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.

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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Jerry Robinson Interview, 1988

Right now, even as you read this, Mike Vassallo has posted on his blog a feature on Jerry Robinson, The Timely Years. Honest, Mike forced me to put up a Robinson article and link to his blog.  He is holding my cats, Lee, Kirby, Ditko and Gussie as hostage. His dog, Cindy, has them rounded up and waiting for 1,000 hits on his blog before they can be released. The blog is at:

How would you describe this feature, well, I asked Mike and he said, Call my blog the greatest, most detailed, complete look at Robinson's Timely career ever done!"
                         So please read this, and go over there!  My cats are getting hungry!

In 1988, Steve Ringgenberg interviewed Jerry Robinson in Comics Interview and did a great job.  Here is his in depth and great three part interview, starting with Jerry’s history:

Vital Statistics:
Name: Jerry Robinson
Occupation: Comics Artist and Writer, Book Illustrator, Political Cartoonist, Author, Teacher and Comics Historian
Born: Trenton, New Jersey
Residence: New York City
Credits: Penciller, Inker and Cover Artist on BATMAN from 19391947; worked with Mort Meskin on a number of strips including JOHNNY QUICK and VIGILANTE for National during the late 1940s and '50s; artist on such strips as ATOMAN, FIGHTING YANK, BLACK TERROR, LASSIE, BAT MASTERSON, ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE, NANCY PARKER, many titles of science fiction, crime, war, romance with Stan Lee; and various others for several companies during the '40s through the '50s; created the science fiction strip JET SCOTT for the NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE syndicate; did the STILL LIFE daily panel of political satire, FLUBS & FLUFFS, and CARICATURES BY ROBIN-SON for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate; LIFE WITH ROBINSON, a daily political cartoon is currently syndicated by Robinson's own Cartoonist's and Writer's Syndicate.
Consulting Director and wrote the catalog for the trend-setting GRAHAM GALLERY comic-art exhibition in the early '70s, and contributed articles for the Whitney Museum comic-art show in 1983. In the late '70s, organized and curated the CARTOON art show at the Kennedy Center, which was the largest exhibit of comic art to date in the United States.
Among 30 published works are: THE COMICS: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF COMIC STRIP ART (Putnam), SKIPPY AND PERCY CROSBY (Holt, Rinehart & Winston), THE 1970s: BEST POLITICAL CARTOONS OF THE DECADE (McGraw Hill), THE WORLD'S GREATEST COMICS QUIZ (Grosset & Dunlap), PROFESSOR EGGHEAD'S BEST RIDDLES (Simon and Schuster), and three collections of FLUBBS & FLUFFS (Fawcett, Scholastic).
Served as president of both the National Cartoonist's Society and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. Currently, Foreign Affairs Chairman for AAEC, Cartoon Editor of the PROVINCETOWN ARTS, and lectures on the Cartoon Arts at the New School in New York. Serves on the Advisory Board of the Museum of Cartoon Art in Porchester, New York; The Castle Hill School of Arts in Truro, Massachusetts, the Museum Cartoon in Basel, Switzerland.
Awards: International Salon of Humor, Italy: Presidente Senato della Republica. Overseas Press Club: Citation for Best Cartoon on Foreign Affairs. International Salon of Cartoons, Canada: One of six selected to represent the United States.
NCS Reuben Awards:
Best Comic Book Artist
Best Special Feature FLUBS & FLUFFS
Nominated six times as one of best in his category

The name Jerry Robinson may be unfamiliar to most younger fans, but it's one that anybody with a serious interest in comics should know because Jerry Robinson is one of the giants of the comics industry. A prolific comics artist, writer, political cartoonist, and comics historian, Robinson has created countless pages of comic art and has made significant contributions both to comics history and the scholarship of comics history. A former president of both the National Cartoonists Society and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (the only artist ever to be so honored by his peers), Robinson is also a three-time winner of the NCS Reuben Award as Best Artist in his category (Syndicated Panel, Comic Books, Special Features). Currently a lecturer on Comic Art at the New School for Social Research, Robinson is also on the board of directors of the Car-won Museum in Portchester, New York; the Museum Cartoon, in Basel, Switzerland; and the Truro Center for the Arts, Truro, Massachusetts.

Jerry began his career in comics while attending the Columbia School of Jour- realism in 1939. He started assisting Bob Kane at the age of seventeen and, in a very short time, graduated to penciling and inking BATMAN, as well as drawing most of the classic BATMAN covers from the period 1941-46. While Bob Kane indisputably originated the artistic vocabulary of BATMAN — the heavy shadows, moody lighting and weird camera angles that were intrinsic to the style — it was Jerry who perfected that style and took it even further when he assumed the art chores. Ii was Robinson who named Robin, The Boy Wonder, during a bull session with Kane and BATMAN writer Bill Finger, and it was Jerry Robinson who created the Joker, Batman's archenemy and one of the most memorable villains in comics.
In the first of this three apart interview, Jerry talks about the excitement of working in the then-infant medium of comic books, and what it was like being part of the creative team that mule BATMAN one of the big success stories of the early years of comics . . .

