Saturday, December 22, 2012

Inside Comics 1974: The Comics Code: 20 Years Of Self-Strangulation?



  Some time ago, I put up a blog which reprinted what 20 writers thought about while writing comics in the 1970s.  It was reprinted from Inside Comics.  It proved very popular so I thought I’d put up another article from that four issue fanzine.  This one features Leonard Darvin, Roy Thomas, Carmine Infantino, and James Warren talking about the comics code from 1974:         

                 The Comics Code: 20 Years Of Self-Strangulation?

          After 20 years of the Comics Code, what would you say have been the positive contributions of the Code to either the industry or the public?
          LEONARD DARVIN: The Code made it possible for the comic book to survive as a mass medium for children, acceptable in the home and selling hundreds of millions of copies. Were it not for the Code, comics might have survived as a small, offbeat type of publication for adults, or in the kiddie area like Mickey Mouse.
          With competitive trends as they are, if one publisher got into sex, almost inevitably another would get sexier, and so on, until the public would clamp down and say “I don’t want my kids to read them!” Though in 1971 we permitted the use of werewolves and vampires, the trend in that direction is not gory in Code approved books, and does not go beyond limits that we would defend for reading by a youngster, maybe not babies, but okay for teenagers.
          There’s no arbitrary limit on age. The Code, on a sexual level, for example, is no more restrictive than many state laws which say that children under 17 can’t be sold a book which shows bare breasts. We have kept within the bounds of 17 or 18. It’s up to the individual publisher to decide that he’s putting a book out for kids of 7 or 8, or to decide to publish for 17 or older.
          The Code can only be justified by the fact that a comic book is essentially a children’s reading device. Take that element away from it, then the Code certainly has no place, because I’m against censorship, and I know the publishers are against censorship generally for adults.
          When you deal with children, even today, the feeling that we’ve gone beyond, in sophistication, the point where we were in 1954, is ridiculous. When it comes to children, people are still as sensitive as ever. There is always the danger of the government stepping in as is happening right now with standards for children’s advertising on television.
          If we didn’t have the Code, competitive forces and periphery people, who are out of the business today, would come back into it, abuse the medium and kill the whole thing, as far as the mass medium goes.
          CARMINE INFANTINO: It helped considerably by keeping out the lunatic fringe element. There would have been an awful lot of guys in there publishing who are not around now because of the Code.
          ROY THOMAS: The most positive one is the fact that there is a comic book industry at all today. There was a time in the fifties when it looked as if the whole industry would go under because of the excesses of the few, or even the many. Now with self-censorship, that’s been very well taken care of.
          JAMES WARREN: The Comics Code had done many things for many groups. Start with the publishers who got under the wire and had their stuff “acceptable” to the Code. This has been wonderful to them, because it represented a sort of closed shop in which they set up their own standards as to who they’re going to let into the ball game. Now for the publishers who fit into the Code, it was terrific because, for a while, nothing would compete with them unless it was in the range of what fit into the Code. As long as they, themselves, made the rules which they had to comply with, that was fine. So if you happened to have an ARCHIE going at the time, great, if you didn’t happen to, you were out of business.
          Now, what benefits did the public get when Bill Gaines was torn apart unmercifully under the lights of the Senate Investigating Committee? Ask yourself what benefit you got from pulling Gaines apart. It is an unfair thing that I equate with the McCarthy days. What were Kefauver’s political motives? It did him a lot of good, got him on television at Gaines’ expense.
          What did the public get, some good television viewing? Actually, I don’t think the public got anything out of it, it was shameful.
          The news media who covered it beautifully got a lot out of it. They got good copy at the expense of a human being named Bill Gaines.
          What have been the negative or nonconstructive effects of the Comics Code in the last 20 years?
          DARVIN: You have to look at the answer in two ways.
          Certainly in the course of the thousands of decisions we have made, we might have made mistakes and restricted the publication of some of the wrong things. Overall, especially since 1971 when we revised the code, taking into account the contemporary feeling about nudity for example, which is much more liberal than it was in 1954, we have not restricted creativity.
          I think that we have promoted creativity by eliminating broad areas of emphasis on gore. The publishers looked for different areas because they had to. They went into social significance, the art became better, they had to sell books on another basis.
          INFANTINO: None. I’m in favor of the Code. At one point recently, the Code looked as if it were in dire jeopardy because of financial problems. The boys on the Code and myself stood up and said we would back it up 1000/0 to keep it going. It’s a necessity. We really feel that.
          You can be just as creative within the framework of those rules as you can without them. Everybody says that those rules are hampering them, but I think that there’s something wrong with the people who complain. It makes you think a little harder to be creative, there’s nothing wrong with that.
          THOMAS: It makes certain things impossible. The Code has assumed the fact that the industry would be aimed almost entirely at children. In the fifties, there was a chance for some kind of break-through, when the books were beginning to appeal to a slightly older audience. They were halted because someone suddenly said, “You’ve gone too far, go no further.”
          The question is whether the comics should be kept for kids just because they are read partly by kids, or whether they should have been allowed to grow naturally.
          It took years for the comics to begin to catch up with other media. Even now we are not allowed to do things which are everyday occurrences in movies or T.V. as regards to language and themes. All these forbidden things are done on prime-time T.V. shows when everyone knows that they are going to be watched by 8 year old kids. But if the same kids see it in the comic books, somehow you can pin comics right there and say: This is terrible!!!
          WARREN: There might have been some young people who could have been inspired, whose imagination might have been lifted and who might have gotten some great pleasure out of the comics they never got to read because the comics were never published. People like budding Bradburys, Fellinis, and Ku-bricks; anybody who had their imaginations soar to the heights when they were kids and read comics. Now I’m not saying that the comics had to include the kind of things that Bill Gaines was vilified for, but I think that there was a Middle ground between Archie and the stuff Gaines was putting out
         
