Sunday, June 14, 2009

Looking Back With Dave Simons

These things are best written down while the memory is still fresh in the mind, plus it’s good therapy and helps put things on the record.

This short interview with Dave was done back in February, 2009. Dave’s idea was to do an update to our first ever interview, done in 2004, to update where he was professionally, and because we both knew each other a lot better now. There was a lot that Dave wanted to talk about. What had triggered him was my short, but intense, confrontation with the ‘editors’ at Wikipedia over Dave’s entry on the site. Dave had approached me to write an entry for him on the Wiki with the intention of raising his profile, and possibly increasing his chances of getting more commission work. I had no problem with this, and hey – it was Dave – so I went to work and began to write his entry and posted the first draft on the Wiki site itself. It was promptly removed with the excuse given that Dave wasn’t ‘inherently notable’ as he was merely a comic book artist. This news got to me in the worst heatwave in Adelaide in over a hundred years, so my fuse wasn’t already lit, it’d been burning to exploding point. I began a running battle with the Wiki people, pointed out that there were plenty of people listed who’d maybe lettered one comic book, and that Dave’s credits stretched back to the early 1980s and spanned companies such as Marvel, DC, Topps and more. And that was before I threw in his own creations and his extensive animation work. The main issue the Wiki people had, was that they believed that neither Dave himself or I were qualified to write about Dave as we had no sources. Michael Netzer stepped in, copied my work over and I added the footnotes. The entry is now there for the duration, thanks to Michael. The other offshoot of this was the formation of the Dave Simons Appreciation Society where I handed Dave the title of ‘Inherently Notable’. Publicly Dave showed his usual modesty at this attention, but privately he was egging me along and was highly amused at both my righteous rage and the attention that he was getting.

The format was an interesting one. Instead of doing a standard phone or email interview Dave insisted on using the instant messaging function of Facebook for the conversation. I suspect that Dave didn’t want me hearing his voice, which, at the time, was rough and weak at best and, due to the nature of his illness, speaking exhausted him. It did make for an odd interview as we kept ‘talking’ over each other as we awaited the other’s typed replies. We did the interview over a week in a few sessions, as Dave’s health permitted. There was a lot more discussed, but this is the best of it. Once I’d edited the interview down I sent it over to Dave, only to get an email stating that his doctors had finally diagnosed him as being incurable and given him between six months and two years to live. I was gutted, but Dave took it all in his stride. I knew he was worried, but he felt that life would play itself out and he took faith in both his religion and the fact that he’d known others who lived beyond expectations when faced with the same news. This is when I got the idea to run a series of auctions and a public appeal so that we could wipe Dave’s debts clean and hopefully give him some financial stability. His medical costs were covered as he’d served time in the Coast Guard in the 1970s and was thus eligible for assistance via the Veteran Affairs scheme. Initially Dave was reluctant to accept any such assistance and felt it should be saved as a secret weapon, to be used when he needed it. I pushed the issue and finally Dave responded positively. By this time the wheels were in motion as I’d already contacted Dave’s agent and friend, Bob Shaw and also Bob Almond for assistance. Bob Shaw instantly set up an eBay account and we arranged that Bob would pay the postage and I’d pay the eBay fees, thus every cent raised would be able to go directly to Dave. Dave’s email to me was priceless. “You know,” he said, “every time someone has approached me to help with these things, I’ve done so. I think you’re right, I deserve this.” I couldn’t agree more. At this time Dave was feeling poorly, but was working on finishing up some commissions and the last of his Army Of Darkness pages. Once he’d finished his AoD work he mixed up his medication and found himself in hospital, in a critical condition. As Dave told me later, the doctors believed that he’d not be able to pull through.

We launched the appeal by emailing everyone we knew for donations of art, or anything really. Some, like Gene and Adrienne Colan, Tony Isabella and Norm Breyfogle responded by sending donations directly to Dave. Others questioned the veracity of what we were doing so I then approached Clifford Meth. Cliff gets emails like this all the time but this one was different – we didn’t want Cliff to run the appeal, we just wanted a bit of guidance and, more importantly, the use of his name. Cliff threw himself into the Appeal, emailing people he knows and posting messages at his blog and on Facebook. As I expected once people saw his name they opened their hearts and donated where and what they could. Paul Ryan, Mike Mignola, Fred Hembeck, Brian Postman, Mike Pascale, John Romita Sr, Bob Almond, Scott Ambruson, Kris Carter, Andy Brown, Craig Rousseau, Herb Trimpe, Walter Simonson, Alan Weiss, Simon Bisley, Len Wein, Mark McKenna, Steve Mannion, Jay Fife, Scott Wegener, Kevin West – the list was long and full of talent (and this list is far from complete), professionals and fans alike. Cliff’s assistance can’t be underplayed here – without him on board I doubt we’d have gotten off the ground. Cliff went to pains to tell people that he wasn’t the driving force behind this, but both Bob Shaw and myself didn’t correct anyone when they insisted that he was. It was smoother that way.