STEVE RINGGENBERG: You started out to be a comics writer?
JERRY ROBINSON: No, not a comics writer. I really knew nothing about, or very little, about comics as a kid. I wanted to be a writer, a journalist, primarily and, uh, so I guess I've spent half my career, or almost, writing and drawing, or just writing. I think in the last probably fifteen to twenty years, I've done more writing with several books as well as LIFE WITH ROBINSON, the daily cartoon of social/political satire which I write and draw. I enjoy writing and the challenge
of writing for different genres .. . political satire, history, biography. I'm now collaborating on the book and lyrics for a musical that should interest comics aficionados, if we ever get it produced. It has elements of fantasy, sci-fi and political/ social satire. I've illustrated and written a lot of children's books, but I've always been especially devoted to the comics, I guess.
STEVE: Did you curate the Graham Gallery exhibition in 1973?
JERRY: Yes, together with Georgia Reilly of the Graham Gallery. It was their first in the field of comic art and was probably a turning point in the acceptance of comic art in fine art galleries and museums.
STEVE: Did they come to you or did you come to them?
JERRY: Somebody referred them to me. I think one of the Graham Gallery artists, the sculptor Sidney Simon, a good friend who knew of my involvement in the comics over the years. Bob Graham expressed his interest to me in exploring the possibility of handling comic art and of mounting a major show. Of course this was a very exciting idea for me to introduce comic art to the Madison Avenue art world. Before that, at one time, while president of the National Cartoonists Society, we made some serious attempts — none were successful — to have a major show of cartooning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which would have been a landmark show. Without going into all the ramifications of that effort, it didn't materialize, although we had a number of talks with Thomas Hoving, at that time director of the Met, and with Henry Getzahler, who was then one of his principal curators. They were most intrigued with the proposal and it came very close to fruition. Around that time, there was a major show in France on the comics at the Louvre . .
STEVE: This is the mid-Seventies?
JERRY: No, I think it was earlier than that.
STEVE: Yeah, because 1 know there are some comics artists hanging in the Louvre still, Burne Hogarth, Neal Adams, 1 think Joe Kubert.
JERRY: This was in the late '60s I know, because that was when I was heading the National Cartoonists Society. I felt that the recognition of the comics as a legitimate art form was something that was going to happen, that comic art should be appreciated for its art as well as its cultural and sociological influence. I had also begun to lecture at schools and colleges, which I still do, on various. subjects, such as, the history of the comic strip, the development of the superhero, and political satire.
The Graham cartoon show was the first at a major private gallery. It was favorably reviewed everywhere, including THE NEW YORK TIMES. People came from the Whitney and the other major museums. We had two full floors, and the show covered most of the genres of the comics, the comic book was just one part of it. It included, I recall, editorial cartoons, comic strips, caricature, and comic books. I wrote a rather extensive catalog for the show which surprisingly sold out. The Graham got calls for the catalog from all over the country. I think that gave me the idea that perhaps there was an audience for somewhat serious writing on comic art.
STEVE: Did this lead to the book you did on strips?
JERRY: Yeah, I think almost on the heels of that. In fact, I think I used some of the material that I had written for the catalog and adapted and expanded it for the book, THE COMICS: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art. That took about three years to research and write. In the meantime, I was special consultant for another show for the National Endowment for the Arts at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. which even exceeded the Graham Gallery show in scope. We had a whole floor of the Kennedy Center which was like two football fields, and was incredible. We had a budget of a hundred thousand dollars, not an inconsiderable sum now but I guess that must have been about ten years ago. The Director of the
Center said they had more attendance for that show than any previous exhibition.
STEVE: How many pieces were in the show?
JERRY: Oh, we had almost five hundred. We also did an elaborate catalog. We broke it down even further into various categories: comic strips, comic book, political cartoons, magazine cartoons (we also had a section for that in the Graham show), THE NEW YORKER, etc., and also television, and a special section of contemporary painting . . . pop artists and other modern painters who used comic idiom in their work which interested us because it showed the pervasive influence of the artform in our whole culture.
Each section was a comprehensive review of that area of comics, what could ordinarily have been an exhibition unto itself. We had a designer do the various units. The fine art structure, for example, displayed the painting and an original of the cartoon from which it derived. There were Ramos, Warhol, jasper Johns, Fahlstrom, Lichtenstein. ..
STEVE: Do you like Lichtenstein's stuff?
JERRY: Yeah, a lot of it, [ do. I had him as a guest one time at the National Cartoonists Society to confront those who thought that he was just taking comic art and exploiting it. But he was serious artist and I think it's no different than other artists drawing upon elements of their environment in their art … as Picasso, Braque, Oldenburg, Stuart Davis and many other artists have done in various ways.
STEVE: Lichtenstein used to work in comics, 1 believe.
JERRY: I don't think he ever worked in comics.
STEVE:  I was misinformed.
JERRY: I may be. For a couple of years I had the idea of having a painter or some noted artist design a poster for our annual NCS awards dinner. And so I thought Lichtenstein would be an ideal choice for one, and got together with him. He agreed to do the design for the poster for that year. It was a space ship flying over the New York City skyline with a balloon saying: "That's the place!" "NCS Annual Reuben Awards at the Plaza Hotel" was incorporated in the design, which he asked me to complete. It should be a collectors' item — every member of the society received a print. Anyway, this is getting sidetracked from the exhibition.
At the show, as I recall, it was Ramos who did a painting of the Joker which was based on the cover of the Joker for BATMAN which I did back in the Forties. And when we got hold of that painting, I thought, hey great, we'll put the painting on one wall and facing it, the original comic art from which it was derived. When it arrived, it was insured for maybe a hundred and fifty thousand dollars or so, and facing it I placed the cover for which I probably got a hundred and fifty dollars. It struck me with great irony. How little esteem comic art is generally held in our society.
STEVE: That hardly seems fair.
JERRY: So I thought. I still have that cover — would that it was worth as much as the Ramos!.
STEVE: Do you have much of your work from the old days?
JERRY: I have some that I saved, but in the early days almost all of it was destroyed because of the sheer volume. Nobody really attached any intrinsic value to originals. Almost the only ones saved were those we especially liked aesthetically, you know, and didn't want to destroy. I remember specifically a number of occasions where I did a cover or a story that I particularly liked and I would have to call up the engraver, while I was working at National Periodical Publications and tell them not to destroy it but send it back. Sometimes we got a piece of art back because we were adapting it for a cover or for some other mechanical reason. We would often swap, like I remember exchanging art with Jack Kirby and Joe Simon and Joe Shuster, and with Fred Ray, who did most of the SUPERMAN covers at that time. We would just put them on the wall of our studio. I remember one studio I shared with a couple of artists which had literally every square inchcovered with original comic art . . . but just because we liked them. Probably as many times as we moved studios, some would be left behind.
STEVE: When you were working on BATMAN, after you got on as Kane 's assistant, were you designing a lot of the covers?
JERRY: I don't know how many, but I did quite a few, because I particularly enjoyed doing the covers. I would work closely with Whit Elsworth, the editor, a cartoonist himself originally. He had a good appreciation of design, and I was given pretty much of a free hand and he was the only one I consulted with on the art. We were trying to do something special with the covers in terms of the graphics. We were starting off with the premise that, you know, comic books were still relatively new. We were still trying to attract an audience expand, get space on the newsstands, to have it noticed, particularly when a plethora of books began to be published. Hundreds of titles were fighting for space.
STEVE: That must have been much worse back in the Forties when there were so many other companies competing.
JERRY: Yeah, it was, it was . . . So, our idea, and the things that I liked to do, were very posterish and symbolic. A lot of the other covers were scenes from a particular episode, and had a lot going on. Our idea was to have a strong visual impact, even from a distance and have a very strong element of design. Looking back on at least most of the ones I've seen over the years that we produced, I think they fell in that category. I have a couple I can show you that I did save . . . I exchanged some very good Superman covers that I liked that Fred did, some of the classic ones. The one of Superman breaching Fortress Europe under the Nazis, twisting a Nazi cannon. Also the one with the big shield and a full figure of Superman with an eagle.
STEVE: Yes, that was in Steranko 's history, 1 think.
JERRY: Yeah, I think I lent it to him and quite a few others for his book. He spent about a week in my studio going through it all.
STEVE: I was astonished to see that original sketches you did of Robin and The Joker, apparently on a napkin or something.
JERRY: Yeah, one of them was from a class at Columbia, as I said, I started to be a journalist, and I was going to Columbia Journalism, and we unearthed it. It was in one of my notebooks from psychology class or something. I think I was practicing doing Batman on my notes because I'd started with Bob at that time.
STEVE: Batman had already been created when you came in as Kane's assistant; you were about 17 or 18?
JERRY: Seventeen.
STEVE: And you brought the Joker to him, didn't you?
JERRY: Well, what happened, was, I think Steranko told the most accurate story . . . he was very meticulous about tracking down the details . . .1 think he also interviewed Bill Finger. I wanted to write a story for BATMAN and I was hounding Bob to contribute a script. BATMAN was then beginning to become very successful and more stories were needed than Bill could do alone. I wanted to write it not only for BATMAN but for my Columbia journalism class. Of course, you know, we were always tossing around ideas for scripts, Bob and Bill and myself. I think that was part of the success of the strip. We had a very, very close rapport then. We lived, breathed, ate and slept BATMAN — whenever we did sleep, which wasn't very much. It was all-consuming and the only way I got away from it at all was when I went to class, and still, at that time I was just seeing the comics as a way to put myself through college. I came to New York just to get this job with Bob. When I met Bob and he offered me a job as his assistant, I had just graduated from high school.
STEVE: How did you meet Bob?
JERRY: I met him, just by chance, at a country resort. I had gone away for a week — which was all I could afford — to kind of fatten up, before I went to college, at my folks' insistence. I had been selling ice cream all summer, on a bicycle with a cart behind. I think I was averaging about
$17.00 a week, which at that time was still not very much. (Laughter.) But over a summer of work I accumulated $200.00 and so they finally persuaded me to take twenty five dollars of it, which is what it cost to go away for a week at that time with meals and everything, which I was still reluctant to do! Selling ice cream, pedaling all over town in the hot sun all day, was hard-earned money. This story has appeared before . . . you haven't read it?
JERRY: I was wearing a painters' jacket which was then in vogue In high schools. It was white. STEVE: Like a smock?
JERRY: Yeah, almost like a smock, but with buttons and a lot of pockets for painters' supplies; it was a house painter's jacket. I grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, and Princeton University was nearby. I was on the high school tennis team. We were always trying to imitate the older college kids, you know. The vogue was to cover the jacket with slogans and cartoons. So I drew, of course, my own cartoons. I had drawn cartoons for the high school paper, although I never took any art classes — probably because you didn't get any college credits for art in those days.
So, I went out the very first day at the resort to the tennis courts, and I used that painter's jacket as a tennis jacket. I probably would not be sitting here today, if just at the moment, Bob, who was watching the tennis, noticed the cartoons. I don't think he ever played so I don't know what the hell he was doing at the tennis court. He just struck up a conversation, asking me who did the cartoons on the jacket. I admitted that I had, and I didn't know what was coming next, but he was apparently intrigued. I'm sure they weren't that great, but at leak they were mine. As the week went on, we got to be friends. He was older, about eight or ten years. When he introduced himself, he said he was a cartoonist and he was very excited about his new feature, BATMAN. I had to admit that, much to his chagrin, I had never heard of it.
STEVE: Oh, so it was very new?
JERRY: Oh, yeah, it was very new. I think it started earlier that year in June, July, August, you could research it.
STEVE: It was '38 wasn't it?
JERRY: No, it was '39. SUPERMAN was '38 . . . so, it was sometime in '39. I
think there was not more than a couple of issues out, at that point. We took a stroll down to the little village nearby and found a candy store that had it. I must say, my first reaction, I wasn't terribly impressed. The only comics I had known — I'd never seen a comic book before — was the Sunday comics. I liked Foster and Caitiff, and a lot of the humor strips. Caitiff has been my model for the best in art and storytelling since then. As a kid, I did read them avidly.
Later, as it developed, Bob said he needed an assistant, that BATMAN was getting successful. When he learned that I was going to go to Syracuse University to study journalism, he said: "Well, that's too bad — if you were coming to New York I could offer you a job." And I think maybe it was like $25. a week or so, and I had just finished selling ice cream for $17. a week all summer, so that sounded like a lot of money, enough that I could actually live on. So I immediately switched to Columbia, where I had also been admitted. I didn't even go home but went straight to New York, got a room and started studying at Columbia and working for Bob. So that's how this whole tragic story began.
STEVE: When you were working for Bob, what were your duties?
JERRY: Well, at the very beginning, I just inked backgrounds, did lettering and some background figures, I would say, for some months, until I became more proficient. It was something I found I really enjoyed doing, and a tremendous challenge for a novice, though I didn't think of it seriously as a career, yet. I don't think I did for a year or two, perhaps until I began to get more and more responsibility. Then I began to see it as an exiting medium where I could write and draw as a career, although I continued to study journalism. Gradually, I began to do most of the inking, Bob just reserved some of the Batman figures, and eventually he abandoned that, and so I would ink the complete story as well as the lettering. We were pressed to turn out more work, so Bob had to pencil very rough, which was good for me because then I had to do more and more drawing, you know, because I'd have to flesh out the figures and complete the backgrounds and so forth. So it was marvelous training and it was a very exciting period.
Then, not long after that, I began to pencil stories and ink them on my own, while I continued to ink some of Bob's. Later I just pencilled and inked my own stories and covers.
By this time I was working directly for National rather than for Bob. The company hired me. Now everybody was trying to imitate BATMAN's success. I know that Bill got offers from other publishers as I did. But I never did leave DC until I left BATMAN.
While there, however, I did some other features, as I wanted to do some other things besides BATMAN. So I moonlighted for some other publishers and some of it was not under my own name. In those days, they enforced the rule that no credits were given, except the original artist.
Bob's name would appear on all BATMAN, Siegel and Shuster (until they left) on all SUPERMAN, etc. It's not like today where everybody gets a credit, which I think is right. But they had the theory that the public would be disappointed if it was to learn that the creators weren't doing all the drawing. It was the same thinking inherited from the earlier newspaper comic strip custom, where the creator could have died 30 years before, but they'd still carry his name on it and not the current artist.