          There is a generation of kids that never read anything but Code comics who would be better off as budding creative people had they read other comics. I’m looking up to people who have said this to me time and again, even in print. Ray Bradbury has said that he loved his youth, and loved the comics he read, and loved the kind of stuff that inspired him to go on and become a creative writer. Who is to say that we haven’t lost out on a couple of Ray Bradburys because the stuff that the Code allowed was not enough to inspire them.
          Given the Comics Code as it exists today, what changes or alterations would you make in the Code if you had a completely free hand in the matter?
          DARVIN: The Code is a simple set of rules, easy to understand. However, when you apply it to a particular situation it’s not quite that simple, because there can be two views of it, and both can either be said to violate the Code or to conform to it. With the type of interpretation that we’ve developed, we occasionally will be very severe about holding to the very letter of the Code, and at other times relax a little—depending on the situation.
          I don’t think that the Code needs revision right now. We can live with it, and the publishers can live with it, We certainly have not had any complaints from the publishers in the last few years.
          INFANTINO: We did make changes in the Code when it was reshaped 2 years ago. We made clarification of areas which were kind of nebulous at the time. Mystery—some call it Horror—had a clarification: I said, what’s wrong with the stories of Poe and de Maupassant? If they’re classics and they’re good enough for a kid to read in school and for a teacher to teach him, why can’t we have things like that under the Code’? The group agreed. We bent the rules a little so that the Code would open up a little further, but not take the situation to the stages where some of the non-Code people have gone.
          THOMAS: It would probably have to be that I would want to see no Code at all. Any changes that would be made at this point are really pretty minimal. I could talk about ridiculous restrictions: we could have vampires, but not zombies. There’s a provision that rape cannot be shown in any way, even the suggestion that there might have been a rape, I think that’s rather a mistake. It moans you can approach realism from certain angles, and then suddenly there’s one thing that’s completely shut off to you. It can make the whole story suddenly very artificial.
          The language restriction should be lifted. But as long as we’re aiming primarily at kids, I don’t think we would do much more anyway. Many of our audience at various ages, including teenagers, not just young kids, object to the swear words. If we use a tiny bit of suggestive nudity, most people say that if its done tastefully, it should be done.
          Other people object to it in any way shape or form.
          All in all, the only way to do anything outside the Code is not to change the Code, but simply to do a magazine which does not fall under the Code at all. The black and white magazines just use those provisions of the Code which make sense to you, depending on what you think your audience is, and not those that don’t make any sense to you, and feel you shouldn’t bother with.
          WARREN: I’d have to think about that before I could give you a snap answer. I would recommend changes, but before I could give you an intelligent answer, I would want to familiarize myself with the Code itself which I am not intimately familiar with because I don’t have to answer to it.
          Given the overall nature of the Comic Book Code as it exists today, do you feel that we will continue to have a Code for another 20 years?
          DARVIN: I think everything ends. I take a rather somber view of the situation. Too many people take the
          Code for granted, unfortunately. Some people, not only among the fans, who always had a kind of negative view towards it—I think wrongfully—and perhaps some of the editors—although we’re pretty friendly these days—but the wholesalers and retailers feel that the Code isn’t so important anymore; it isn’t really necessary. The United States Supreme Court Miller decision will put increasing pressure on wholesalers and retailers to know the exact content of their books, something which may have serious repercussions.
          I don’t think the Code will last forever. As to its tenure, when I first got a job on the Code in 1955 as a trouble shooter, I didn’t think it would last 6 months. I thought that the heat on the Comics Industry was off at the time. The Code was expensive and the money just wasn’t forth coming. The publishers were going into other fields, and I thought 6 months would see the end of it. Well, I’ve been here almost 19 years, so I’m not a good fortune teller. But it could last another 20 years, or it could die next week, neither of which would surprise me. I only say that it’s needed.’
          INFANTINO: I hope it does. As long as I’m here, I’ll certainly be a backer of it. It’s an awfully rough job to evaluate and have one publisher screaming about another publisher: he’s doing this and he’s doing that. We’ve got a tremendous guy on the job, and I hope the Code lasts forever, it’s very important.
