild is because you have trouble, not because you’re interested in going to the Bank of New Jersey and having an art exhibit or you decide to go to hospitals and have a chalk talk. Now, what happened when the Guild was formed was that we had troubles.
What kind of specific troubles were you having?
We were having problems that had to do with the work-made-for-hire provision, we were having problems with regard to who gets what artwork when the artwork gets returned, rights, percentages…
Don’t you still have all those troubles?
Oh, yeah, we have all those troubles, and we will have those troubles after the next meeting of the Guild, whenever that takes place…
But you’re not calling a meeting of the Guild.
It’s not my job to call a meeting of the Guild.
Does anybody know whose job it is to call a meeting of the Guild?
It’s the job of everybody in the Guild and everybody who’s not in the Guild, those people who didn’t join and those who did join.
Who do these people call if everybody doesn’t know exactly who to call?
Call Marshall Rogers. They can call any board member. They all probably have letters from the board members where everybody signed the letters and they can call any member of the board. For example, I might be called by somebody who says, “I have a problem with so-and-so and it’s a personal problem.” If it can be taken care of on a personal basis, or two or three of us can get together, or I can sit and talk to some of the other guys, we can discover whether or not it’s a Guild thing. Nothing has come up that’s Guild-worthy.
What about the work-made-for hire provision?
While we were forming the Guild, I was the representative of the Guild that went to the other organizations, sat in on their meetings, and represented our point of view. I went to the
Graphic Artist’s Guild, the Cartoonist’s Guild, which is an off-shoot of the Cartoonist’s Society, and the Writer’s Guild, and I sat in on their meetings. We had some rather rabble-rousing meetings, but the end-result of those meetings is this: all 40,000 or however many thousand creative people there are in this country need somebody who will represent us in Congress and get the law changed. Outside of that, we need an organization that will fight for us on an individual basis, but we will achieve nothing …
Are you talking about needing a lobbyist?
No, we need a Senator, a Congressman.
A Congressman who will defend comic book artists?
Who will defend comic book writers and artists, screenwriters, authors, cartoonists, anybody in the creative arts who may fall under the work-made-for-hire provision in the law, and potentially every creative person will fall under the work-made-for-hire provision because of the way it’s written. Now, if all the organizations could in the future convince a legislator that it’s a worthwhile fight for him to champion, then we may get a change in the law. But the organizations that I’ve been in touch with who are much better and who have many more members than we could possibly have haven’t had a tremendous amount of success. So, on an individual basis, those of us who are still involved in the fight keep track of those organizations and what they’re doing, and we do articles every once in a while and like that to try to help out. But as an organization, we don’t have the people to make any difference. One of the things that we’ve considered before we stopped having general meetings was whether or not we should, as a group, join the Graphic Artist’s Guild. It was decided that we could become buried in the Graphic Artist’s Guild and that in some ways we would be better off having our own Guild and on an individual basis persuading people that perhaps they should join the Graphic Artist’s Guild. My point of view is that joining the Graphic Artist’s Guild is a very, very positive thing for anybody in the comic book business to do because they have a lot of machinery to deal with.
And I bet they hold meetings!
[Laughter.] Yes, they do hold meetings. And they hold symposiums. As a matter of fact, while their finances aren’t incredible, they have a lot of worthwhile things that comic book artists can go to. A number of people that I’m associated with belong to the Graphic Artist’s Guild. The choice we could make is that, given the condition of the Comic Book Creator’s Guild, we could recommend to everybody that we send back their membership and that they apply it to the Graphic Artist’s Guild. However, being responsible parties, we feel it’s better to recommend on a casual basis that people join the Graphic Artist’s Guild and that we hold the Comic Book Creator’s Guild aside for a possible fight. We’d rather not lose it. In other words, it’s easier and better for us to do both: to encourage people to join the Graphic Artist’s Guild where their voice can be felt on an immediate basis, and to hold the Comic Book Creator’s Guild on the side in case we need it specifically in our industry.
But the impression I may have given is that there is a champion on a white horse or there’s somebody standing on the top of the Empire State Building swirling a sword around. It doesn’t work like that. A thing happens by its nature. The Comic Book Creator’s Guild exists and if nothing is being done with it, then nothing is being done with it with the consent of everybody involved.