STEVE: What was Bob like to work for?
JERRY: Well, the first few years I worked very closely with Bob, before I started working directly for the company. The pay was not very good but I was a kid learning and this was an opportunity for me. It was a very exciting time because we got along very well. Bob was quite young, still in his twenties and I was very young. I think I was kind of his protégé' at that point. I got a room near where he lived and worked...we were together practically all the time. We'd talk about nothing but comics and ideas for the strip and how to develop new characters. I didn't know anyone else in the field except Bill Finger. I think I first met Will Eisner at that time, and a few others.
It wasn't until I began to work directly for DC that I met some of the other younger artists, more my contemporaries, like Fred Ray. I became friends with Joe Shuster and Jack Kirby, who worked at the next desks. It was a very good group, I think, at that time. Besides Bob, who worked at his apartment, there were Siegel and Shuster, Simon and Kirby, and Fred Ray, and a number of other top artists including Mort Meskin, Bernie Klein, George Roussos, Cliff Young and Stan Kaye. Also, Craig Flessel, who worked in his own studio.
STEVE: Was there an actual bullpen up at National at the time?
JERRY: Yes. There was a large art room, where we literally had our drawing boards next to one another.
STEVE: Why don't you give your impressions of Bill Finger?
JERRY: Well, I spent a lot of time with Bill, too. I guess, as a kid, I became both Bill and Bob's confidantes, in a way. And them mine, perhaps, also. I would go out with Bill a lot. He was single when we first met. Bill was, within my experience, the best writer of comic strips, certainly in the comic book field and perhaps also in syndication with few exceptions. I deeply regret Bill never received the credit or the rewards he deserved during his lifetime from Bob or the DC publishers and editors. He was very committed and as concerned about his work as any serious novelist. And he was also a fine collaborator. I mean, you could give Bill the nucleus of an idea, and he would be able to run with it .. . and with his craftsmanship, form even a bizarre idea into a good, logical sequence.
STEVE: Can you remember anything about the way he worked?
JERRY: Well, in terms of reference material, I can tell you a point about how Bill worked. I think it illustrates some of his methods. He thought visually, and I think he knew a lot of the problems that we would have as the artists, or what kind of things would draw well. You know. just like a screen writer knows what you can put on a screen and what you can't, what would work well, and what would not. It is a big help to the director to start with something that's filmable. Well, that's the way Bill was . . . he would do very good scripts, not only in the construction of the stories, but they would be visual. If he had a story set on a ship — for example, a luxury liner — he would go out and get actual shots of luxury liners from tourist bureaus. libraries. etc., schematics of decks and what not. He would then choreograph the movement around the actual set, so the action would work ...the overhead boom was there, you can get at it from the second deck and you'd land on this section and so forth. All that reference that he dug up during the writing of the story, he would attach to the script.
STEVE: Did Finger work full script or would he give you a written breakdown and then supply the dialogue later?
JERRY: Bill's scripts were complete with scene description, captions and dialogue, as were the scripts by all the writers who later worked on BATMAN. Most of the stories of BATMAN were, I think, very well-plotted, far better written than most all its competition in the comics. I think a great deal of the reason for BATMAN's success was that. If it didn't have as good writing and good character development, I don't think BATMAN would have taken off as it did. I think that first Joker story is a case in point. As I say. I wanted to write for the strip and I think it was just at that time the first BATMAN quarterly was contemplated...
STEVE: It was a - spinoff from DETECTIVE?
JERRY: Right, exactly. And so there was no problem in generating enough scripts while we were doing one story a month for DETECTIVE. Although, when I first started working for Bob, he was still doing a couple of other subsidiary strips like CLIP CARSON — remember that? I also assisted on that.
STEVE: The explorer strip?
JERRY: Yeah, and I forget what else we handled. I think also RUSTY AND HIS PALS. I was still able to carry on my work at school, and then the first quarterly book was contemplated and suddenly we had to turn out four extra stories, which was a lot — they were 13 pages each‘at that time. So, for the BATMAN book, 64 pages. we would do four BATMAN stories and then, later. we added Alfred. a four pager. I told Bob I was going to contribute a BATMAN script. I still remember that same night I went back to my room to start writing. My idea, I guess it was born out of what I was concurrently studying in my creative writing classes. Most of the heroes of literature and mythology that I could recall had great antagonists, Moriarty vs. Sherlock Holmes. etc. And the first thing I thought of doing — and this is interesting in retrospect — was to create a villain before I even began to think of the story line. That was my thought,  that I wanted to add a major villain to the strip. If you look back at that time, Batman was fighting small-time crooks, smugglers, and extortionists whatever. And they would be disposed of . . . not really worthy of a reprise. you know. They were corny, drawn from crimes of the 1920s and '30s . Prohibition bank robbers and hijackings, that kind of thing. The era that produced the Dillingers — and Dick Tracy.
STEVE: Gangster movies?
JERRY: Right, and they reflected the times very well and provided good action, and they were adequate foils for BATMAN. But I remember we had endless discussions on why we felt Batman was a better concept than Superman. We kind of felt a rivalry. SUPERMAN had been selling the most, but we were creeping up. We felt that the invulnerability of Superman was an inherent weakness. And they could never have the strongest stories, because nothing could really happen to Superman, so you could never have the same intensity, the suspense. So we felt that Batman was a stronger concept, because of his vulnerability and that he wasn't a super-character. And I think it was the right analysis at that time.
But there was also a dichotomy in our thinking about BATMAN. I remember discussing it with Bob and Bill. I believed that the stronger the villain, the antagonist, the stronger Batman would be. but there was a concern that if the villains were too strong it would overpower and detract from the hero. Therefore. Batman was the one to focus on. It may be obvious in retrospect, but at that time it wasn't so clear. Although I was playing the Devil's advocate and felt a strong villain would enrich the strip, none of us could be sure of that. But I did have the precedents in literature.
Anyway, I knew that I wanted to have a major villain in my script, although I don't think at that moment I could have foreseen a continuing villain, endlessly. But at least one villain strong enough to have a series and one that would test BAT‑
MAN to the limit and even, at times, best him. A lot of my own writing was in the vein of satire and humor. That's what I liked to do for my high school paper and later for the Columbia Journalism class. I loved to write short stories: De Mau-passant twist endings intrigued me. So I guess it was natural for me to think of some villain that had a sense of humor. I thought a villain with some internal contradiction would be intriguing . . . somebody who could be villainous and yet have a sense of humor . . . be dangerous and yet be not altogether unlikeable. And the next thought was how he would look. He had to be bizarre ... striking-visually. These thoughts came very quickly that night.
I was trying to think of a name and I thought, well, he's got a sense of humor. he's a joker. The actual progression of thoughts was something like that because. when I hit on the idea of the Joker as the name, I immediately thought of the joker playing card. I think it was a lucky association, because the joker playing card--has a lot of historical symbolism attached to it. There've been jokers through the ages. court jesters ...

STEVE: Like the Trickster in mythology.
JERRY: Yes, exactly so, it had a very sound basis. Although I didn't think of it in those terms. I remember searching frantically that night for a deck of cards. Where I could find a joker to base the visual on. Somehow, I felt I couldn't continue with the script, until I could actually lee him. When I finally unearthed that deck of cards with that classic joker image, in the mid‑
die of the night. I immediately sketched the Joker's head.
STEVE: Was that the sketch that was in the Steranko History?
JERRY: That was the sketch 1 did that night.
STEVE: That Joker face looks exactly the way he looks now.
JERRY: Well, almost. if you look at the joker card, yeah, they're very close. I began to flesh out the concept for his personality. I had nothing of the plot, except a general idea for the first story. I knew he would taunt Batman .. . be a joker. a villainous prankster. in a kind of sardonic way and visually bizarre and look like the joker playing card. And his calling card was, of course, a joker. That's about as far as I got that first night.
I was up all night. I was very excited about it. I couldn't wait to see Bob the next morning and tell him about the idea for the script I was writing, and the new villain. Well, he loved it and immediately saw its potential. It was solid. That was another, I think, great facility of Bob's. He came up with a lot of good ideas, of course, himself, but he never rejected something out of hand because it wasn't his idea. If you gave him an idea he would be able to run with it, embellish it and translate an abstract concept into visual terms.
Shortly thereafter, Bill came over and he thought the Joker idea was great. In fact, we all liked it so much we determined that we'd do it for the first BATMAN quarterly, which was just then in the works . . .1 think maybe we had one story done for that issue already, or something like that. Then came the tragedy for me. because what I had done was create a Frankenstein. I had created an idea that was so good that they immediately wanted to use it and have Bill write it. for that first issue.
STEVE: You must have felt awful.
JERRY: Well, as you can imagine, that's just how I felt. I was really heartsick and I argued for some time. but really without too much conviction, because I was really torn. I was really dedicated to BATMAN and I knew that by all odds Bill was far better-suited to write that story. I might have spent weeks on this my first story, writing it part-time. 13 pages. Maybe less. but Bill could turn it out that week and he was a great writer. Although I didn't want to relinquish my baby. I finally agreed. I guess it was such a profound disappointment that I don't think I tried to write another thing for comics for a couple of years. I concentrated on the drawing. and my writing outside of the comics. But I was elated that my idea was used, the first little thing that I created would then he part of BATMAN.
We discussed that first story there. I guess this is also a perfect example of how good Bill was...that first story turned out so great that it was used in that first issue as the lead story. The idea of the playing card was adapted and of course the Joker's white face was only because I kept the white clown face from the playing card. There was no reason for it except, we said. "Hey. it really looks bizarre, let's keep it white!" It was only years later, long after I left Batman. there was an explanation of some chemical accident or something.
STEVE: He was swimming through chemicals, I think it dyed his skin.
JERRY: Yeah, we never even attempted to explain those things. Once you explain it, it loses the intrigue. That was something I don't think we would've done. Some things should he left a mystery.
STEVE:  I think that was done during the '50s when the stories were sort of bland.
JERRY: Bill took as much as I had on it, the concept, and used the closed room idea. a classic one, for that first Joker story. which was perfect to establish his character .
STEVE: Where he was poisoning everybody.
JERRY: Yeah. How does he get in the closed room to commit the crime? The Joker predicts he'll kill at an exact time and Batman can't stop him. They posted policemen around the room, the clock chimes the hour and he topples over dead. At the appointed hour the victim answered the phone with a poisoned needle planted in the earpiece. It was a situation that writers, mystery writers, have always tried for a new solution the selection of that plot for the first Joker story was very important, it kind of set the persona of the Joker, if that story was not done well, the Joker might have not had the same initial impact.
STEVE: What about Robin? You were responsible for his creation. .
JERRY: No,  no, I was not. I can't take credit for that. As I reconstructed it and Bill confirmed my recollection, Bob and Bill had the idea of adding a kid and discussed the idea before I arrived. When I came in that particular day, they were already working on the idea of adding a boy to the strip. We had a long session of naming him. We compiled a long list of possible names, including some. I think, that Bill came in with twenty or thirty names such as Mercury and other mythological characters. I can't remember the other ones, but they were all of that
was a Penguin story, where Batman was fighting the bad guys on a giant pool table.
JERRY: But wasn't that just a splash panel?
JERRY: It wasn't just symbolic?
STEVE: No, it was an actual element in the story.
JERRY: It might have derived from our symbolic covers of splash pages. The idea of a giant thing that symbolically represented the theme of the story. It might have developed from that and maybe the typewriter story was true, too. You know, a lot of things developed at once. For example, I read, maybe Steranko wrote it or somebody else, when they interviewed Bill about the Joker, he said part of the development of the character was influenced by Conrad Veidt in
JERRY: THE MAN WHO LAUGHED. Well, that was true in part, hut that came after the fact.
STEVE: How? You looked at the photographs of Veidt and said: "Hey, he looks like the Joker"?
JERRY: Exactly. Its an example of how Bill would work ...very visually. He made natural associations which reinforced the concept did Conrad Veidt in THE MAN WHO LAUGHED. It helped Bill to conceptualize the character. So it was true, in part. And it's possible that we were doing the giant idea in splash panels and it was natural to incorporate it in a story . . .1 think Bob began to do those symbolic splash pages quite early. I remember an early Joker story which I did — the Joker was a florist. The name of the story was, "Slay 'em with Flowers" and for the first page splash panel, and adapted for the cover, I did a giant watering can with the Joker watering the flowers, one of which was Robin ...something like that. What we would do was take the theme of the story and symbolize it some way with some elements that made a good striking graphic. That was done fairly early on in the poster-like covers as well as in the splash panels.
STEVE: Well, from the old days, do you have recollections of maybe a particularly funny story that happened in your studio?
JERRY: Yes, well it wasn't mine, it was a joint studio at that time. The other participants were Charlie Biro, Bob and Dick Wood, Bernie Klein, and George Roussos who I believe is now coloring for Marvel and was working on BATMAN for many years inking backgrounds. George was an expert background artist.
STEVE: Who colored BATMAN?
JERRY: Well. I would color some of the stories that I did ...I had the opportunity to do the coloring, working at DC. But it was usually done by a DC staff artist. There was this marvelous old illustrator at DC. Raymond Perry. I was a kid and never called him anything but Mr. Perry. He had such a wealth of experience and was a marvelous draftsman. I always felt that it was kind of tragic that he was reduced to just coloring others' art for his last years. I remember I used to love to go to his studio and get critiques and advice and so forth. Anyway. Perry colored a lot of those early stories. His desk was nearby and if it was a story that I did, and didn't color myself, I would discuss it with him. I usually colored the covers that I did.
STEVE: Would you color, on the original or color on a slat or something?
JERRY: No, on the stat. All the coloring was done on what we called silver prints.
STEVE: That's one thing in which I think BATMAN was superior to the other strips; more attention was paid to the coloring, to the overall mood it created, all these shadows, and lots of purples and blues.
JERRY: Yes, we did, and if we didn't color it ourselves, quite often we would add color notes, how we wanted the effects carried out. So we did pay attention, because we were very concerned with the mood which we tried to establish in the strip.
So ends Part One. In Part Two Jerry discusses the love lives of Batman's creators, how they invented the "language" of comics, and what he feels about the advent of Neal Adams' ultra-realistic Batman.
STEVE: What was Bob Kane like in those days?
JERRY: Bob was a good-looking young man in his middle twenties. He was often involved in all-consuming romances; in fact, so was Bill Finger. I remember when Bill was first courting his wife, Portia. I think she was living in Rochester. It would drive Bob and me crazy because of his interminable phone calls to her wherever we were, in the apartment, the studio or even suddenly popping in a phone booth on the street. Portia is a charming and intelligent woman, by the way, and was a great asset to Bill in his career. Bob was also very intense about everything he did, including his love affairs. He loved to engage in repartee and one-liners. He could retell the entire routine of a comedian he heard the night before at some club.
STEVE: Did you ever do practical jokes on each other in the studio? Like spilling disappearing ink on the other guy's artwork or something?
JERRY: No, we had too much fear of having to do a drawing over again. Bob worked in his home. When I first met him he lived with his parents. I did most of my work on BATMAN at my own place. It wasn't until a year or so later that we took a studio in the Times building at Times Square. Bert Whitman, who did the newspaper strip, DEBBIE DEAN, had the adjoining studio. I think it was there I also met Irwin Hasen, whose work you know in the comic books and in the strip DONDI. Both Irwin and Bert, who became an editorial cartoonist, have been VIGILANTE or JOHNNY QUICK, where we maintained a more or less constant approach. I also introduced Mort to DC and we became close friends as well as collaborators. It was a great time to experiment. I remember one time Mort and I did one entire story bleeding from white to black as if lit entirely overhead — just for the special effect and mood it established.
STEVE: With real extreme shadows and real extreme light?
JERRY: Yeah, everything bleeding down into black , just as a challenge. Sometimes we'd just outline everything
with a pen and just add brush accents. Other times we'd just ink in all the blacks and leave everything else with only essential lines added. Various things like that, so it added some excitement to the work. But we learned a lot and it gave our work a different look. It also served to keep up our level of interest and excitement about the work. We also experimented with papers and other techniques such as inking on vellum overlays for different brush effects. I remember for Timely we would occasionally do a finished drawing ad lib, you know, directly with pen and ink without any pencils.
STEVE: Did you ever experiment with things like Benday and zipatone?
JERRY: Yes, we did.
STEVE: Would you generally ink with a pen or ink, with a brush, or both?
JERRY: Both. We'd deliberately vary our routine. You know, with all pen or just brush or sometimes a combination. 