          I don’t think that it’ll stay in the same form, nothing does. Things either change or die. The Code will evolve. Sophistication may come in areas we don’t even expect, but I’m sure it will come.
          THOMAS: I think the Code, or something like it will be around if comics in their present form are around. The color Comics Code will exist as long as the color comics exist.
          Most of the unfavorable provisions, the really silly ones against zombies and girls with anything but a 33 inch bust, have mainly been done away with. I think that while a certain amount of silliness is still left in the Code, that if we keep the color comics, we might as well keep the Code.
          I wouldn’t like to see the Code expanded to the black and white magazines, because the story market is older. The Code was designed to protect a different audience, younger, which does not form the sole readership of comics. Now a more intelligent audience, an older audience for comics exists that has to be satisfied some other way, and I would really be very much against extending the Code into some other form.
          The Code should stay right where it is, live or die depending on whether color comic books aimed almost exclusively at young children lives or dies. I like color comics, I would not like to see the black and white format dominate the field. I therefore hope that the Code has a long, long life.
          WARREN: I don’t know the answer, but I’m inclined to say: No, it won’t. At least not in its present form. I wouldn’t want anything to continue for 20 years in its present form because taste changes within each year, and sometimes in even less time. If I had anything to do with it, I would review the Code every six months.
          Although the Comics Code terms itself “Self-regulation,” and the members of the Code do indeed belong to it on a voluntary basis, it has been suggested that the Code constitutes a form of censorship. It has also been suggested that the Code has neutralized any attempted censorship of comic books. At any rate, the line between regulation and censorship is thin. How do you feel about this question?
          DARVIN: I am personally opposed to censorship of any kind. It would tend to censor ideas and political thinking which would be a thing very opposite to my concept of what this country is all about. What I’m talking about now is state censorship which I’m against for comic books as well as for adults.
          Self-regulation is what we do. The rules by which we operate are set by the very people that we’re regulating. As an administrator, I don’t make the Code, I have no power to make or change the Code. I may make recommendations, but the Board of Directors, on which sits a representative of every publisher and distributor, makes the Code. They set the standards. So self-regulation at the very basis is something not imposed from without, which is censorship, but imposed from within.
          Governmental censorship would be the worst type, because that would have to be political censorship. Also if the wholesalers got together and decided we will not handle A, B, and C type of publication—that would be external censorship, too. But this Code is made by the very publishers who are putting out this material. Naturally, they are doing it in reference to public reaction, but nevertheless, they could choose not to do it that way, they could do it another way.
          Secondly, no publisher can be forced to join the Code, he’s free to choose. One of the major publishers, Gold Key is not a member of the Code. There is also a vast underground comic field and they’re functioning without the Code. Gold Key is very cooperative with the Code, but has never joined. When we revised the Code, Gold Key sent for copies for their editors. Their editor, Joe Connaughton, is a very fine, friendly fellow. Recently we went after them to join, but they wrote back that they felt that their type of material did not need Code supervision. We resent that attitude because if other publishers took it, we’d have problems. We cause revision in less than 15% of the books that come to us, so 85% or more don’t need Code supervision, but they ALL need the Seal to assure the public. Gold Key indicated that they would join if they didn’t have to submit their books in advance, they don’t want to do that.
          INFANTINO: I think that the notion of censorship is ridiculous. First of all, we the group that participate in the Code, who keep it alive, accept the corrections that Mr. Darvin will make in our work. By being a member, we’re accepting rules in the framework that we have set up.
          From time to time, many of the editors, including mine, will deviate here or there, and the Code steps in and says we’re over the line, but the important thing is that we’re building our own rules, and we’re supporting this thing ourselves, so it is self-regulation.
          It’s not censorship in the negative sense. You can be creative within the framework of those rules that were set up in the Code; it makes you think even further.
