Sunday, April 11, 2010

From The Desk Of Rich Buckler: Part II - From Fan To Professional

(Left: Rich at a convention recently in New Jersey with "monstrously" gifted painter Basil Gogos)

Welcome to Part II of the Life Of Rich Buckler!  I'm trying to find a suitable title for this series, so if anyone has a suggestion, then do feel free to, well, suggest it!  As people might be aware, Rich has been drawing comic books since the 1960s, and he's still going strong.  What people might not be aware is that Rich has a, ahem, rich history in the industry, and has worked in virtually every aspect - writer, artist, editor and publisher.  For the first time Rich is opening up and telling his story, in his own words.  This series promises to be a treat.

Before we get started with Part II proper we have to fill in the last bit of Part I.   In his first entry Rich mentioned, in passing, his meeting with Frank Frazetta.  I wasn't about let that pass by without an explanation, so after a quick email, Rich sent this back, along with scans of the samples that Rich showed to Frank. 
---------------------------
Meeting Frank Frazetta by Rich Buckler

So we got on a train and went to visit Frank Frazetta and I had no idea what to expect. I was nervous because I had never met him before. I think it was the first time for Marv and Len too. They weren't shy at all, so when we got there I let them do most of the talking.

Frank was so casual and friendly that we all soon felt as if we had known him for years. There we were sitting in his attic art studio and Frank started showing us his paintings. I cannot for the life of me remember any of what we talked about.

I just remember being awestruck and mostly silent as Frank brought out painting after painting. Most of the work was from magazine and paperback covers that I saw the printed version of, so I knew just about all of the subject matter, then came most of the Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella covers that he had done around that time.

Hours went by like seconds. Years later there would be an actual Frank Frazetta museum, but at that magical time we had gotten an advanced preview with a lot of stories from Frank that went with the paintings. Eventually Frank's wife called upstairs reminding him he had to get back to work. That was our cue and we invited ourselves to leave (Frank never would have, he was too much of a gentleman).

As we prepared to leave, I realized that I had almost forgotten one of the reasons I came to meet him. I took out my portfolio, which was in a modest and slightly beaten manila envelope, and asked him if he would look at my work and give me some criticism.

I had no idea what to expect. There were about fifteen pencil pages, each in a different style, some for genres other than super-hero, some illustrative, a few of them even showing some of his own stylish mannerisms. Everything went quiet for about five minutes. Finally, I broke the silence and asked, “So, what do you think?" I held my breath and waited for the answer.

"Well," he said, choosing his words carefully, "I've seen a lot of sample pages from a lot of artists who want to draw comics. To be honest, I have never seen so many styles coming from one person!"

That was it. No comments or suggestions. However, it was more than enough for me. Len and Marv were excited about having met Frank and they talked about it all the way back to Len's house. I was very quiet the whole time. I think neither of them was ever aware of how profound an effect that visit had on me.

What came to mind, years later, was a story I had read about Salvador Dali visiting Pablo Picasso in his early years. Dali had said that when Picasso said his goodbyes and sent him off wishing him well (I think it went something like that), he felt as if the Pope himself had given him a blessing and spurred his career onward. I had felt much the same way that day, though I was so awestruck that for the longest time I couldn't even put what I felt into words!
---------------------------

Now that Rich has whetted your appetite, without any further ado we continue with Part II, in which Rich moves away from the world of being a fan and into the realms of being a professional, working at Marvel, DC, Warren and Skywald.  A lot of the art here comes with Rich's own comments and the bulk of it has never been seen before, so sit back and enjoy!
---------------------------
From Fan To Professional by Rich Buckler

Everything I learned about art came from books and comics. Later I would be fortunate enough to meet professional comic book artists who were always kind enough to give some criticism and pointers. But my first drawings were all pure guess work.

I started to put serious effort into learning how to draw at age fourteen, and by the time I was fifteen, I had outgrown the children's books on drawing and was ready for the adult books. My first trip to the library, I remember, was a bit embarrassing. I took out a stack of books on drawing and anatomy, but couldn't sign them out because I was too young. Fortunately, my Mom came to my rescue, returned with me to the library, and signed the books out for me.