STEVE: To touch on the JOHNNY QUICK strip, Meskin created that, right?
STEVE: That was a super-fast character like the Flash, but he handled the speed differently. He had multiple figures rather than the speed lines and the blurring.
JERRY: Exactly. That was a very clever innovation of Mort's, the multiple action. It was a first in the comics, reflected the striving for the illusion of motion reminiscent of Duchamp's NUDE DESCENDING A STAIRCASE. That's the sort of thing Jules was intrigued with when we discussed those early days for his book. Every time we'd do something new, an innovation, it was a first, and it was exciting. I mean, we didn't have traditions or too many taboos. And so fortunately for us, as the comic books had just begun, it didn't have any past and so we knew that when we tried something new, it was probably an innovation. At times we struggled with the limitations of the form. We were inventing the "language" of the comics, the "look" and story-telling techniques. . . exploring its potential . . . experimenting and extending its parameters.
Well, in the process, I think we set the pattern, with very few exceptions, for what came later, almost in the same sense that D.W. Griffith and the early film pioneers invented the early film techniques — you know, close-ups, establishing shots, parallel editing, the moving camera, etc. One episode I remember was the first time we devoted a full page to a splash panel. That was very exciting. And we had to battle editors to do things like that, because their philosophy was that the more panels and the more artwork, they were getting more for their money. And if you were getting more money, you were expected to put in more panels, so sometimes you'd have twelve panels on a page, and it would be a deadly amount of work and would limit us in what we wanted to do visually. Our first breakthrough was to combine two panels or three panels. Remember what immediately preceded us in the comic books were reprints of comic strips as in FAMOUS FUNNIES, etc.
STEVE: Right.
JERRY: We began to want to do more visually, we had to break down those restrictions, so we got a full panel across, which added dimension. We began to do vertical panels, panels of different shapes, vignettes and other visual effects. All those were innovations. They look simple now, but before they existed, somebody had to make the breakthrough and make it work. Traditionally on the first page you'd have an introduction, sometimes just a panel at the top or a strip across the top. We then expanded to maybe a third of the page, and eventually devoted the whole page for the opening shot. I mean that was lavish! I think because of the popularity of BATMAN we were able to do things with our feature which was more dependent on the visual and the mood.
STEVE: Do you think you were the first to do a double-page spread?
JERRY: That I don't know. I don't recall if we ever did a double-page spread on BATMAN in those days. I think that came later on. But a full page, I'm almost sure we were the first or among the first with that.
STEVE: In your rendering styles and storytelling, were you influenced much by the strip artists? Foster and Noel Sickles and people like that?
JERRY: Well, I was when I first saw Noel Sickles. Somebody brought his work into the studio, I think it was Fred Ray because I think Sickles appeared in the Harrisburg paper where Fred was from. And he brought in clips of it. We went mad about his work.
STEVE: Great stuff.
JERRY: Yes, fantastic. In fact, I remember we all chipped in to get photostats of all of them so we could each have a copy, which I think I still have in
my files. I also have a few originals which he signed for me years later when I had him as a guest at an NCS meeting. He was a charming and most modest man — and a brilliant illustrator.
STEVE: Scorchy has been put out in books. Have you seen the Nostalgia Press books?
JERRY: Yes, I've seen those, I think it has some of the same episodes that we had. I think Foster and Caniff we knew more intimately and admired very much, particularly Caniff. I think we were influenced by Caniff's sparkling black and white and his unmatched story-telling and character development. He's a master of the sequential narrative. When I started to ink BATMAN, I was intrigued by the black and white and kept pushing for more of that in the strip. I can't think of anybody in the comic books at that time that was an influence in our development of BATMAN.
STEVE: What about Jack Kirby?
JERRY: Kirby was perhaps, later, in his marvelous action. I was a great admirer of Jack's, but he had his own unique approach. I don't think he was a direct influence on BATMAN, in the kind of things we were trying to do with the black and white, and the somewhat more realism of Caniff rather than extreme fantasy.
STEVE: The sort of chiaroscuro effects?
JERRY: Yes, chiaroscuro, and also the storytelling, the intimate, what I would call the intimate sequential narrative Milton Caniff developed. We also tried to adapt a lot from the movies. At times we saw something in a film that we had done in the comics that we thought we'd created. You know it's like the old story of the inventor who was up in his attic for thirty years and finally came down with this fantastic invention that was going to revolutionize our lives. He had invented the typewriter. (Laughter from interviewer.) Well, he invented it. He had never seen such a thing before . . . The things that we thought we had created, and some of them I think we did, if we saw them used in the movies, it was kind of a reaffirmation that we were not so crazy after all! "Hey, look at that. He's using our idea!" The prime example of that was Orson Welles Citizen Kane. When that came out, it flipped our minds totally. To see it now is one thing, but to see it then was revolutionary. Welles used a lot of the things that we were doing in the comics, or tried to do, within the limitations of the graphic image, without the magic of film. We would go back and see it over and over. I think Fred Ray had the record of forty or fifty times and I guess I was up in the twenties, or so. We knew every line and we'd recite the dialogue endlessly while we were working. It was a marvelous picture. One of the innovations that I recall was the ceiling shots. He had full sets.
STEVE: Right. He was the first to do that.
JERRY: We had been doing that, shooting low level shots to get the effects
up on the ceiling, feeling enclosed areas and the space.
STEVE: Well, BATMAN especially, often had Batman's silhouette thrown on the ceiling and people would look up and see it.