          THOMAS: It’s strange because you could look at it either way. Actually, I think it does both. It is, of course, self-regulation because the comic companies pay the bill. But if you really have self-regulation, in the freer sense, where every company, editor, publisher, regulates himself, then you have nothing at all. That’s basically what existed before 1954. You HAD self-regulation; every company regulated itself. As a result, you had people playing baseball with parts of other people’s bodies—very gory stories, indefensible by almost any standards when aimed at an audience that was obviously composed at least moderately of young kids.
          So the next step from that type of self-regulation, which is almost no regulation, is for the companies to get together and to hire an independent authority. Darvin is not employed by any one person. He can be talked with, argued with, even changed, if all the publishers get together and want and agree to change things. That’s self-regulation which regulates by an independent authority that neither John Goldwater or Stan Lee or Carmine Infantino can do anything about, and I think it’s a fairly healthy thing.
          It’s better than the kind of regulation which would have come down from the Congressional Commission 20 years ago. Better than what would have grown out of the mood of a public stirred up by a handful of well-publicized abuses, misinterpreted evidence by Dr. Wertham and others—however well-intentioned it might have been—taking the good and the bad and lumping them all together. Any Congressional Commission growing out of that atmosphere would have been so regulatory that we would have had nothing left but CASPER, THE FRIENDLY GHOST, and I’m not sure that CASPER would have survived merely because he was a ghost. People grumble about Judge Murphy, the first head of the Code, but what he did was probably much less, and at least had a chance of gradually evolving and changing, whereas with the Congressional Commission interpreting the rules forever, the comic industry would never have had enough clout to force them to change. We probably came off better with the Comic Code than we would otherwise.
          I’m in this weird situation of disliking the Comic Code, not the people involved, but the Code itself and its regulations, and at the same time realizing that it did comics a service which many of the excessive, more rabid E.C. Fan Addicts—of which I was one, but a more moderate one—would abhor. They abhor the idea that the Comic Code could have done anything except prevent E.C. from going onward and upward, as though Valhalla was just around the corner and the Code stepped in and stopped it. What was really around the corner was really even more gruesome stuff, along side that would probably have evolved, also, some more mature stuff. We would have had the very good comics and the very bad. What we got after the Comic Code was very bland comics for about 10 years. Gradually, things came out of that: the first National super hero, the bland career of the super hero, then Marvel, and then Warren from outside in the bleachers somewhere. Just Warren’s pressure on the comics companies as somebody competing with them and a new generation of artists and writers who have grown up since the Comic Code was evolved, all worked together to make the world ready for change in the Comic Code.
          WARREN: When you have a censorship kind of thing, it is awfully dangerous. When one or two individuals say that this is okay for kids and this isn’t—well, what is a kid? Anybody who is 7 years old? Well, I’ve got a kid, let’s say, who is 7, has an IQ of 190 and does calculus. Is that an exception? We’re talking about general overall, where there is not any such thing as a general.
          The implications are that the Code says: Thou shalt not depict the following... Thou shalt, it is okay to, depict the following ... That’s the basic factual definition of any kind of censorship.
          There is nothing voluntary about it at all if, when you want to be in the comic book business, you’ve got to be in the Code. How voluntary is it if the hierarchy of the Code is going to say to a wholesaler and retailer to carry only Code merchandise and you’re guaranteed of no problems. What kind of gun are they going to hold up to the heads of these people. Put up your hands, or don’t put up your hands, they say. Well, I have to put up my hands because you’ve got a gun to my head.
          In effect, over the past 20 years, the Code has said: Our comics are acceptable. This implies that the other comics are not. Voluntary becomes a semantic thing. Is this a free country? Well, yeah, I think it’s a free country, but we’ve got guys tapping my wires and rifling my psychiatric files. How free is the country?
          The wholesalers have been brainwashed to accept only the Code approved comics as good and good for business. After 20 years of this, a lot believe this, and a lot of the public believes it, and a lot of the P.T.A.s believe it. You tell a lie long enough and the legend becomes fact.
         