Once Dave got out of the hospital he decided to donate to his own Appeal and contributed some sketches which we auctioned off. More donations arrived, people sent over art they’d bought, books and other items of value. People who’d never met Dave, nor spoken to him were moved to help, and help it did. Frank Brunner walked up to Dave at a convention and handed him a sketch from his portfolio for the Appeal. Shawn McManus sent over an incredible piece of art and lamented that he wasn’t a bigger name so it could raise more cash. The whole time is full of wonderful stories like that. Dave’s financial situation was improved out of sight. Bob was the driving force behind Dave’s first sketchbook, which he launched at his last convention appearance. I’m proud of the fact that Dave selected a painting that I owned for the cover and even happier when a box arrived full of Dave’s art, preliminaries and a sketchbook, signed and dedicated, complete with three custom sketches done to such detail that, upon first look, I believed that they were prints in the book. That was how good Dave was as an artist.

Lurking in the background was this interview. About four weeks ago Dave mentioned it again and I went back to it. Dave had said that he’d get to it when he had a bit of free time, but he was tied up with his impending move and some more health problems. In a move which I accepted as Dave being Dave, he was more worried about my wife, Lyndal, and her health situation than his own and expressed his relief at hearing that, after a serious scare, she’d been given a clean bill of health. He was also tickled pink to hear my escapades with my cat, Merlin, after Merlin had gone over the fence and disappeared for a few days. Indeed our last email exchange revolved around my Merlin and his own cat, Smokey. Dave was always more concerned about others than himself.

Sadly Dave never got the chance to edit this interview, but I’ve done what I believe he’d have wanted. As I’ve previously mentioned, there was a lot more discussed, but I doubt if Dave would have wanted all of it on display as some of it could be construed as being negative towards his fans, those people he liked the most. Dave always interacted with people, he loved it, but he did tire of people asking him for free art and sketches all the time. If he was in a position to send a sketch he would, but he wasn’t in such a position and declining these requests always seemed to bother him, not that he’d show it. What Dave wanted to get out there with this interview, was his love for the craft of art and his many influences. We had a few projects in the works, and this is the first that I can put out there for everyone to read and hopefully enjoy.

I miss Dave, and reading this interview just makes me miss him even more. I know there’s a lot more Dave in my archives as he’d given me the task of writing about his life as a whole, but that’s another story...

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DANIEL BEST: We might as well start with the most recent stuff - you're working on Army Of Darkness - how did you land that gig?

DAVE SIMONS: Once again, Joe Rubinstein hooked me up. Told me to get in touch with Nicky at Dynamite.

DB: You did the Christmas Special first?

DS: No. Nicky sent me the Red Sonja re-marks to do while I was waiting for the script.

DB: What was the reaction to the Sonja covers?

DS: There was a little problem with them right from the start because the cover stock was just regular cover stock. Everything smeared, so I ended up using crow quill on them. They ended up with kind of a beat-up look because of that.

DB: That's happened before hasn't it? The Green Lantern commission?

DS: That was different. It had to be on this special acid-free green paper. I ruined the first one accidentally and there wasn't a spare sheet. The client then ran out of the paper. Eventually he got more. I told him to send two sheets just in case. You saw the result.

DB: It looked good, and different. It's an interesting concept. That raises a question - are 'concept' commissions harder to do than just someone asking for, say, a Conan illo?

DS: Not sure what you mean by a 'concept' commission.

DB: When someone has a theme going - like Michael Finn and his One Minute Later covers.

DS: Or John Bamber and his Western Super Heroes.

DB: Exactly.

DS: No, sometimes I get into it and get an idea of what it should be right away. Sometimes I don't. Daredevil was hard for me--that DD vs. Fixer that I did. The Conan that I did for Zack Esser came naturally. I was really into it.

DB: I'd hazard a guess and say you're more familiar with Conan though, as opposed to Daredevil.

DS: Sure! I remember discovering the Lancer paperbacks at Edsall's Drugs in Wallkill, NY when I was in high school. I thought it would make a great comic book, A little over a year later it was one! Did I ever tell you what I thought the ultimate Conan comic would be?

DB: No. Do share.

DS: Figures by John Buscema. Backgrounds by Barry Smith. Costumes by Steranko. The whole thing inked by Wallace Wood. Wouldn't that have been great? That's thinking of the division of labor more like in animation, tho.

DB: Jesus!! I'd have bought that in a heartbeat. Written by whom though?

DS: Written by Roy Thomas, of course!

DB: Works for me. I'd expect that it'd never hit the deadline though (laughter) Steranko and Wood would see to that.

DS: That's why Steranko just does costumes. Woody made deadlines when he was sober, I think. You'd have to ask Kupps, he was a Woody assistant. Wood would be doing backgrounds of course by that point so don't judge by some of the Cannon and Sally Forth stuff. There's obvious Ralph Reese and Larry Hama in there. Whole pages.

DB: Did you ever meet Wood?

DS: I was at a con and I was sitting near Joe. Wood was sitting at an angle across the room. Joe said I should go say hi to him. Wood was obviously not doing well at the time and no one was at his table. It was very sad and I couldn't deal with it, so I didn't go over. If it were today, I would have.