JERRY: Right, so these angle shots were marvelous, and we were experimenting through knot holes, through keyholes and a number of shots in CITIZEN KANE were similar, through the floor, etc., and some of the sequential devices that he used we were trying to employ. We also began to experiment with creating illusions of time by manipulating the panels.
Some of the artists today . ..I think they're great, they probably know far more than we did in those days, in terms of anatomy. etc. We were concentrating on other things. I mean we tried to improve our draftsmanship and anatomy within a limited degree, and perspective, but only for our own purposes. It wasn't a means to an end. I can remember we'd talk about it. that some artist put in every muscle, and every fold and we thought it was inappropriate or unnecessary. It destroyed the illusion. We didn't want it that realistic.
I remember Bob studying Foster's anatomy, but not the drive for realism, as such. When things got too real, we would look at it with some disdain as being too photographic. That we felt we could do any time — copy a photograph, but lose the essence of the motion, the mystery of it and destroy the fluidity of the BATMAN figure.
In a way, it was fortunate that I had never taken drawing lessons in my life before. And I don't think Bob ever did either. Bob was a "comic" cartoonist before he did adventure strips -- you know, GINGER and others. Bob, I think is underrated in many cases by his peers, as an artist. There aren't too many who can make that leap from a career as a "comic" artist to an illustrative artist, at least to the level of BATMAN or doing any adventure strip. It's extremely hard to do it on that level. You can go the other way much more easily. I know from my experience, once I began to draw illustratively. I've been able to illustrate thirty or forty books, textbooks, books on atomic energy, history, biography, and science, drawing primarily from my experience and what I learned as a comic book artist. That gave me everything, all the fundamentals. Then I was able to do so-called "humorous illustration" with ease. But, the other way around is very difficult and I've seen other artists who were never able to do it as Bob did. You know, we wanted to give it a distinctive look. When I look at BATMAN today . . . it's perhaps drawn too well, far better than we used to, but I believe it lost something in the process. I think that kind of drawing is better suited for other characters.
STEVE: What do you think of some of the later work, like Neal Adams, who did BATMAN ultra-realistically?
JERRY: As I say, he's a terrific artist and he did magnificent drawing, but I think, I don't know, it's just my own opinion, maybe it's self-serving in that we didn't draw BATMAN that way, and I've drawn very illustrative stuff myself later, I just think that BATMAN was better portrayed another way.
STEVE: But you're thinking that realism had lost a lot of the flavor perhaps?
JERRY: I thought so, yeah. I think it would be hard not to lose some of the flavor, some of the mystery, some of the
drama and mood. If only because so many other features began to be drawn that way,
too. So when BATMAN, too, was drawn so realistically, it became too much like
character. Because of that many features don't have as much in graphic terms to distinguish them from one another.
STEVE: Speaking just for yourself, when you were doing something like say a western, would you apply a different visual style than if you were doing a superhero?
JERRY: Yeah, definitely. I'd try to give every feature or sometimes an individual story its own look. I wouldn't draw JOHNNY QUICK or VIGILANTE the way we were drawing BATMAN. Mort established a look for JOHNNY QUICK and the VIGILANTE that we changed somewhat in the collaboration, but we tried to keep that original look. I tried to establish other "styles" for others such as BAT MASTERSON, LASSIE, ATOMAN, THE GREEN HORNET and others that suited each concept.
STEVE: Let's see, you worked with Meskin; this is the post-BATMAN period, and what were you doing after you worked with Mort?
JERRY: Well, let's see . . . Mort was always a big influence. Mort was the only one of us who had gone to art school, Pratt Institute, so I always looked up to Mort as the authority in terms of anatomy and all the fundamentals. I tried to learn from him, and there is one memory in particular I have when we shared a studio together. If I asked him how to draw something, he wouldn't tell me a damn thing except: "Work it out". I mean he would have me struggle over a figure for a day if I had to! He would tell me when I had it, but he wouldn't tell me how to do it. So, I was frustrated in that sense. But, of course, it was the best thing for me because. I had to learn for myself by doing. I learned a lot from Mort by studying his work.. . After Mort, well, I had begun, let me see . . . I had begun to teach at what was then the Cartoonists and Illustrator's School founded by Burne Hogarth, and Cy Rhodes. Burne and I have been best friends since those days. He is a brilliant artist, as you know, and was an inspiring teacher. We conducted many seminars at C & I together. In recent years we've lectured at schools and colleges together.
STEVE: C & I was in the post-war period.?
STEVE: Hogarth didn't start that until after the war, right?
JERRY: Yes, it was after the war. I think in the late 40's. I think Mort taught there too, for a while, that's how I started teaching there in 1950. We were collaborating around that time. Cartoonists' and illustrators later became The School
of Visual Arts. I think it was a decisive period for me because I got very interested in teaching. Of course I was drawing at the same time. I just taught at night. Five nights a week, four hours a night, in fact! Ah, the energy and dedication of youth! But I really began to analyze and think about the cartoon arts seriously in a more formal way. And there's nothing like teaching for learning, you know.
STEVE: What, specifically were you teaching?
JERRY: I was teaching more or less what I teach today at The New School for Social Research - The Cartoon Arts. Although I guess I've expanded the coarse since then because I wasn't doing all ihe things I've done since, in terms of editorial cartoons and book illustration. So I guess it was mostly comic strips and comic books. I concentrated on visualization and storytelling and characterization, things that I thought I was best at, or I had something to say. I recently signed to do a text book but I haven't started it yet. It'll be more of an analysis of the drawing and the thought process in the various genres of comic art.
STEVE: When did you start branching out into book illustration?
JERRY: I think it was about that time, or I guess this was now back in the sixties. There was a long period after I left BATMAN that I did a lot of other comic book work for other companies. A number of books for Western Printing.
STEVE: Name some titles. Whatever comes to mind.
JERRY: Well, BAT MASTERSON for a couple of years, an adaptation of the TV show.
STEVE: The newspaper strip?
JERRY: No, in the comic books.
STEVE: Because I know that Howard Nostrand was doing the newspaper strip.
JERRY: Also LASSIE for a couple of years. Boy, I learned to hate that dog!
STEVE: Was the dog hard to draw?
JERRY: Well, it was a nuisance to have her in every panel. After the first few issues it was not very exciting. It was boring.
STEVE: Drawing a collie over and over again.
JERRY: I used to hide her everywhere, you know you'd see her nose sticking in a panel. You'd see her tail out of a field of grass, anything to get rid of her . . . Then, I don't remember how I happened to do it as I did very little humor
for the comics at that time, but I did BULLWINKLE for a few issues. I liked doing humor and as I was just going up to Maine to work and I thought it would be fun for the summer. I had no idea of continuing doing it. I wrote and drew a number of stories. The only thing I remember about one of them was that I did a parody on old Hollywood movies, which you might enjoy if you ever find a copy. I wrote new lyrics for classic songs for Bullwinkle, which was kind of fun. But those were one shots. For a number of years I worked closely with Stan Lee, just before the Marvel era.
STEVE: At Atlas?
JERRY: Yes, I did a lot of various titles for him, war books, love stories, weird stories, crime. There was a whole period there I guess, it was pre '60s, I did some continuing features, but most of them were for different titles.
STEVE: Did you prefer that kind of diversity to working on a continuing character?
JERRY: I did. Yeah, I did for a while, because I'd been stuck doing those characters for so long. It gave me a chance to experiment doing different material. I think if anything, it's what I liked most, another challenge. With each story I was able to experiment with a different style or a new story-telling technique, a different approach or a character and I liked that. I began to do other things about that time. Advertising and book illustration and then I began to think of doing newspaper strips, which I did later on.
STEVE: Mita was the name of your strip?
JERRY: The first strip was called JET SCOTT. I signed a contract with the Herald Tribune Syndicate. It was a science fiction strip, of a peculiar kind. It was a collaboration with a writer who hadn't written comics before, so it was difficult in that sense. I had problems in translating the script. But he had a reputation as an experienced science writer.
JET SCOTT was science fiction that was just slightly ahead of contemporary scientific knowledge. It wasn't a futuristic strip as FLASH GORDON. We didn't want to repeat that or that genre of sci-fi. We invented an Office of Scientific Fact, the government agency dealing in new technology . . . that Jet would investigate and get involved with. It did very well ...I mean it got off to a terrific start. We had almost a hundred papers to begin with, with the showcase paper the NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE. It ran daily and half a page on Sundays. And we did that for two years.
When it came time for the contract renewal we were just going over the advance. We had quite a good contract, but we had hit a plateau. And while it was a comfortable living, it was all- absorbing. I mean for those two years I didn't have a day off. I wasn't writing it, although we collaborated on the basic story ideas, which I regretted, only in the sense that that would have made it more interesting for me and, perhaps, marginally more lucrative. While I created all the characters and so forth, I had a tough time because I had to do a lot of reworking of the story breakdowns as the writer wasn't that familiar with comics idiom, although he had good ideas for the strip.
I couldn't do anything else, really, for two years, doing the complete pencil and inks. You know, most anybody who's doing an adventure strip daily and Sundays has good solid help. The strip didn't bring in enough to afford having the assistance in research that I needed. When it came to the end of that two year; I had the choice to either renew the contract or drop it and the writer and I debated about it for a long time. I think he was more in favor of continuing it, as was the syndicate, because he could write a weeks' script in a morning, you know, that would take me a full week to draw.
We didn't renew the contract.
The irony of it, which I mentioned in my book on the history of the comics, was that it seemed to be the end of the renaissance of the science fiction strip at that time. But one momentous event happened just then that changed the course of history as well as the trend in comics. But that's a story we'll have to save for another time.
STEVE: Now that you mention it, you were talking about science fiction strips.
JERRY: Yeah. There were a number of others in the field at that time and, as you know, themes in newspaper strips tend to be cyclical — which I tried to document in my book. Historically, it
seemed to be a very good time for science fiction. There was resurgence from the early FLASH GORDON period in the Fifties. But about three or four other strips were launched and the market became saturated. Some, unfortunately, were not done very well and failed..
When a strip dies in the comics it gets around . . . editors think "Oh, readers are no longer interested... science fiction is out," and so forth. So while we had a good solid list, and I think we were doing one of the better ones, it began to look like JET SCOTT was not going to go much further because of that. The irony I mentioned occurred within weeks of the time we ended the strip: The Russians launched Sputnik. Science became the "in" thing. America was in a near panic. Suddenly, we were behind the Russians, technologically. We would have been perfectly situated with the concept of JET SCOTT. It was really the new innovations in technology, the cutting edge of real science, that was our specific area of science fiction. And we just ended it. We lost space in a hundred papers. It was a perfect example of, at times, the overriding importance of timing.
STEVE: How did it feel?
JERRY: Oh, terrible, because I'm still convinced that if we hadn't cancelled, it had the potential to be a top strip perhaps even to this day. In retrospect, however, I'm glad — really, I am. At the time, I felt terrible. I thought, "Oh God, we would've had five hundred papers in
no time". But I hate the thought that I would have been doing it all those years since, which I would've, if it had been that successful. I always saw that as a pitfall in a comic strip. At one time you want to make a success, at it, and at the same time it's a dead end, artistically. And I guess I've been a wanderer, too. I've wanted it, yet feared it, always. You know, when I get too successful at something I want to do something else, because I never seem to be satisfied in doing just one thing. I never had the desire to just create a strip and then treat it as a business — you know, have somebody else execute it with my name on it as the artist. So I'm very ambivalent about that kind of thing, though I guess like anybody else, if it left me with a million dollar strip it would be a hard decision to make. Fortunately, I never had to make that choice.