         

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Favorite Year: In Fantastic Four Time!!!!



My Favorite Year: Fantastic Four #39-51

I dedicate this post to a good friend, Bill Hall. His site always reminds me of what a great time the 1960s were for comics. And he kind of prodded me to do this! Kind of!



This sounds too silly to be true, but I see my life in comic books in Fantastic Four Time. I really do. So when I think of my favorite year in comics, I think of Fantastic Four #39 (“A Blind Man Shall Lead Them”) to issue #51, my favorite comic, “This Man This Monster,” not the actual dates (1965 to 1966). I can never forget Ben Grimm turning back into the Thing (issue #40). I loved the light-hearted wedding of Sue and Reed .”What a Way to Spend a Honeymoon” when was introduced with a whole new race of Inhumans, in issue #44. “The Coming of Galactus” also featured TWO of Lee and Kirby’s best characters, the Silver Surfer and the Watcher. After those stories, I wondered what villain could top that. Well, no villain did in “This Man, This Monster,” my favorite comic.



Yet to come was the Black Panther.

While I like the “Spider Slayer/Robot” in issue #25, one of my favorite Spider-Man story at the time was the mystery two-parter, “The Man in the Crime Master’s Mask.” I never would have got the ending. The stories just got better culminating with the Master Planner three-parter and the unforgettable “Hernia Sequence.” I mean Lifting Sequence. Yet to come was Spidey #39-40, with Romita’s brilliant work on a brilliant story. I always wondered what it would have looked like if it was Ditko’s parting shot.
 

I am a Wally Wood fan so I loved his last few Daredevil stories. But I am also a Romita fan so I thoroughly enjoyed his Daredevil with Ka-Zar and the Master Planner. And certainly his fun Spidey two-parter was a tryout and was enjoyable. Yet, the Ox story in issue #15 still resonates the most with me. Like “This Man” it is more of an emotional piece than an action story. Although Wilbur, in issue #8, did look “awkward and stilted.”

Until now, Thor was NOT one of my favorites, but Kirby and Lee launch this into the stratosphere, starting with “The Trial of the Gods” in issue #116. The stories now become epic and not earthbound as the creative pair finally found the character. Lee gives Thor an old world touch by having Thor use a corruption of old English. It worked so well. The Annual with Hercules also worked even if the story made little sense. But then that leads us to issue #124 and the battle between Thor and Pluto, which was just brilliant. Meanwhile characters from “Tales of Asgard” are now going into the main feature and making it even more enjoyable.

The Avengers, invented, I thought, to mimic the Justice League, gets a complete makeover and now can go in new directions, unburdened by the continuities of Iron Man and Thor. I missed Kirby, but I enjoyed the Swordsman and Powerman stories. It was also fun to see Henry Pym try again, this time as Goliath.

The X-Men stories here were some of my favorites too. I not only like the Juggernaut story, but the Sentinels tale, to this day, remain one of my favorite. I liked Roth over Kirby.
Where do you start with the anthology comics? Marvel discontinues its great fillers, which I miss from this day, but gives us great double features. Nick Fury, Hydra and a whole new realm are introduced in Strange Tales. When Captain America gets his new series in Tales of Suspense were are treated to remakes of this WW2 adventures. This ties into a modern day three-parter introducing the Sleepers. Then Lee and Kirby begin to knit the Marvel Universe even closer together when Cap teams with Fury and Them and A.I.M. are introduced. Cap’s partner, Iron Man, developed so well under Don Heck, but Gene Colan’s Shellhead was always my favorite.


Dr. Strange concludes his wondrous 17-episode Ditko Adventure in Strange Tales. The Sub- Mariner replaces a sinking Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish and Gene Colan gives us a wonderful multi-chapter quest, which ends a bit too abruptly but was fun while it lasted. While the Ditko Hulk stories were my favorite, I loved the Hulk traveling to meet the Watcher and was startled when Rick Jones reveals his identity to the world. That had never happened before in a comic.

Finally is the last of the new comics, was Sgt. Fury. I was not a fan of the war comics released under the Comics Code. They showed nothing of the horrors of war and became adventure strips. Sgt. Fury, at this stage, was different. It did show the sadness and sacrifice of war, and the loss of Pam was devastating.
Fantasy Masterpieces was introduced and it reprinted wonderful (and for me unattainable) stories form the Atlas Age. Soon, Timely Captain America, Subby and Torch stories would be included. Boy, I could not wait for the next issue!