I find now that one of the most important things in life is to try to make others feel better about themselves.

DB: Poor guy - the end of his life wasn't a happy story was it?

DS: No. Hopefully his current lifetime is going along better.

DB: Indeed! Back to the comics...how's the current AOD story going?

DS: AoD--well, coming along. I think I'm doing better than I did on the Christmas book. I've gotten more into drawing comics, making interesting stuff out of the script. I find that beginning writers tend to not think of shots so much. For instance, in this story Ash and three other characters are wandering around this cavern system. The writer wrote it so that they're ALL in every panel. No close-ups, no dynamic shots focusing on one character. So I have to find a way to work those in--while accommodating the dialogue, of course.

DB: That can't be easy. I doubt I could write a full script. When I did Simon Saurian with Alan Weiss we worked Marvel style. To me a full script almost implies that you're telling the artist how to draw - that might work for a new artist, but for the likes of you and Weiss...well I ain't gonna be telling you how to pace it, lay it out, design and almost how to draw the thing.

DS: That has its definite advantages. The drawback is that you don't have a firm idea of how much dialogue there's going to be. With someone like Chris Claremont, this can be a problem.

DB: His scripts must be like phone books.

DS: (laughter) Yeah! That's the thing with writers--they love words. That's why they're writers. Words alone aren't enough, tho. Whether writing or drawing, one should be a storyteller first.

DB: Words are secondary to me - when Weiss and I did Simon we spent hours working out the story before we even touched the dialogue.

DS: That's the best thing to do, whether you're working alone or with someone else.

DB: You did some work for my mates at First Salvo. Did they *ahem* pay you?

DS: Yes. I ALWAYS GET PAID.

DB: He says in large, capitol letters...did Joe hook you up there as well?

DS: Yes. People say a lot of crap about Joe, and some of it is true and some of it's hilarious, but he's been a great friend to me. What did you think of the Aman drawing I sent you?

DB: It's good. Did you get paid for it or did he gave it back...(laughter)

DS: I don't know what happened to it. I'm pretty sure I just sent him a scan, not the original, since I did it as a sample. I'll have to see if the original is still kicking around here some place. It's very Wood-influenced.

DB: First Salvo never published your story did he?

DS: No, Joe never finished inking it. Only the backgrounds are inked.

DB: Did you see the Breyfogle & Weiss covers?

DS: Yes, I saw them when they were fresh at last year's Big Apple Con--the one I sent you photos from.

DB: Those covers are hanging on my wall now. I'll get your art, buy the Sal Velutto and Bob Almond story and make my own First Salvo comic - I have the cover and a few pin-ups now...(laughter)

DS: You should! Only come up with better names.

DB: I think a pet monkey could think of better names. Boss Aman sounds like something out of an old prison movie.


DS: Or Cannonball Run.

DB: That's what we need - instead of Dangers Dozen, Dean(Martin)'s Dozen!

DS: Did you know Jackie Chan was in one of those?

DB: Yep - we watched it the other month - we bought it on DVD for about a dollar...(laughter)...I got it for Jackie Chan and Dean Martin.

DS: Cool. I sent you a bunch of my roughs a little while ago. Have you had much of a chance to examine them?

DB: I've poured through them - I'm impressed by the detail in some of them and very impressed by the energy of them.

DS: Thank you!! Did it give you any insight into my creative process?

DB: Yes - there's a lot of variation from your preliminaries to your finished art. You also have a tendency to do more than one approach to a subject. On some you can see where it was all going, and you've fully realised it, on others you can see where you've worked out any potential problems.

DS: Right. The roughs are just my first thot. On the way to getting finished I often come up with what I think is a better idea. You can never do a drawing (or create anything) and be so in love with it that you can't change it for the good of the story. As Will Meugniot told me "You have to be willing to kill your children."

DB: You said something about the Ghost Rider cover that you inked over Bob Budiansky - you were happier doing it now because you could do it better. I found that an interesting comment indeed.

DS: Really? Why?

DB: Because the original looks amazing. To me, that original, indeed that image, is the pinnacle of you and Bob as an art team. However, having seen a high res scan of the original, and I hope this makes sense, the background on the original has brush strokes, mine is an almost solid black. I can see the improvements.

DS: (laughter) That’s because I used all Black Magic ink on the original. On the re-creation I used FW acrylic ink for the black areas. Joe turned me on to the FW.

I think I know now what made that team click. It's a marriage of opposites. Now Bob is a nice guy and this is not to knock him at all. His actual draftsmanship is better than mine in many cases. But he has a much more conservative nature than I do. What I brought to it was the idea of inking things in a certain way just so they would look cool. Besides my usual influences of Wood and Wrightson, I was also looking at Robert Williams for chrome technique. I had no back-off on changing the line work to bring across a texture or add a sparkle.

DB: I know Bob loved you as an inker on that book and wasn't happy when you left. You guys never did anything outside of Ghost Rider did you?

DS: Nope. I probably should have stayed with it. Oh well.