It retrospect, I am glad because I have done so many different things since that I have really enjoyed doing. Because once you create an adventure strip, it is all-consuming. But you know you have to part of the force of any strip is to keep it identifiable and you can't diverge much from the initial concept. So it's like doing a theme with endless variations and almost after the first year or two the real creativity is over.
STEVE: Did you have to do a lot of research on the technological aspects?
JERRY: A lot of research, although much of is made up to appear authentic. I like some of the visuals when I look back on them. Usually you look back on stuff you did a year ago, or two years. let alone twenty years ago, with great pain. I had the occasion to look back on some JET SCOTT not long ago and I'm rather surprised. A lot of it still looked good. I even  take a page or two to my class now and then to show some examples of storytelling that I was pleased with.
STEVE: How good were you at anticipating technological advances?
JERRY: Oh, we did very well. And that's what Starke did best as a science trained writer. That part of it was solid, and I was excited about the drawing. For a newspaper strip, I think I did more than the usual amount of experimentation because that's what I liked to do, and it didn't seem to hurt the strip. We never lost any papers over it, about keeping a strict visual identity. Each episode would be six, eight weeks in length and I would handle each story differently in concept and with the technique that I felt the story demanded. Some with a little more humor than others, I would handle more stylistically. Some were straight dramatis: adventure set on the high seas for example — I might do that sequence in Craftint. So it did change its visual look from time to time, but it kept my own interest from flagging by experimenting with the interpretation and techniques.
STEVE: Following JET SCOTT, what did you go on to?
JERRY: Well, I think after that, the last thing I did really in the comics was with Stan Lee while I was teaching at Visual Arts during the 1950s. I would do some advertising and illustration, but most of
the rest of the comic book period was during that time. I found teaching very satisfying. It gave me a chance to study myself and analyze what I learned by trial and error. Some of my students went on to become well known in the field.
STEVE: Can you name some names?
JERRY: Steve Ditko was a student of mine for about two or three years. Part of the concept of Visual Arts was that the faculty were professional artists working in their field and devoting a certain amount of time to teaching. The classes were large . . . thirty to forty students, and I
don't know how I kept the schedule, but in those days I was pretty young. But I would teach four and five evenings a week for four hours after doing my comic book work all day.
STEVE: That's a tough schedule.
JERRY: Now I teach only two hours a week at the New School, so you can see the difference the years can make! Yeah, it was tough, but it was exciting and I really devoted myself to it. I think I was a fairly good teacher — at least I get a lot of good feedback from former students. Many keep in touch, send me their work. Anyway, in addition to Steve Ditko, there was Abel...
STEVE: Jack Abel?
JERRY: Jack Abel.
STEVE: He was interviewed in COMIC'S INTERVIEW #7. I did that one. I think that was the first one he ever had published. Jack's a nice man.
JERRY: Oh yeah, very fine. All these kids just coming here to New York for the
first time also Dick Hudgins, a very talented artist who later became editorial cartoonist for the NEW YORK NEWS and now he works on a lot of syndicated strips. One was Half Hitch, written by Hank Ketchum, for a couple of years. It didn't survive, but Dick aid a very good job. He has worked for Dik Browne on HI AND LOIS and a number of theirs. He's very versatile.
STEVE: He's got a very plastic style. He can do anything.
JERRY: Yes, exactly. And Mort Gerber, the fine NEW YORKER cartoonist. Also John Langton, who became art director for the NEW YORK POST. In fact, John was my assistant for a number of years, as wen: several other students. I'd hire them when they graduated and achieved a level of proficiency. Some became associates or partners on a number of projects. Langton was. Another talented young fellow who is top staff artist at THE DAILY NEWS,
Bill Robinson, no relation, was a student of mine also. Bob Forgione who later did a lot of work in the comics . . . THE THING, among others.
STEVE: I'm not familiar with that name. I've probably seen his stuff, though.
JERRY: Probably. He's been out of the comics for a long time now.
STEVE: Yeah, and for many years a lot of people didn't sign their names to anything.
JERRY: Yeah, a lot of stuff Bob didn't sign. Terrific artist. Bob was a student for several years and really worked with great intensity and dedication. After assisting for a number of years we formed an association, a partnership, and we did a lot of books together. For a good part of the period when I was working for Stan Lee and later, on BAT MASTERSON and LASSIE. Bob was my assistant or partner. We also did a lot of the advertising and book illustration before he decided to go into television. Bob's great flair and ability made him an instant success in TV. Bob really learned storytelling, I think in the comic books, as I did. They never saw anybody visualize storyboards like he did . . the kind of thing he did every day in the comics. Well, Bob became vice-president of William Esty, one of the major advertising agencies. He's now a film producer with his own film company. Like the old saying, "bread cast upon the waters" . . . well, once in a while he'd call me to do a job for him. I designed some ads for him including a series for Doral cigarettes, one of his accounts.
STEVE: You're still doing ad work now aren't you, occasionally?
JERRY: Very occasionally. I really don't have that much time . . . I don't like advertising, generally, but it's '30 lucrative. Once in a while, I'll do a job that will pay for a summer, you know .. . but I really don't find it too creative.
STEVE: Neal Adams has his own studio and they do a lot of storyboard-type of work. I've seen some of the storyboards that Adams does and they're great.
JERRY: Sure. He's terrific. Of course, Bob is an idea man and a creator and he's got great flair .. . but, I think anybody who had good basic training in the comics could be successful in television. Mort
Meskin met with the same success with TV storyboards. His visuals were brilliant.
STEVE: Jerry, you wrote your own history of the comic strips and I was just wondering if you have a philosophy that you've evolved about comics as a communications medium, something that's maybe developed out of your teaching.
JERRY: Well, what do you mean? My philosophy about the comics?
STEVE: Yeah, just about what makes comics unique as an entertainment medium.
JERRY: I guess that's what I tried to write in a three-hundred page book! That's a big question . . . a good question, but —
STEVE: Well, if you could distill it down to about five minutes.
JERRY: Well, I will try to answer it in part. There's a lot to that question because comics are unique. It took centuries to develop, but the modern comic strip happened almost accidentally. There were economic, sociological, technological reasons why it came about at the time it did. Although in retrospect, it seems inevitable. It came about coincidentally, almost at the same time as the development of the film and animation. There seemed to be a striving for movement in art, in giving an illusion of movement on a flat canvas, so that was part of it. The development of the sequential narrative was another step in its evolution. One force of the medium that is perhaps not fully appreciated is the manipulation of time that you can create with the comics, maybe even more so than film in some ways. You can expand it or compress it. The strip engages the reader's imagination — this is also a part of its impact. You can tap into the reader's mind when it's done well. And once you begin to add dialogue, it gives a sense of a story unfolding before you. There are other technical reasons that give the genre its unique power. The development of character, of course, is an essential part. It's a living art form in the sense that, particularly in the comic strip, the characters in the strip are in constant change and growth and interaction with the reader over an extended period of time. The novel or a movie does not have it . . . even if you have a character in a series. The television serial is closest I  think that's the heart of the power of the soap opera and sit com.
STEVE: Also that cumulative effect of past history behind the characters.
JERRY: Exactly. That's part of what I mean by the growth, day by day. And after all, in a humor strip, you're dealing with nine or ten seconds. If you think of the reader reading a story where every three sentences they have to stop and wait for the next day to read, how do you maintain that interest? It must have a unique power in order to do that. It's what I mean by a living thing . . . the artist and the characters and the reader are growing and changing at the same time, under much the same or even different circumstances. The story is not set in concrete as in a play or movie or novel — the form allows for a constant change that reflects the growth in the writer and/or artist and the reader. In fact, the characters in Gasoline Alley aged at the same rate as the audience.  That particular page, you know, is from 1921, which was the year that Skeezix was left on the doorstep of Walt Wallet (points to the rear will of the room where the interview is taking place, which is covered with framed comic pages and cartoons.). That's the Thanksgiving day page of that same year  and when you think that Skeezix is now .a great grandfather himself and has literally aged day by day . . . that was a unique tour de force. One of the other elements is the one to one relationship of the comic strips; you're holding the characters in your own hands, you're looking at it alone, it's for you, and so there's a very intense individual relationship. You see it in the intensity of comic fans. You know, it's almost a part of our being. Another part of the book was to establish the thesis that the comics are like the proletarian novels of today; they reflect our culture. They influence our life, customs, morals — and in return are influenced by it, and so there's an ongoing interrelationship between the comics and society.
STEVE: Do you think that to some extent television has usurped that function?
JERRY: Well, I don't know if it has usurped that function, but it has utilized those same attributes in different ways. It's a different medium. Each one has it's own uniqueness and its own powers and limitations. We can't do what television does, nor can television do what graphics do. Television has a greater sense of reality, after all, than the comics. Although in the comics you never lose sight of the fantasy, you can lose yourself, you know, in your fantasy. I think in that sense, comics have more power, than television in that the reader plays a greater part. It engages their imagination. I don't think there's much of an intellectual exercise in watching a TV soap opera. The soaps do have some of the same appeal, however. . . a strong story interest, and character development, but I think of a different sort.
STEVE: Considering what you said earlier about comics being cyclical; you were talking about the science fiction vogue in the fifties. Now it seems as though the adventure strip has died off and everything is pretty much humor-oriented.
How do you fell about newspaper strips now?
JERRY: Well, through the whole history of the comic strip from 1895 to the present, it has been cyclical, in waves of the same (the phone rings as it did intermittently during our conversation, necessitating a break in the taping).
STEVE: Anyway, you were saying that through the whole history it was cyclical . . .
JERRY: Yeah, almost all the major themes of strips have been cyclical humor strips, kid strips, science fiction, sports, crime, even a type of soap opera strip. Even styles: super-realism, fantasy and so forth. Newspaper strips have been tied to the economy of newspapers and its technology, they are meant to sell
newspapers. So the decline of the adventure strip was accelerated by other things, but mostly by the lack of space in the newspapers, I think the cutting down of space was disastrous for the adventure strip. There were economic reasons for doing that, and the artists and the syndicates have been fighting it, but its been a losing battle for the most part. On the one hand syndicates have been kind of ambivalent about it, too, because if the strips are larger, it means you can sell fewer strips. Syndicates are in the business to sell strips. Newspapers are not adding space to accommodate more strips. Except for the recent innovation of Gary Trudeau . . . he demanded that DOONESBURY run at a certain size or he wouldn't sell it to them. That took great courage and principle.
STEVE: Yeah. How many people have that much clout?
JERRY: Yeah, well exactly . . . but it's a Catch-22 situation. You could have the same size newspaper page and let's say, theoretically, instead of five former sized comic strips, you now have ten smaller strips. But if you keep the original size, which would be great for the strips and those artists, you're only selling five strips in that space because newspapers will not add another page of five strips. So you'd wind up, industry wide, with half the number of viable strips.
STEVE: Do you think that to some extent the syndicates are cutting their own throats, economically, by not changing with the times as much?
JERRY: Well, not so much the syndicates . . . I think it hasn't helped the syndicates, just as it hasn't helped the profession, but I think in the last analysis, it has hurt the newspapers the most. They have their own economic reasons for it, which you can argue with. They're the only ones who can rectify it. But the editorial budget is one of the few things that they have absolute control over, particularly the syndicate material they buy. They can't control the cost of newsprint. It's out of their hands what they pay photographers, lithographers and all the editorial staff, they're unionized for the most part — the distribution system — trucks and drivers, the real estate taxes, all of the other elements are usually beyond their control or very narrowly limited — except for the feature material that they're buying.
