Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mooney Memories

I've spent all day thinking about the loss of Jim Mooney. I've spent the entire day trying to think of one panel that would sum Jim up for anyone who wasn't aware of his art - those rare creatures who've never seen any of Jim's work in any comic books. I'm sure there must be a few, not many, but a few. And here it is: Streaky! This is the panel where Streaky The Supercat discovers he can beat up dogs - the look of sheer joy on his face is a delight and I can imagine that Jim laughed his way through that one. He loved that little cat, but then he loved all cats, they were his delight and joy, along with his kids and his wives.

Jim's story is an interesting one and one that I spent the better part of a year and a half discovering. It began for me after I interviewed Jim way back when. Jim was a pleasure to speak to and funny to boot. He told me upfront that he was going deaf and that resulted in some interesting conversations. I'd be speaking about his working at Marvel and he'd be telling me how much his page rate was at DC in the early 1960s. I knew I had him when he spoke about how he broke into comics by saying that if Bob Kane could get a job then surely he could as well, because he could draw where Bob Kane couldn't. I pointed out that one of his first major jobs was ghosting Bob Kane on Batman and he laughed a rich laugh indeed. He then broke away from the phone to tell his wife, Anne, what I'd said, this cracked her up as well. Oddly enough I expect that I was the first to point out that juxtaposition.

I'd always wanted to write Jim's story and I decided to do after Anne, his second wife, sadly passed away. I hesitated until a close friend of both mine and Jim's mentioned that perhaps Jim would like to do such a project, if only to take his mind off things. I sent an email and phoned him and found that he not only was ready to do such a project, but he was aching to do it. Off we went.

Jim didn't have a bad childhood, indeed he had the opposite. He was born into a rich family, the son of a millionaire and one of three children. Jim had a brother and a sister, both older than he. The wealth didn't last. The stock market crash took everything away from Jim, he had grown up with his own private island, summers at the Breakers, servants - everything anyone could want. Once the money was gone Jim found life difficult, but not hard. His uncles, well, if you're of a certain age then you've probably heard of them: Ed Mooney owned the Hartford Dispatch & Warehouse Company while Paul Mooney was a highly successful real estate agent and it was his uncle Ed who put Jim through art school, the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. It was at Otis where he met several people who's friendships would serve him well - Henry Kutner, C.L. Moore and Forrest Ackerman were the main ones, and via them he managed to be introduced to the likes of Julie Schwartz, Otto Binder and Mort Weisinger, all of whom would feature in Jim's future.

Jim moved from Otis into comic books in 1940. His first work appeared a mere 18 months after the debut of Action Comics #1, Mystery Men Comics #9, published by Fox in April 1940. Whereas others claim to have been there from the start, Jim really was. He bounced from publisher to publisher, Ace, Fox, Quality, Harvey - his resume reads like a Who's Who of early comic book publishers. Fox, via it's publisher, Victor Fox, gave Jim one of his first, and most important lessons when they asked him to draw a character titled The Moth. Fox had asked Jim to make the character look like Batman, Jim was so successful that DC promptly sued Fox and the title was withdrawn and renamed. Lawsuits aside Jim was always proud of that work. "I was absolutely elated when I first saw that comic book though," remembered Jim. "I thought, 'My God, I’ve made it' and you would have thought I had really achieved something. At that time however, I had achieved something, my stuff was in print."

Jim's second, and most lasting lesson, came at Ace. Jim recalled it to me, "I worked with a very funny little guy named Fred Gardiner, who was an editor at one of the big magazines at one time. He was an interesting guy, very sure of himself and very domineering. I remember I brought something in late to Fred and he just fumed. I said, 'Fred, look I worked very hard, it’s a good job.' He said, 'Jim, I don’t give a damn how hard you worked on it, I don’t give a damn how good you are. There are plenty of guys who work harder than you do, are better than you are. You get this stuff in on time or you don’t work for us anymore.' He was really bang, bang, bang and strangely enough, although I didn’t like Fred all that well, I never missed a deadline from that time on. Never, for any outfit that I worked for, was I late for a deadline.