DB: Why did you leave again?

DS: The sales were poor. Probably topped anything being published today, but in the scale of the times they were poor.

DB: What was the last comic you drew before the recent AOD?

DS: I think that would have to be Wild Stars for Little Rocket. Mike Tierney, publisher, editor, and writer.

DB: How long ago was that?

DS: I guess 7 years now. I was working on it on 9/11.

DB: That's a lot of time between jobs.

DS: I ghosted Mendy and the Golem for Joe in 2003, and I did a lot of storyboards in the intervening years.

DB: What did you do with all the storyboards that you drew? Do the companies keep them?

DS: Yes, that's why I do them digitally if I can. I don't get the art back, so why should they have it?

DB: So they kept them all?

DS: Standard practice in the animation business. They archive them someplace I think. The artist contractually has no rights to them.

DB: Bizarre.

DS: Standard practice in the animation industry.

DB: As it was in the comic industry for decades.

DS: Yeah. But quite often the storyboards are not saleable the way comics pages are. Not always finished works of art. Mine are about as highly finished as any you'll see. You've seen some. I could probably sell the Captain Planet or Jem boards if I still had them, people have fond memories of those shows.

DB: That does factor into it as well - the nostalgia factor.

DS: Big factor from what I've seen.

DB: But that could apply to any comic book art. For me I wanted that Ghost Rider cover - remember, you once offered to do the recreation yourself, but I wanted the whole package - Bob and you - because that's what I liked the most.

Do you collect art or comic books?

DS: Not so much. I have a collection of art books. Many of them are pretty beat-up looking. I use them, they aren't just a collection. Some of the older ones are only held together by a binder clip.

DB: Have you ever had a desire to collect art? I mean, you studied at the feet of John Buscema - did you ever think, "Hmmm, I might sneak a sketch or two out here."?

DS: I used to have a few. He would do demonstration drawings on a big newsprint pad and then pass them out at the end of class.

DB: What happened to them?

DS: That was a long time ago. Lost in a move, I suppose. I learned what I could from them. If I still had them I believe I could learn more, but John's stuff is out there in reproduction.

I used to have a Ka-Zar splash by Brent Anderson and Armando. I also had a couple of Wrightson Swamp Thing pages. I’d like to get a Woody page from one of his Warren stories.

DB: A Woody Warren - that'd not be cheap. Wrightson Swamp Things! Impressive. All gone now?

DS: Yes sorry to say. One Swamp Thing was sold--reluctantly. The Ka-Zar and the other Swamp Thing were lost when I moved back to NY. A Frank Robbins Shadow page would be nice.

I have a question for you.

DB: Ask away.

DS: Now that you know how closely connected some of us artists are--for example, 2 years ago or a little more I had Brian Postman, Gerry Acerno, Joe Rubinstien and Mike Netzer all helping me on storyboards--does it give you any sort of a different viewpoint on the business at all, or any sort of "6 degrees of separation" aspect of it?

DB: Absolutely. For one there isn't really a '6 degree' is there? It’s more like '2 Degrees of Separation".

DS: I suppose!

DB: It's a very incestuous industry - makes me wonder how people cope if they annoy someone.

DS: Well, you've seen that. Kupperberg, Rubinstein, Netzer. I've annoyed people too, I'm sure.

DB: If you have then I've never heard of it. Most everyone likes you. It's the same with Norm Breyfogle; I've yet to hear anyone saying he's no good as a person.

But Joe has his detractors. They all say a similar thing - they like him as an artist but some do think he's a wanker of a person.

DS: I think that's based on the Joe Rubinstein of 20 or 30 years ago. As I said, he's helped me out a lot. I adore Mike too, but I think he has some of the nuttiest ideas I've ever heard. Neal Adams for President?

DB: Hey - he couldn't do a worse job than the guy you had for the past eight years could he? And you've heard Mike laugh - I think his nuttier ideas are just there to get people talking.

What was the attraction towards Frank Robbins?

DS: I loved his stuff. I was in Buscema's class at the time. This is late ‘75; I'm still in the Coast Guard. I especially liked his Shadow stuff. I know a lot of people didn't. He had to follow Kaluta and what they really wanted was more Kaluta.

DB: Had you seen any Caniff at that time?

DS: Oh, sure, I was familiar with Caniff. Robbins' stuff had more energy, which appealed to me.

DB: There's a lot who say Robbins was not cut out for superhero stuff, but I loved him and Springer on The Invaders. How did you see that stuff?

DS: I liked the invaders but would rather have seen Frank ink his own stuff.

DB: And you met him?

DS: I was in the Coast Guard, my last year there, and had been taking Buscema's class. The Coast Guard base was on Governor's Island in the NY harbor. I got the idea that I might like to meet Robbins and, figuring he probably lived in New York, looked him up in the phone book. I called a Frank Robbins on 14th St. and it was him. We arranged for me to come over. I was really excited.

DB: Surely it wasn’t that simple?