Oh, and new Marvel paperbacks came out, most with reprints from the early years, but the Captain America story was a great new novel by Ted White.

Well, that’s my favorite year. What’s yours?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

1974- Inside Comics: The Dirty Dozen, the Writers of the Silver Age

  

 

    In no other country in the world do we find more people willing and able to gripe as in the good old U.S.A. Maybe it’s because Americans have the freedom to complain and as such we seem to take every chance to do so. We’ve all been victimized by one evil or another of the “Great Society” and it comes as no terrific surprise to anyone to gripe about it. Politics, Inflation, Pollution, Crime and a host of other Yankee ills monotonously greet our senses every day.
    It seems only natural that the comics field should have its fair share of ailments to complain about. In fact, everyone that works for the comics has something to gripe about. They all have their pet peeves that they air at every opportunity. Most of which are valid and constructive criticisms of the comics industry in its present form, and all of which give valuable insight into the minds of the creators of the industry.
On the following pages we will examine the thoughts of twelve of the more successful members of the comic field. Men who have proved that they have what it takes to succeed and who feel there is definite room for improvement in a problem-ridden industry. They’ve elected to discuss their gripes openly so that you can share in a bit of their dirt and grime. Enter ... The Dirty Dozen.


JIM STERANKO is one of the most influential artists in the comics. His work on “Shield” and “Captain America” inspired a whole new style of comic art, a more graphic, more dynamic style, a style still practiced and perfected by Jim himself. His Mediascene has become one of the most important of the newszines, and his work on FOOM got the whole project off the ground— —
“I guess the biggest problem in the field I could think of would be the incredibly avaricious attitude of the publishers and, to a lesser extent, the ditors. The publishers are trying to squeeze every cent they can out of the comics, even at the expense of their contributors. None of them, with one or two exceptions, care how their product looks or even how its received, as long as it makes money. They’ll screw the creative people at every opportunity. There are exceptions of course. Bill Gaines has always been very good to his people and Dizzy Arnold used to give bonuses of thousands of dollars, but that kind of thing never happens now. Let me give you an example. A couple of years ago, when I was working fairly regularly for Marvel I got a bonus at Christmas from the company and a bonus from Marty Goodman, the publisher. Year before last, when I wasn’t working much for them but had done some covers, I got a care package you know, cheese, some exotic foods, that sort of thing. Last year, I did a lot of work on FOOM and for that I got nothing. Nowadays when the overhead goes up, when the publishers have to pinch some pennies, they don’t give a cut to the printers ... they have a union; they don’t cut the engravers, or the colorers, they have union too. They cut the creative people, the artists and writers. As long as this continues, the really capable people, the ones whom the comics really need, are going to continue to be forced out of the industry, simply to make a decent living.”

ESTEBAN MAROTO is the most famous, and, perhaps, most successful of the Spanish artists. His work for the Warren magazines brought him instant fame in the U.S. and his subsequent work for Marvel has created a tremendous fan following— —
“I feel that my biggest gripe about the American industry would have to concern story-telling policies. In the American comics the story is told through lengthy pieces of prose, either in dialogue or in captions. I feel that since comics are a visual medium, the story should be told visually, in pictures alone. Any dialogue or captions should be secondary, added just for necessary clarification or to add flavor to the story. In Spanish comics, the dialogue is unimportant and very often whole stories are done without the use of a single word balloon. Here it is completely different, there are words everywhere, and this detracts from the art, which is, in my opinion, the most important element in the books.”

ROY THOMAS is the editor-in-chief and prime mover at Marvel comics. His deft editorial techniques, sharp feel for public taste, and incisive writing abilities have led Marvel to the forefront of the comics industry— —
“I guess my biggest gripe about the industry would concern the problems we have with distribution and sales. In fact, I’m not sure the comic book industry can’ survive if the present system continues. Right now, comics are such a nickel and dime business in comparison with other printing operations that many distributors don’t even bother to get the books to the stands, they feel their profit just isn’t high enough for the effort. Because of this there are areas of the country where people never see comic books. The situation is such right now that we are actually selling fewer issues than we were in the fifties. We’re lucky if 2/3 of the printed copies actually make it to the stands. This means that our profits aren’t what they could be, and consequently a large source of fan support and possible future contributors is lost entirely.”

