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.

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