DS: It was that simple.
"Are you the Frank Robbins that draws Invaders?"
"Yes."
Some fanboy gushing on my part and he said I could come to his studio. I brought over some of my stuff which was heavily influenced by him. He was really nice, pointed out areas where I needed to improve, which at that time was almost everything.

Personally he was a pretty goofy looking guy. Receding forehead and hairline. big beak of a nose. Receding chin. Prominent Adam’s apple. Thick horn-rimmed glasses. Hair a little on the long side and he smoked cigarettes in a black cigarette holder.

He had these Swedish design sling back type chairs in his studio. You know the kind? From the 60s, canvas stretched over a wire frame. So when I came over he would sit in one and I'd take the other. I think they were red. Frank sat and stood and moved like his characters. Arms and legs at all sorts of odd angles.

So he's sitting in this low-slung chair like that. Invariably he would run out of lighter fluid for his Zippo. For the younger folks reading this, a Zippo has to be filled with naphtha fluid, not butane. In filling his lighter, he would invariably get the lighter fluid all over himself. Then he'd go to light his cigarette (in the cigarette holder) and set himself on fire. Then I'd be treated to the sight of Frank Robbins trying to put himself out, slapping away at his clothes with his arms flapping at all those weird Frank Robbins angles. I had to try not to laugh.

DB: Sounds priceless

DS: It was! Happened almost every time I was over there. He was never hurt, of course.

DB: Why do you think he was unappreciated?

DS: Fans don't necessarily know good art. He wasn't stylistically in tune with the times. The guys that were hot were Wrightson, Adams, and Moebius during his 'Arzach' period. Artists love his stuff. Frank had more energy to his work. I respond to that.

I have to tell you the advice Frank gave me.

This was after about 4 or 5 visits. I would only see him about once a month. I didn't want to be a pest. He told me, “you should quit trying to draw like me." When I asked why, he said "Nobody's hiring the real Frank Robbins, why should they hire a fake Frank Robbins?" Good advice, commercially, but somewhat sad.

I didn't see him much after that. Called to say hi a few times. By this time I was living in the Village on 11th St. and 5th Ave. Then I started working with Ken Landgraf.

DB: The photos of that time look like you all had a lot of fun.

DS: We did! By the way the girl at the keyboard is Jessica Zalkind. Ken had her do some minor assistant work. Some coloring, I think. Could be wrong. Ken was the one who played the keyboard. We kept those oversized editions, like the Superman vs Spider-Man that you wrote about handy. They were a godsend to beginning artists. Ken, Armando and I kept that one around, along with Superman vs. Muhammad Ali and a couple of Russ Cochran EC reprints (the oversize ones in black & white). They were a constant source of reference. If you can find any of the strips that appeared under Ken's name in High Times, the influence of Supes vs. Ali is obvious. For the record, those were laid out by Ken, scripted and lettered by me, tightened up in pencil mostly by Armando, figures mostly inked by Armando with some inking by Ken and background inking by me, and colored by me. The coloring was the worst job, since I had to hand-cut rubylith and zip with an x-acto knife while looking through a magnifying glass. All that for one page with a lame gag at the end.

DB: All that work sounds too damn hard. I'd like to think you were paid well, but then again you probably paid to do the strip.

DS: It was one of our more well-paying jobs from the period. Prior to my getting Howard the Duck, we did most everything that way. Strips for SCREW and SMUT were done this way, too, with the exception of being in black & white and Armando seldom touching them. Mind you, I wouldn't work for any of those clients today.

DB: I wonder where all those art pieces are now? I've always been amused by people asking Norm Breyfogle about the porno comics that he drew. Makes me chuckle when he points out that it was his brother, Kevin, who drew them and not he.

It's an interesting question really - is there anything you'd refuse to draw?

DS: If anyone has them it'd be Ken. He may have sold them off long ago, though. I would never do pro-drug material again. At the time I justified it by thinking that Ken's name was going on it, not mine, that and it was a good payday. I'd never do hardcore porn again, either. Among other things, I still have a career in "children's television" and I am a minister, even though I've only worn the vestments once. Nudity is another story. That would depend on the situation. I have a few nudes in my sketchbooks and of course I've worked from a live model. I wouldn't have any problem with some sexually oriented humor on the level of "Hey fellers! Look! It's a titty!" Y'know, kinda the fifties pin-up mentality. Basically, if I wouldn't sign my legal name to them, I wouldn't do them.

DB: How good was your band?

DS: (laughter) We didn't have a band! Ken wanted it, wanted me to do lead vocals, but I have very little musical talent and no sense of rhythm. Of course, that didn't stop the Sex Pistols.

DB: What was the name of the band?

DS: I don't think we ever settled on one. It was pretty much blues thru a punk sensibility. Ken wanted to be the next Ray Manzarek. (laughter) Armando played guitar. But no matter what he played, it came out sounding like Spanish guitar.

DB: Naturally...(laughter)

DS: You've spoken to Mr. McGillicuddy on the phone, right? We should mention that he doesn't speak with an accent or anything. To hear him you'd never know he was Hispanic. His roots come out in other ways, tho--like the guitar. He's not Sergio Aragones.