They reduce the size of strips in order to keep more of the features. The newsprint and cost of space is so much, they're not going to add another page for the strips or other feature material. But in the long run, it is self-defeating because the comics are the one feature that are uni‑
que to the newspapers and where a lot of their circulation was born and where a lot of the readership still exists. Generations of kids are growing up, their reading habits are formed early. They're reading comic books and become comic book readers or television addicts — not reading newspapers and becoming the adult readers of tomorrow.
On the other hand, there are areas of hope and of change . . I recently served on a committee called Twentieth Century Comics, funded by newspapers, syndicates, and cartoonists. We met over the past couple of years trying to visualize what the comics in the next century were going to look like, what directions newspapers have to go, how to better use the comics, how to better design the comics pages and attract advertising revenue, expanding the comic sections giving us more space. The study is meant to stimulate editors to take a closer interest in the comic product. Too often, they are the stepchildren — put in the back of the paper, run so many on the page, and that's it. It was an elaborate study. In fact, we printed up sample color comic sections to show how they could be redesigned. There has been a lot of interest on the part of the newspapers, and so there might be, if some of the conclusions are put into practice, a renaissance in the newspaper comics, which would be fantastic. It would give increased space, more concern, better color, better design, which would attract a whole new generation, I think, of artists — and readers — to the comics.
STEVE: Well, aren't a lot of the newspaper strips these days printed on plastic plates?
JERRY: Yes, that's true, but I don't think that's been a . . . You're suggesting that that's seen as part of the problem?
STEVE: Well, yes, as far as the comics not looking as sharp visually. The colors now are just anemic compared to some of the old Sunday sections from the Thirties and Forties.
JERRY: Well, that's true. A lot of the color by the big presses are done by computer and they're not hand-colored and you just can't get the same effects. . . that's true, but I think that's not the major problem. I mean those things can be overcome too. If they become more concerned about the color, they 'I be more concerned about the printing. That's part of the recommendations. The printing, the paper and the reproduction has to be upgraded to attract more important national advertisers, as well They want to see their ads in a good light. When an art director designs a smart ad he's not anxious to place it in the comic sections as they are today. Anyway, to answer the question about the future of comics — it's up in the air.
STEVE: Realistically, do you foresee any kind of future for newspaper strips for say, the next twenty years?
JERRY: If some of these things are put into effect, I do. If not, if it continues to slide the way it's going now, I don't see that much. Certainly not for an adventure strip. And the kinds of humor strips have been altered radically, too. Ones that are successful are ones that have been able to adapt to a particular format — quick, visual. And those that are good at it are terrific, but it's only that particular kind of humor that will make ii in that space. Something like HAGAR, Dik Browne designed just for this new Image, and it's terrific. But I don't think you could do a "literary" strip today like LIL' ABNER or . . . POGO died because of that, and I think that's what Trudeau fears. Gary is concerned because he depends upon a fair amount of dialogue and he needs space for it to be read as well as for the visual. But, a lot of it is tied to the economy. If we've got a booming economy, newspapers might put some money into these ideas, it's not irretrievable. It could happen.
STEVE: But what about styles of humor? How do you perceive the new styles of off-the-wall humor, things like Gary Larson's THE FAR SIDE and Breathed 's BLOOM COUNTY?
JERRY: I think that's great. For years, there wasn't much innovation in styles of humor . It couldn't have gone ten, twenty years ago. It would've been .
STEVE: Too weird?
JERRY: Yeah, right. I detect some more flexibility recently, however. Bill Griffith's ZIPPY, for example, may not achieve a large list, but a major syndicate like King distributing it is an interesting and welcome development. I think John McMeel and Universal Press Syndicate have been the most innovative and progressive in recent years, having paved the way with DOONESBURY and THE FAR SIDE, and even with FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE, CALVIN & HOBBES, and CATHY, to name some that are more conventional but still with a very personal vision. Newspapers — and syndicates were too rigid in what they would run. They underestimated their readership. They were too conservative. They didn't appeal to the younger generation of readers. The features reflected life, but they weren't avant garde enough. That's
beer the one pitfall of the comics and syndication. In earlier days it was much more experimental. When I went back to study the early days and looked through years and years of strips, 1900 on up, on microfilm and original work, there was an amazing diversity of work! Amazing the experimentation compared to today.
STEVE: Something like KRAZY KAT is still weird, by anybody's lights. It's totally unique. Of course, KRAZY KAT was too intellectual for a mass audience; Hearst looked at it and kept it — even raising Herriman's salary — that kind of faith is needed today.
JERRY: Yeah, that's right. When the syndicates became big business, that kind of decision changed — now it's rarely made. With the experience of my own little syndicate, I know some of what's involved. Syndicates invest considerable sums just to launch a property. Then it has to get a list of subscribers in order to make it commercially attractive — for the artist as well — to sustain the high cost of salesmen on the road, promotion, etc. Whereas in the old days it was relatively simple. The artist was usually working on the staff for a paper, and when he got a new idea for a strip, the Editor would say: Let's try it this Sunday. Some of those early creators had two, three, four strips running at one time. If they found that one was more successful, or if they particularly liked one, they'd concentrate on that. It is ironic, however, that when one feature became successful, the artist often did it for the rest of his life — for economic reasons. It's hard to turn down thousands of dollars a week. But really, their days of creativity were over. George McManus was a prime example. He did a number of strips before BRINGING UP FATHER became a hit. He devoted the rest of his life to endless variations of Maggie & Jiggs theme. He could've created any number of other memorable characters.
STEVE: Do you think the later strips got pretty stale?
JERRY: Well, it almost has to be over a period of time. The essence of a strip is to keep it the same, the same theme and yet change and grow, as the readership changes and grows. That's the problem. And only a few have been able to do that. But after a strip runs twenty years, thirty years, it has a longevity because it already has a built-in readership. It may be dying, but it can last another ten years on the strength of its readership.
STEVE: Well, what about something like PEANUTS, which has been around since the early Fifties?
JERRY: It started in 1950. Well, there's one where the creator kept it fresh. It's a theme that's flexible. The material that he uses is timeless, it reflects ongoing interests of readers of all ages. And he's also introduced a continuing flow of marvelous characters over the years. He's got a whole repertory company that he can orchestrate. And Schultz is an exceptional talent. Even if you have an exceptional talent, you've got to hit on the right format for the combination to work.
STEVE: Since the 1960s when there 've been the comics show at the Louvre that you mentioned earlier and the show that you curated, do you think there's been a greater acceptance of comics as art among the fine art establishment?
JERRY: Well, I think so, but it's been an uphill battle. Comics have always been looked down on with a certain kind of snobbery, even among other professionals. The illustrators look down on the cartoonists. I belonged to the Illustrators Society for many years because of the books I illustrated, but they would blackball some top cartoonists from joining because they were just mere cartoonists. I think Walt Kelly was one, if you can imagine that . . . We made some inroads with the Graham Galley Shows and the Kennedy Center show. I was also a consultant for the show at the Whitney.
STEVE: Oh, yeah, 1 was going to ask you if you had anything to do with that. Did you select some of the pieces?
JERRY: Yes, and I wrote an article for
the catalog and advised the curators for the show.
STEVE: 1 was working for THE COMICS JOURNAL, who put together the catalog for that, at the time.
JERRY: So there have been some inroads, but there have been only a few, relatively, that have achieved some kind of a status in the fine art field — Herriman, James Thurber, Al Hirschfeld, David Levine, Saul Steinberg, George Grosz and even Ben Shahn, much of whose graphics I'd defined as cartoons.
STEVE: Feiffer maybe?
JERRY: Feiffer to a degree. (This interview was recorded of course before Feiffer won his Pulitzer Prize.) He has not been as appreciated yet, as he should be, as the others. Foster, also, to a degree, but more among cartoon aficionados.
STEVE: Do you think Foster is well respected?
JERRY: I think so. I think Herriman more than Foster, however, among the fine art critics.
STEVE: Why does it always seem to be the case that a humor artist is more respected than a Milton Caniff or an Alex Raymond?
JERRY: Well, I think it stems more from snobbery really by art critics — even towards illustrators as well as cartoonists. Many fine artists themselves don't appreciate the illustrators. I think it's breaking down somewhat lately. I mean a few critics have begun to appreciate illustration and cartooning. The fine art establishment has always had a bias about anything
that was that popular; it couldn't be art. And anything that's funny is too frivolous to be real art. I knew Gilbert Seldes in his later days. I don't know if that name means anything to you, but he wrote a classic book, THE SEVEN LIVELY ARTS. He was the first important critic who treated comic art as an art form. But even then he showed a snobbery about the art. He cited Herriman and just one or two others that were worthy of consideration. He appreciated, however, the potential of the genre and the genius to produce a work of art like KRAZY KAT. That was the first opening, and we haven't progressed too far beyond that. I think if we had gotten that Met show, it would have made a profound difference. It would take something dramatic. The Whitney show made a little bit of a ripple, but it was at their downtown gallery and wasn't a major production. The art is certainly far more appreciated in Europe, being exhibited at the Louvre and supported by some of the more serious art critics. I've spoken to Main Renais about the comics . . .
STEVE: The film director?
JERRY: Yes. He's a great comics fan as was the late Andre Malraux. I never talked to him but I know he was one of the group of French writers, artists and intellectuals who wrote about and appreciated the uniqueness of the art.
STEVE: Fellini?
JERRY: Fellini also, he started his career as a cartoonist, as you know. I talked to some of the French and Italian critics like realism. Francis Laccasin who writes very seriously on the comics and teaches at the Sorbonne.
STEVE: How do you account for the divergence in attitude between the European critics and the American critics? Are they more perceptive?
JERRY: Well, in many ways they are. And they were less hide-bound by our conventions. I think some of the inroads we made were because the French have taken it up. It's not unique, we used to think about jazz the same way until the French took it up and said: "Hey, what is this? Jazz is great!" Good music is art. And it’s the same with our own folk art, we're usually the last ones to appreciate our own indigenous art.
STEVE: That's true. A lot of jazz artists . . .
JERRY: Go over there first and come back with a French imprimatur to impress the critics.
STEVE: Well, they have to go over there to make a living. I mean, you could starve to death playing jazz in America.
JERRY: And then they get a reputation . . .
STEVE: Are there any large shows of COMIC art in the states on the horizon that you know about?
JERRY: Not at the moment. Well, I was involved in one, but not in general art. I put together a show of editorial cartoons, originals, at the Overseas Press Club and will later open at the National Press Club in Washington. I'm on the advisory board of the Cartoon Museum. Do you know about the Cartoon Museum?
STEVE: Oh yeah, out there in Port Chester.
JERRY: Well, we have continuing shows there that are excellent . . . on everyone from Nast to Disney — professionally produced by Brian Walker, Mort Walker's son. Chuck Green is the museum curator.
STEVE: Were you associated at all with the Smithsonian collection of newspaper comics?
STEVE: Well, speaking of editorial cartoons, we didn't really touch on that aspect of your career. How about if we talk a little hit about that?
JERRY: As a matter of fact, that was something, I guess, that was one of my early goals, something that I really wanted to do for many years before I really got into it. I've always been interested in political affairs. That was always my favorite reading . . .I guess my early training as a journalist led me to that. I remember by folks worked for political candidates when I was a kid and I guess I absorbed some of that. I always wanted to do a political strip or political satire.
This year is my twenty-third year of doing a daily political cartoon. I can't believe it!
STEVE: For which syndicate?
JERRY: Well, first I was with the Chicago Tribune/New York News Syndicate, for fifteen, sixteen years, and then I left it to found the Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate, and I've been syndicated through C & W since then.