"So that bullying attitude took. It didn’t scare me so much as it impressed me because he did get it across that we’re in a publishing field, we need to keep deadlines and no matter how good you are, no matter how temperamental you are, you’re not working for us unless you meet your deadlines. He probably came from a newspaper background and there the paper goes out on time, it’s got to have a deadline or else." From that day onwards Jim never missed a deadline.

Moving from Ace, Jim found himself (via Fiction House) at Timely Comics where he met Stan Lee. Jim's introduction to Stan Lee became a legend. Most people have heard Jim's telling of the tale, here's Stan's version. "Many years ago, when I was editor of Timely Comics, which years later would become Marvel Comics; my secretary called and said there was a fella outside looking for work. Being the great, good-hearted person I am, I said 'Fine. Show him in.'

"Well, in swaggered this cocky, brash young Irishman who plunked himself down on the chair in front of my desk and looked at me with so much self-confidence that anyone passing by would have thought that he was interviewing me. Although I started by asking the usual question, 'What is it you do?' I sure as heck didn’t receive the usual answer. Crossing his legs nonchalantly, Jim leaned back in his chair, smiled patronizingly at me as if he was doing me a favor by consenting to the interview, and finally gave me his answer. 'I’m good at pencilling, inking, lettering and coloring. And of course I can write the scripts, too.' The smug expression on his face made it seem as though he was waiting for applause.

"For some reason, Jim’s apparent conceit totally turned me off. I didn’t answer him for a moment or two, and then I finally blurted out, 'Do you print the books, too?' Nothing phased Mr. Mooney. 'I could if I had to,' he fired back at me. We’d only known each other for a few minutes but we felt like two combatants in the ring, tossing punches at each other.

"Well, I actually gave him a script to do, just so I could criticize it later. And you know what? Nothing Jim told me had been an exaggeration. The guy was really good! When I first saw his artwork, it knocked my socks off. He knew how to tell a story with an economy of line, his pencilling was terrific and his inking equally good-- besides which he was fast and dependable-- and since I’ve always worshipped at the shrine of talent, before I knew it we became the best of friends."

From Timely Jim found his way to DC where he became one of the original Bob Kane Ghosts, working on Batman. He didn't stop there and over the years made characters such as Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes his own. Everything Jim touched was transformed and given his own unique touch. Once at DC Jim spent the bulk of the 1950s and 1960s there, working on anything and everything he was given.

DC finally let Jim go in the late 1960s and he moved back to Timely, now called Marvel, in 1968 where he made an instant impression. He remained at Marvel for the rest of the 1960s until the late 1980s, again working on everything from Marvel's flagship character, Spider-Man, down to more obscure titles such as Solarman and Questprobe. It didn't matter if the job called for pencils or inks, or both, Jim produced the same high quality artwork no matter what he was working on. Such was the measure of the man, he was unable to send back a bad job. He might not have always been credited, but he was appreciated.

Amongst his best remembered work, and Jim's best loved work, were comics that he drew from scripts supplied by the late Steve Gerber. Omega The Unknown was a title that Jim touched for each and every issue, if not with pencils then with inks. Jim often mentioned that as his all time favourite title, and Gerber as one of his best writers. "He was good," Jim would tell me and then chuckle when I'd tell him that they were both good, as a team and alone.

Marvel let Jim go in the late 1980s and he refused to retire. As he used to joke to me, he'd not worked harder since he was 'retired' from Marvel. He returned to DC and did a stint on titles such as Superboy and others, and then finished his career where he started it, working for smaller companies, work that allowed him greater freedom. In this way he worked in the early 2000s before he decided to spend more time working on commissions for fans.

Jim always loved his fans and the advent of the internet found him being able to communicate with people from all over the globe. He loved drawing commissions, he loved talking to fans and would always make time, no matter what his workload was. It wasn't a great surprise to hear that he'd phoned someone, or sent a box full of preliminary artwork, or pencils for artists to practice over, he was that kind of a guy.