DB: He does speak fluent English - I was surprised actually, after doing an interview with Danny Budilandi that I can't transcribe.

DS: Well, Danny's Filipino.

DB: And a damned nice guy and a damned fine artist too, I might point out.

DS: Yeah. Y'know, the Filipinos were all over the animation business in the 80s.

DB: They spawned a genre.

DS: They saw a racket that paid better! More money to send back home to Manila. Their families could live like royalty on that money. Bill DuBay brought a lot of them to L.A. to work at Marvel Productions. When I started they were already there.

DB: Did you know many of them?

DS: Oh, gosh, if I list them all I'm sure I'll leave some out. Just off the top of my head, Nestor Redondo, Rudy Nebres, Romeo Tanghal--more that I can't think of now. Alcala came out too, but didn't work at Marvel Prods. I already worked with him in New York. I like the Filipino people a lot. Very warm.

DB: I've always wondered why they were all so talented.

DS: Competition! Plus their heritage from the war. G.I.s left great stuff behind--magazines with illos by guys like Frank Brangwyn (one of Alfredo's faves) Rockwell, Leyendecker, etc. They have more of an illustrative tradition in their comics because of that.

DB: I have Aussie reprints here full of stuff by Spanish and Filipino artists - all are amazing.

DS: Yeah, well, all of them don't make it to the states or to collections. I've seen some Filipino comics--in Tagalog and everything--that sucked. You know I like manga, but some of it sucks. If you're not in the country, you don't see that much of the crap. Why would anyone take the trouble of translating and reprinting it?

DB: It's a shame because a lot of that art was what I was exposed to growing up. Nebres, Garcia-Lopez...I can't help but wonder how much of it reached there.

DS: Oh sure! Thats the great stuff! That's why we see it. Estaban Maroto's another Spanish artist from the 70s.

DB: We got stuff here that you guys didn't - unpublished stuff from Warren, Skywald, Atlas (Seaboard)…

DS: Oh, really?

DB: Yep - I have an unpublished Starling Bog Beast here - it's on my blog - and a Simonson story

DS: Ha! Before your blog, I had no idea what Aussie comics might be like.

DB: Did they ever find that AoD Christmas cover?

DS: You won't believe it. As you may recall it had some lettering on it as part of the art--some signage. I had sent it to Gerry Acerno to do the lettering. He sent me a scan of the finished piece, I thought he had sent it on to Dynamite as I'd asked. Well, he was cleaning his studio last week and--you guessed it.

DB: No! He didn't!?

DS: Ya gotta say that like the Spanish girls from the Bronx--Oh, no, he DI-int!

DB: Dat he did?

DS: Damn white of him to fess up, tho. HE thought he sent it. I thought he sent it. It was at the bottom of a stack of paper, I guess.

DB: So, now what happens to it?

DS: Well, I'll see if the Dynamite guys want it or have any use for it. If not, I guess it's mine to do with as I please.

DB: You did some samples for DC last year - any feedback or follow-up from that?

DS: No. Looking back at it, they weren't that good. I went up to DC to see Harvey Richards. He liked the samples okay but it's hard to tell Harvey's reaction to things sometimes because he's so low-key. We also stopped in to meet his boss, Michael Siglain. The consensus was that I needed to work out a few things and that some of my linework was too heavy. i suppose that's a holdover from my inking for shit repro back in the day. I'm just pleased that they could take the time out to meet with me. That's more than I'd get anyplace else. That may not sound that good, but it really was a happy occasion in that I've made some progress on getting back into the business. Now that I have a better idea of what's needed and wanted, I can produce it. Unfortunately, I don't think there's any way they can just tell you what they want. It has to be seen.

Maybe some other guys my age should actually try to do the kind of work people want to see nowadays. The 80s were fun, but they weren't the Renaissance. There's no reason someone couldn't change his style to suit today's tastes. After all, when I was a kid, once I'd seen Kirby I found Al Plastino boring and stodgy. Nothing wrong with Al Plastino, but he wasn't in step with the 60s. It's funny to me now that Kirby, a WW II vet and thus the same generation as my dad, was hip in the 60s. His art was in head shops. Gene Colan and Wally Wood (Di$neyland), too. I thought my dad was so square when I was 16 (who doesn't) but to me the 60s, especially the late 60s, were defined by Kirby and the Beatles. It was a great pairing, like a burger and a beer, hot dog and a Yoo-Hoo.

DB: Is it harder to break into the comic book industry now than it was back when you did?

DS: Beats me. Totally different game now. I told you how I broke in. You can't approach editors like that any more.

DB: But they still go to conventions...or is it more who you know than how good you are?

DS: Right. But they're not free to wander the floor. They're at the booth with a LONG line of fans. I'm not standing there like a kid with a backpack full of X-Men. I don't know what the answer to that is.

DB: Fair point. How is the reaction to you at conventions now?

DS: Good. I've stopped trying so hard. I go and see people and have a good time. That seems to be good promotion in itself. We'll see what happens at this con when I have a table to sit at (courtesy of Bob Shaw).