GERRY CONWAY is young, multi-talented, and one of the top writer/editors at Marvel. His work for the comics industry has been inspired and exciting from the beginning. His science-fiction has been nothing short of brilliant.
“I think the biggest problem is the lack of self-respect in so-called “comic people.” A lack of respect in our own abilities, our own product. Many seem to feel that they have reached the highest level of creative endeavor that they can maintain. They also feel that that level, the comics industry, is very low. As long as that feeling of impotency, of being incapable of doing better exists, those who feel that way will be incapable of better. People who talk about lack of critical acclaim, low salary, that sort of thing, are looking in the wrong direction. Any psychiatrist will tell you that you have to respect yourself before you can get others to respect you. As long as we don’t respect our own abilities, our own talents as creators of entertainment, the comic industry will continue to stagnate, to fail to produce the greatness it is capable of.”

HOWARD CHAYKIN is another of the young, talented breed of artists that has made an appearance in the last few years. His work on “Sword of Sorcery,” “Iron Wolf” and other features has given him the respect deserving of such brilliant talent. Despite his talent he has had two series cancelled from beneath him. A move that has caused his withdrawal to the Warren black and white books— —
 “My biggest gripe with the comic book industry is the lack of freedom. An artist is expected to curb any imagination he may have and work to a blueprint given him by an editor. He has to try to bring life to a character that may seem dead to his own mind. Comics today are cursed with a deadly sameness, a sameness that is due to the companies’ reluctance to let the creative people create. How can an artist get involved with a character when no part of that character is his own? The writer tells you what to draw and you draw it. The result is that every character is essentially the same with a differently colored costume. If they ever invent a computer that can draw what it is told to draw, the comic book artist will be out of business.”

AL WILLIAMSON is one of the all time greats of the comics field. His work for EC is some of the best comic book work of all time, his present work, both in the syndicated “Secret Agent Corrigan” and in occasional comic appearances has upheld his reputation for artistic excellence— —
“I can’t really say I’ve had any great gripes about the comic business. It’s my opinion that a man creates his own gripes. In my case, I’ve always been careful not to get in a situation where I would have problems that would cause me to gripe. I don’t like tight editorial control, I like to kind of, do-my-own thing so I have been careful to work for people who have left  me alone. AT EC  there was minimal editorial interference, and I was so young and eager it wouldn’t have made any difference anyway. Since then, the security of the strip (Corrigan) has made it possible for me to pick and choose my own jobs. So I have to say, I really don’t have major gripes. I guess someone has to say something nice about the industry.”

GRAY MORROW is in a strange position. A talented artist and writer for the last decade, Gray has recently become editor of Archie Comics’ “Red Circle” line. This added position gives Gray a rare insight into the comics field, an insight many artists can never experience— —
“In my opinion, my biggest gripe, the biggest single problem in the industry is that people are not getting paid enough for the product they create. An artist spends his whole life learning to draw, to create life from black lines and pieces of paper. A writer learns to write, polishes his art, and starves until he finally begins to work. Put these people in the comics and they find they have to turn out huge volumes of work in order to make a decent living. Turning out large volumes of work means they cannot give the work their fullest attention ... it means that nothing they do will be the best they are capable of. This leads to a lack of self-respect, and eventually one of two things happen; either disintegration into a hack turning out work on deadline with no spark, no real interest, or drop out of the field and try to find a more rewarding market for their work.On the other hand, as long as the profit margin for the publisher remains at its present level, he cannot afford to raise rates without losing profits and making his investment even less worthwhile. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that has to be corrected before the comics will be the viable force they should be.”

TONY ISABELLA is one of the new breed of comic book people. He came up from the ranks, starting as a comic fan, working for fanzines and newszines, graduating to production with the big companies and finally editorial status. His feelings for the grass roots of the industry give him an important insight into its problems— —
“I would have to say the biggest problem I can see, the one that bothers me the most, is a lack of personnel. We just don’t have enough people to do the amount of work we must ... and that causes other problems. If we are short artists, each artist ends up doing more work than he should, forcing him to rush his work somewhat, not giving it the care he would otherwise. It forces the writers to carry more characters than they normally would, not allowing them the amount of time and development they need. The problem spreads, production suffers because of the rush and the whole product is somewhat less than it could be. These problems will continue until we can get enough competent people to do the job right.”