Jim was working until the end. His health had deteriorated over the past year or so, ever since his beloved Anne died. He found the time to spend quite a few hours with me over the phone and was ticked that he could speak to an Australian. We exchanged slang a lot and he was very interested to know what Australia was like as a country. We used to talk about my cat Merlin and Jim sent a drawing of what he thought Merlin should look like, and damned if it didn't fit the bill. We often said that we wanted to paint a streak up Merlin's side to make him look like Streaky, that tickled him no end. He opened his heart and shared his memories and those tapes I shall always treasure. He was a kind man and a gifted artist, and above that he was a good friend. One of the best. I tend to think he'd have been puzzled somewhat at the outpouring of grief that has happened today, such was his genuine humility.

I doubt you could find anyone who has anything bad to say about Jim. His nickname at Marvel in the '60s and '70s was Gentleman Jim Mooney. I doubt there has ever been a more apt nick-name for anyone. Go easy Jim, I'll miss you, we'll all miss you, but one day we'll all be in the same place, a place full of furry, cheeky kittens and cats. The sky might be crying today, it's not the only one. Jim wouldn't want tears, he'd want us all to spend time with our cats and yowl with the biggest smile on your face.

Be Streaky for a day! MEOOOWW!!!

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's a great memory of Jim Mooney. I enjoyed his work on Thundercats and the reprints of Supergirl stories that DC would occasionally put out. He did a lot more work than I realized, I'll have to seek it out.

Ferran Delgado said...

Great post, Danny. It moved me.

Brian Woods said...

These sorts of rememberances are keenly important. Comics fans have been privileged to have a young medium to love, but as is happening more and more, we are seeing pillars of the industry pass away.

The losses this year already have been terrible.

I hearty thank you to people like you and Mark Evanier who can help keep these people alive in the hearts of comics fans.

Scott said...

I was very sorry to hear of Jim Mooney's passing. This was a nice tribute to him. I hope that you still plan to go ahead with the book -- his career and work deserve to be commemorated.

Bryan Headley said...

That's real nice, Danny. I'm sure Jim would be pleased. I'm not as long a Mooney fan as you; I'm more familiar with his work from the 70s and beyond. But, in those days, even if you knew nothing about what a "good" artist is, you could tell by the kind of assignments he'd get.

Mooney ghosted Batman, he worked on Spiderman, both over Romita and as a solo act on Marvel Team Up. These were important books, and they assigned it to a credible artist.

That's if you know nothing. If you don't need such hints, then you can look to his clean and attractive linework as an inker. You can look to the books where you knew other artists would have a hard time pulling it off (Man-Thing), or books where he seemed to be having an absolute ball (Omega). Even things like Son of Satan were graced by his presence.

Jim was a pro, and there was no two ways about it.

Brett said...

Lovely post. One of my regrets is not meeting him, as he was one of my favorite artists as a kid and although he didn't REALLY co-create my favorite character { Supergirl - Al Plastino did ] I always think of him that way. I am so happy a SHOWCASE volume came out because now I can read the stories I never got to see and are long out of my price ragne [ although I do have many, including his first and 252 as well ]

I am also fortunate enough to own original Mooney blue pencils, obtained from my friend, the late Harry Kremer, who WAS a huge Mooney fan and had met him. In the early 70's, one of Harry's 2-issue fanzines printed an interview with Jim, with a new cover. The interviewer? A young Dave Sim.

alxjhnsn said...

Danny, Thanks for sharing.

I bought my first commission from him and I was simply thrilled when it came in - Supergirl, Streaky, and Comet. He did it while Anne was in the hospital.

My few conversations and e-mails with Jim were all a pleasure. I loved his work in general and no one has done Supergirl better.

Miki said...

Danny,
Thanks for posting this.
I obtained a few commissions from Jim through the years as well as a couple pieces of published art.
They will remain cherished pieces in my collection,
I will be posting them up at this link Jim Mooney
best
Miki

Danny said...

I have that issue of Now And The Time Brett, it's a lovely interview and Jim told me it was one of, if not the first, interviews that he ever gave regarding his comic book career. My good friend Bryan managed to conduct what was probably Jims last ever interview - I'll post the link later tonight.