DB: Do you think your profile has been lifted now you're more active on-line?

DS: Yes, I do think people are more aware of me because of my online presence. I have you to thank for that.

DB: No need to thank me. I remember when I first interviewed you and people would email looking for you - it was near impossible...(laughter)

DS: Really? How so?

DB: You changed your email address I think. I think I had to wait until Alan Weiss told me your new one.

DS: Oh right! I wasn't that hip to the internet yet. Did I ever tell you about when Ken and I worked with Alfredo? Ken's idea was to hire Alfredo to ink one panel of a page and sacrifice most of the money on the job to him. This being with the proviso that we could watch him work on it. Alfredo inked some panels in Ken's Rock Comics.

DB: What did you get from watching him work?

DS: Alfredo was another character. We met him while we were briefly part of the 'American Tribe'. Ken and I did some work on The Prince and the Pauper adaptation. I remember working a suit of armor to death. Alfredo made stuff. He made his own fountain-pen brushes decades before such a thing was commercially available. He made a device for cleaning his lp records as they played, too. He always had a big bag of rice in his apartment. Once he made Ken go buy some for him. I'm sure Ken thought he was going to nip out and buy a box of Uncle Ben's or something.

Ken nearly had a hernia lugging the damn bag of rice back. It was huge.

Anyway, you asked what I learned. Mostly what I got was the speed at which Alfredo moved the brush and how that affected the line.

DB: Other than John Buscema and Alfredo, how many other formal or 'informal' art lessons like that did you have?

DS: Well, let's see--I learned a lot from Will Meugniot by working for him. He'd have me change something I did and I'd see that his way was better. This often involved storytelling, but he helped me improve my basic drawing, too. His animation credits far outstrip his comic book credits. I worked for him on Jem and the Holograms, Exo-Squad, Secret Files of the Spy Dogs, lots of stuff. If you don't know Exo-Squad, you should check it out. It's like an American version of Macross. Just watch them in order if possible. It's episodic.

DB: Is there more money in animation? A lot of artists move into that field - even Starlin did for a few years.

DS: There was. That business has its own pitfalls.

DB: Such as?

DS: Well, let's say you're doing a segment of storyboard for a 22 minute show. One would probably board 1/3 the episode, especially if it's an action-adventure show. Turn-around time 2-3 weeks. Bottom rate on that is about $3,000.00. It depends on what the show's budget is. No one artist gets a better rate than another, at least on the storyboards. Development is a different story.

Okay, so you make 3 grand in about 2 weeks. Sounds great, right? And that's for a cheap show. But on a show like that they hand out scripts once a week, so at most you're doing 6 episodes. So 3,000 times 6. That's $18,000. Still sounds good, right?

But then the show is finished for the season and you're laid off. Hopefully you can get on another show, but that might just be all the money you're making for that year.

DB: You directed shows though right?

DS: I was directing Spy Dogs and picking up other shows as well. At one time I had Spy Dogs in the day and two other shows I worked on at home at night and on the weekends. Armando worked on some of that.

DB: How did Armando cope with the deadline pressure of animation?

DS: Fine when he worked with me. I know him very well, of course, so I knew when he was running into trouble and could put out the fire before it started.

I used to have him and Don Manuel at my place in North Hollywood jamming out storyboards for Nascar Racers.

DB: What artists are there who you never inked but wanted to?

DS: Gee, that's a good one. I inked a lot of my heroes. Steranko. I would have liked to ink a Kirby comic. I only inked a couple of his presentation pieces for Ruby-Spears. Robbins. I wonder what I'd look like over another Wood-influenced artist such as Wayne Howard. I got to ink so many--both Buscemas, Gene Colan, Budiansky, even Frank Springer!

Springer was a terrific artist. Only inked him once, a Disco Dazzler cover. did you ever see Phoebe Zeitgeist?

DB: I only ever saw Phoebe on-line. Springer was a damned good guy - great to talk to

DS: Used to be able to get it at most tables at any con. Great for swipes because the Lampoon guys made him draw the most insane shit.

DB: I noticed that - I thought he was great inking Robbins - that's where I first noticed him

DS: Same here. I always liked my Robbins undiluted, tho. See some of the Batman comics he did?

DB: Yep – great stuff. The Lampoon stuff used to confuse me though. I couldn't associate a comic book artist with that stuff - same as Kupperberg with the Evil Clown

DS: You're younger than me, right? You kind of had to be there at the time. Bunch of guys at Harvard smoking anything they can get their hands on who are geniuses and grew up reading comics.

DB: Yah, I'm younger...heh....did you ever work for the Lampoon?

DS: It's hard to describe--just something that tapped into reflected and sometimes directed the views and opinions of the early 70s while puncturing their pretensions. No, I never worked for Lampoon.

DB: Did they ever approach you, or you them? I have to say, I loved the Lampoon in the early 1980s, when I reached my mid teens

DS: That’s the right time to discover it. No, I don't think there was ever a reach either way, unless I just cold-called them once.

DB: That's a shame - I could easily see you doing a Red Sonya parody
Like their Conman series

DS: Frank Thorne did something for them, didn't he? Sexy girl feature?