STEVE: So, you're basically working for yourself?
JERRY: Yes, in effect, which was something I'd wanted to do for a long time. But, you know, starting a syndicate is difficult and I didn't know if I wanted to get so involved in the business end of it. What I did see was the opportunity to accomplish something . . . and the challenge of trying something new which I can rarely resist. It bears something on some of the things we've been talking about — what the potential is for newspaper features — particularly with today's economics. I wanted to test my idea that a small syndicate, with low overhead, can devote itself to a select group of features of focused interest perhaps not viable for a large syndicate — and develop, promote and syndicate them to a viable list of newspapers.
To sum up, that's why I finally decided to start the Cartoonist's & Writer's Syndicate. I thought there was a place for a syndicate that would take a chance on talent that couldn't ordinarily get accepted by the major syndicates for one reason or another. They might feel the material would not have a wide enough audience. Then again, a small efficiently run syndicate would not need near the list of subscribers for a feature that a large syndicate required to be viable. I also enjoyed the personal contact with newspaper editors throughout the country and abroad. I find the feedback invaluable. An artist working for a syndicate rarely gets a chance to discuss his feature with his subscribing editors. There were features I thought we could develop among artists and writers that the majors might not see the potential in. When I had the chance to work with artists individually, as I did in the old days at SVA, for four hours a night, five nights a week, a number of talented students developed into top professionals. I wanted to try that with a syndicate and perhaps develop features that wouldn't see the light of day otherwise. That was my initial premise. It didn't work exactly like that, but it's still the potential of the syndicate.
Doing a daily political cartoon, LIFE WITH ROBINSON, and a Sunday page of my own, running the syndicate and continuing to do some books, didn't permit the time to launch more than three other features so far. One didn't make it, but the other two are running very successful ly. The one book, incidentally, THE COMICS: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art (G.P . Putnam), took three years, which hardly left time for the important things, like tennis!
STEVE: What are your other interests?
JERRY: Well, aside from tennis, I was very interested in photography and I nearly went into it professionally at one time. The SVA Gallery held a show of my color photography. I like to paint, and I'm working on a film that I've mostly shot and haven't finished editing.
STEVE: What sort of film is it?
JERRY: Well, it's a story that I wrote and filmed at Cape Cod one summer. Live action. And I'm currently collaborating on an exciting project . . . the book and lyrics for a musical. So I didn't devote as much time to the syndicate until recently.
STEVE: What features did your syndicate develop?
JERRY: Well, two yews ago we launched, for the first time, a lother feature in addition to my own, by another artist, a former student of mine at SVA, John Langton. We thought "Think You Know?" was a clever panel but it didn't go. It ran about eight months in '84. It proved to be premature. The timing was bad. The economy was terrible that year . . all the syndicates had difficulties. I think we could have gotten it off to a viable list at a better time. We signed 25 papers or so — not enough for it to continue. It was a panel based on the tre mendous interest in trivia, in sports, TV and film, and excellently illustrated by John, a fine cartoonist. John is the Art Director for the NEW YORK POST and was my assistant for a number of years after graduating from SVA.
STEVE: That sounds like something that would have gone over very well.
JERRY: Perhaps if we had launched it a year later.
STEVE: Well, TRIVIAL PURSUIT is such a popular game . . .
JERRY: Exactly. We would've been in the forefront. So timing, just as in the science fiction strip, is very important, but you never really know. You can't predict with precision. Sometimes you can tell when not to launch something, and sometimes you can tell what format to release it in and other technical things, but it's not an exact science, any more than when to open a Broadway show.
STEVE: What came next?
JERRY: I had planned to syndicate FLUBS & FLUFFS. I had done it about fifteen years for the NEW YORK SUNDAY NEWS. Three collections were published which went very well. Then I stopped it for about three or four years. And then out of the blue THE NEWS made me a terrific offer to resume it and I agreed. It is a very popular feature. I would sometimes get 1500 letters a week.
STEVE: Good grief!
JERRY: They said I was getting as much mail as the President of the United States! It is a feature based on reader participation. They send in actual flubs. Such as "Socrates died of an overdose of wedlock." or " An ignoramus is a pre-hysterical animal." or "Many consider our number one problem to be jubilant delinquency." Then I would illustrate them, adding dialogue. They were fun to visualize. Some I couldn't use in a family newspaper, such as, "Magellan circumcised the world three times!" Parents send them in, teachers, and the kids themselves, often with marvelous illustrations of their own. I have a backlog of twenty five thousand unopened letters if you ever want to open some mail for me. (Laughs) It was fun to do and it gave me a great change of pace once a week from the political cartoon. But also I thought: this time I'm going to syndicate it and add a daily panel. Until then it was drawn exclusively for THE DAILY NEWS. But I set it aside, because I decided to go with an idea that evolved from another book I did in 1980 — THE 70s: THE BEST POLITICAL CARTOONS OF THE DECADE, published by McGraw - Hill. It was a history of the Seventies, year by year.
STEVE: How did the feature develop?
JERRY: Well, I knew a lot of the leading cartoonists around the world from the time I was president of the AEC and NCS, and various trips abroad for the State Department, and through them I contacted others. Anyway, I wound up with some two hundred and fifty artists represented in the book. One hundred and twenty five from around the world and the rest American. The book did very well and is still in prim. It struck me that many of the reviewers said almost the same thing, to wit: "It was very interesting to see the cartoonist's opinion from abroad . . they are some of the best graphic artists, as well as being influential cartoonists .. . and ii was too bad we only get to see them in an anthology like this." That planted the bug in my head, about all I need to get obsessive about an idea. Well, it took about two years for our editor, Steve Flanagan, and myself to put together the package. Steve, by the way, is also a former student from my class at the New School — and is an accomplished painter as well as cartoonist. Anyway, in June 1984 we launched VIEWS OF THE WORLD. We now have contracts with over eighty of the world's best editorial cartoonists on the most influential journals in over forty countries. We even have a contract with the Soviet Union, and cartoonists in Nicaragua, and
Eastern bloc countries as well as in all the major western European countries, South and Central America, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Every week we put together a round-up of world opinion that we syndicate to American newspapers and abroad.
STEVE: On the editorial page?
JERRY: Or op-ed pages, Week in Review sections, etc.
STEVE: I've seen that feature. I like that.
JERRY: It's very exciting to do.
STEVE: Did you and your son work on that together?
JERRY: Yes. Jens was Associate Editor, and worked closely with Steve. We all work on everything, but they devoted themselves a great deal to that feature. But we are all involved in the promotion, sales, editorial — everything. The engraving, printing and mailing is done at a plant in New Jersey and we just do the editorial work here in my studio. Jens took leave last year to do graduate work in International Relations at the London School of Economics. He handled syndicate affairs for us there at the same time, as we now have subscribers throughout Europe such as the INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE in Paris, THE GUARDIAN and THE INDEPENDENT in London, AFTONPOSTON in Oslo and others. He returned this year to enter law school at Northwestern University. He'll have at least one client when he graduates — C & W Syndicate! VIEWS OF THE WORLD subscribers now include over 100 of the leading news Japers in the United States, including the LOS ANGELES TIMES, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, WASHINGTON POST, MIAMI HERALD, DALLAS MORNING NEWS, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, HARTFORD COURANT, and most of the leading papers in Canada.
STEVE: Describe how the feature works.
JERRY: We feel it is a real contribution to news coverage. It does just what the reviewers of the book had suggested. We show the world diversity of opinion. The time was right. Americans are more concerned about world issues about what other countries think about the issues that affect our lives — arms control, foreign policy, as well as our domestic issues. The graphics are exciting.It's fascinating — and important for us to see what they are reading in THE ECONOMIST in London or in L'EXPRESS in Paris about U.S. involvement in Nicaragua, or how the issue of apartheid is reported in the FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE in Germany, MARRIV In Israel, EXCELSIOR in Mexico or even THE STAR in South Africa, etc.
STEVE: It's like tapping into the political current of a particular country at a specific moment.
JERRY: Exactly. It has proved to be an excellent resource for editors. We've also launched a companion feature, a spin-off — VIEWS OF THE WORLD: CARICATURES. It's a semi-monthly portfolio of world leaders in the news. Some of these same cartoonists are brilliant caricaturists. About ten of them participate. Most of the leading VIEWS OF THE WORLD papers also subscribe to this service . . . Those are some of the things we are involved in now with the syndicate.
STEVE: Do you see the comics as a sort of international language?
JERRY: Yes, it certainly is. I don't think there's anything else that can show world issues and the various points of view from such disparate societies and languages better than with the art of the political cartoon.

Doc V writes:

Jerry downplays his Atlas work for Stan Lee. It was arguably the greatest work he ever did in comics. I post a blog with almost 100 stories and Jerry's own comments are:

JERRY: ....For a number of years I worked closely with Stan Lee, just before the Marvel era.
STEVE: At Atlas?
JERRY: Yes, I did a lot of various titles for him, war books, love stories, weird stories, crime. There was a whole period there I guess, it was pre '60s, I did some continuing features, but most of them were for different titles.
STEVE: Did you prefer that kind of diversity to working on a continuing character?
JERRY: I did. Yeah, I did for a while, because I'd been stuck doing those characters for so long. It gave me a chance to experiment doing different material. I think if anything, it's what I liked most, another challenge. With each story I was able to experiment with a different style or a new story-telling technique, a different approach or a character and I liked that. I began to do other things about that time.