DON McGREGOR is one of the newer and more dynamic members of the Marvel family. His scripts, tightly plotted with some of the most realistic dialogue in the comics, have injected a healthy dose of adrenalin into some of Marvel’s potentially weaker series. His editorial work and article writing prowess have also added a refreshing quality to Marvel’s B&W books.— —
“I guess deadlines. Deadlines are a problem in any medium, but especially in the comics. There are just more of them ... if you’re planning on eating regularly. There are always those vultures sitting behind your shoulder, waiting ... In comics you finish your script, and there’s no feeling of elation, you know there’s another waiting, and that production is already scheduling the one after that. It becomes a vicious cycle. You can’t blame it on anybody, it’s just part of the industry so when you’ve written you ass off and now its time for someone else. When I finish a script I’m emotionally drained. I’m just not ready to get into another one, but those vultures are still sitting over my shoulder. I may want time for the character to develop, for background to seep into my head, but it’s just not there.
In comics the writer has to work fast, he has to use a kind of shorthand anyway, there’s just not enough room to say anything special, you may have a statement to make, possibly something very profound, but there’s just not room. It’s especially tough because you’re working with the same material, the same life-and-death situations month after month. It’s really tough to try and resolve the same things in different ways.
Of course there are certain rewards. When you hold that four-color book in your hand you forget all the hassles, all the tenseness, but you still have those new hassles, that new tenseness ... The vultures are still there, and if the words don’t come quickly or clearly enough, comic writing can become sheer hell.


MARV WOLFMAN is Roy Thomas’ second-in-command. A man who has gone from successful writer to successful editor. A man who has left an imprint on the company he has chosen to work for. An imprint, and an influence that will last for years to come— —
“I guess my biggest complaint about the present industry would be deadlines. As a writer myself I’ve always had more than I can handle with deadlines. Asking a creative person to create on schedule is counter-productive. Nothing short-circuits the thinking process more easily than the ticking of a clock. The situation is even worse with the artists. How you can expect a man to spend x amount of time on x number of pages of work and still have that work be the best, or almost the best, he is capable of is beyond me. As long as the companies feel it necessary for them to have a certain schedule adhered to, it will probably be impossible for the American comic industry to reach the height of perfection it is capable of reaching.”

NEAL ADAMS is the president of ACBA, the organization dedicated to making life more livable for members of the comic industry. He is, in addition, perhaps the most talented and popular of comic artists. His work has been honored with every prize comic book art is capable of winning. His position in the industry as a champion of the free-lance is unchallenged— —
“I have to say that the biggest single gripe about the industry I can think of is the lack of respect we get from outside. No matter what we do in the comic books, the outside world dismisses it as childish crud. The fact that many of the people working in the industry are highly talented and capable of doing work that would be recognized in any other field makes no difference. There just isn’t any comment on comic work, outside of a select field. No comment means no meaningful criticism, no criticism means no recognition, no recognition means no money. It seems a shame that a man like Frank Frazetta, who was primarily a comic artist, had to go outside the field, to do something different, in order to gain recognition of his talent. The recognition that allows him to sell posters, originals, that sort of thing, and make the kind of money he now makes. If the comic book industry got the recognition it deserved, it would mean that those deserving of recognition would get it. This would mean that they would get more money, and the money would allow them to concentrate more on their work and produce even better work. It would solve the problem of hacking, and would allow those who want to do superior work, do superior work without being financially shortchanged. Yes, the thing the industry needs is respect from outside. And the only way we can get that respect is by getting those outside to see our work as valid entertainment, rather than “That silly comic-book stuff.”

MIKE KALUTA is one of the most dynamic and talented of the new generation of artists. His work on “Carson of Venus” and “Spawn of Frankenstein” led to his feature assignment on “The Shadow,” a book that became an instant best-seller, a book that has since been taken away by the powers-that-be at National— —
“I think that my biggest gripe would be a lack of respect for the creative people, the writers and artists, that is apparent in the companies. The editors and publishers seem to feel that the people under them are mere machines, machines like the presses that produce the work that eventually goes to the public. They never give a book a fair trial before deciding whether to continue or cancel it. This is especially true when the artist involved is young and “untried.” National has proved this time and again with Howie Chaykin, Walt Simonson, and myself. It seems to me that as long as the companies are not willing to give new enterprises and new talents a chance to fully prove themselves, the time will come when the companies haveno  new enterprises or new talent to turn to. That will be the end of comics.