DB: I believe he did. Loads of people did - Kupps did a pile of work for them. Neal Adams - that Son Of God thing he did cracked me up.

DS: Son O' God was a benchmark.

DB: A definite highpoint. Bizarre story, but the art was incredible. Now, back to where we were, Wayne Howard. He was a mysterious character.

DS: I don't know anything about him except that he was a Woody assistant and the style stuck. He was a firearms enthusiast. That's all stuff that's public knowledge. I never met the guy.

DB: Not many did know him. Apparently he never spoke to anyone about his comic book career.

DS: Well, Nick Cuti knew him. I've lost touch with Nick, tho.

DB: How well did you know Nick?

DS: I met him after his comics career, when we were both working in animation. He worked as a background designer. Any time they had him do an alien landscape everyone loved it because it was really his version of a Woody alien landscape, of course. I'd do the same thing if it were me--not copying, just heavily influenced.

DB: And you worked with Kirby at Ruby-Spears?

DS: I wouldn't say I worked with him but I met him there and Gil Kane too. Jack turned out tons of presentation art for shows that never got made. I inked a couple of these things, giant pieces on illustration board. A suitably heroic scale for his art.

DB: What was Kirby like at that stage?

DS: Great! Full of life. This is about 1985.

DB: Was his work hard to ink?

DS: No. You absolutely COULD NOT SCREW IT UP. It was inker-proof. I could have done a better job on it, I think, but I was a bit overwhelmed by having Kirby pencils in my house, on my drawing board.

DB: Were you ever tempted to light box it and keep the pencils intact?

DS: No, it wouldn't have been possible anyway. He used 4 ply illustration boards which are too opaque.

DB: I know artists who have had trouble inking Kirby. Norm, for example, did two versions of the same commission, one true to the pencils and the other he 'fixed' the many errors he found in anatomy and design - that wasn't an issue for you?

DS: Nope. For one thing, the stuff I did was all monsters. Really crazy stuff, I remember there was one creature that had a pointed head and could use it to bore thru rock. So there were no concerns about anatomy. I don't think it would be advisable to 'fix' Kirby. You'd just be opening up a Pandora's Box of drawing issues. By the time you were done, it wouldn't be Kirby any more.

DB: 1985 - that was when Kirby was having the problems with Marvel over the art returns wasn't it? Did you get involved in that?

DS: I think so. Pre-internet, I wasn't aware of it to a great extent.

DB: Did you sign the petition?

DS: Sign it? I don't think I ever even saw it!

DB: Would you have signed it?

DS: Sure! Now watch, some smartass is going to find the damn thing and my signature's going to be on it.

DB: I can always have a look - I have a copy nearby. There's a few who didn't sign it as they felt Kirby knew what he was doing back in the '60s.

DS: Things changed is more to the point. I think Stan and Jack were just thinking "well, this outfit's going down the tubes anyway, let's have a little fun with it."

DB: You DID sign it!

DS: What the fu--I DID??!!!

DB: Yep - there you are, right after Dave Sim and just before Don Simpson.

DS: Well I'll be goddamned.

DB: You were in good company on that petition.

DS: I guess so!

DB: A few didn't sign it for fear of recriminations from Marvel - clearly you weren’t scared or intimidated.

DS: What did I have to be scared of? I wasn't working for them at the time. They had no leverage on me. I was working in animation then and making more than I'd ever made in comics.

DB: Byrne didn't sign it - and he was one of the most high profile artists Marvel had at the time. But then he was earning around six figures per year writing and drawing the Fantastic Four.

DS: I guess he had something to lose then. Wasn't this around the time that he described himself as a company man?

DB: Yep. Destroyer Duck lampooned him perfectly. Now he rallies against Marvel at every opportunity...(laughter)

DS: I remember once at a con in Atlanta I went to dinner with him, Tom De Falco, Mark Gruenwald, and Mike Carlin. All Byrne could talk about was superheroes. I purposely started up a loud conversation with Mark about cars.

DB: How well did that go down?

DS: Byrne was trying to ignore us, I think. Mark and I were having fun with it. I just have a little trouble wrapping my head around the notion of a grown man whose entire life is centered around comics. It's fun, it's a nice way to make a living, but one should have other interests as well--cooking, motorcycles, history, astronomy, something.

You're going to have to open a Dave Simons museum.

DB: I'll have a Simons museum next door to my Breyfogle one. You've signed on with Renne Witterstaeder - what do you think she'll be able to do for you?

DS: Renee has connections. I can get work, as demonstrated by my two recent AoD jobs, but she can (I expect) get me better paying work.

DB: Any closing thoughts?

DS: Just want to say how thankful I am to you, Bob Shaw, the Colans, Alan Weiss, everyone who's helped and all the fans--yes, even the ones on Facebook!

3 comments:

BRIAN POSTMAN said...

great interview daniel......i've never seen this before....brian....

Satima Flavell said...

A great tribute, Dan.

Bob said...

I am thankful that you were my friend Dave. I miss you dearly.