It was during this time, in Junior High School, that I was lucky enough to get a good art teacher who sort of ‘took me under his wing’. Those were happy days, when I was drawing every day after school, and contributing to fanzines and making many friends in the Detroit comic collector community.

I took all day trips to Hamtramck, which was about five miles from downtown Detroit. It was a long way from the suburb of Farmington/Livonia where I lived. This was one of several excursions with Shel Dorf to the Able Man's Bookstore. At this time, Hamtramck was mostly a Polish neighborhood and was off the beaten track for most comics collectors. However, anybody who was anybody in the comic community in Michigan knew about this place. The name doesn't sound like much, but this was a huge building with multiple levels, filled with everything you can imagine that had to do with comics, science fiction, fantasy and newspaper strips, and it was a collector's heaven!

I didn't have much in the way of disposable income so I rarely bought anything. But with Shel's introduction, the owner, Tom Altschuler, gave me free reign of the place and I perused an incredible amount of precious comics treasures that I would not otherwise have seen unless I purchased them. The entire inventory could have probably stocked a mid-sized museum!

I pored over old newspaper Sunday pages, little big books, pulp magazines, sci-fi and fantasy novels, tons of movie magazines and posters, original editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and Pellucidar, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, movie stills from the old black & white serials (like Superman, Batman, Flash Gordon, Green Hornet, etc.) You name it - they had it. Hundreds of Golden Age comic books that I had only seen pictures of or read about in other fanzines. I don't think there ever could have been a better rudimentary education for a would-be comic book artist than this!

Shel introduced me to Edwin April, Jr., one of several prominent Detroit collectors. Edwin published many high quality reprint books that featured the dailies from newspaper strips like Tarzan (by Russ Manning), Modesty Blaise, James Bond, Johnny Comet (by Frank Frazetta), Secret Agent X-9 (which would later be called Secret Agent Corrigan) by Al Williamson and Archie Goodwin, Mandrake The Magician, The Phantom--well, you get the idea. All printed on thick high quality paper in editions that were designed to last for years.

My brother Ron and I used to clip many of the weekly newspaper strips and collect them into books. These collections were a dream come true, and Ed (devoted fan that he was) published them probably at a loss (but they were definitely a labor of love).

He gave me free copies in exchange for some of my artwork, and to this day, I think I got the better end of the deal! Word was getting around by this time that I was a ‘fan artist’ who was hoping to one day ‘go pro,’ and at least a handful of people were actually supportive of that and taking me seriously (finally!). If not for Shel Dorf's friendship in those formative years I don't think any of my ventures into the professional ranks of comics artists would have even been possible.

(Usually my thumbnails layouts were done on separate paper and thrown away. What I would do is put down first thoughts along with notes to myself of what to change later. The idea was to solve all of the storytelling problems before going to a finished pencil stage. I would use this as a guide in the pencil stage, making some additional changes in the actual pencil stages (sometimes some of the spontaneity would be lost, but that couldn't always be helped--other times, what seemed to work in a small scribble would present drawing problems that needed correction). My finished pencils were always very finished.)

In addition to being very active in comic fandom, (I produced all of the program books except the first one -- which Shel did -- for the Detroit Triple Fan Fair. I was even Co-Chairman of several of those conventions) I published a lot of other upcoming artists' work in my fanzines. One of the most remarkable of these artists was Alan Weiss. His work seemed so mature and beyond his years--and to this day I can't even hold a candle to him in terms of sheer drawing ability! We became friends by telephone and the U.S. Postal system (remember, there was no internet then). He was by far my favorite fanzine artist, and I was certain that he would make it big long before I would. We both shared the same dream, of one day being able to make a living at drawing comics, and we vowed to help each other out

These were the days of a lot of unusual, fortuitous and inventive networking. I ‘met’ Dan Adkins by telephone and we became good friends by proxy (I didn’t actually meet him in person until years later). I'm not sure how I got his telephone number, but it was probably via letter correspondence, since he too was active in what was fast becoming ‘organized comic fandom’. He, along with Wally Wood, Bill Pearson, produced some of the very earliest ‘fanzines’ -- before the ‘ditto machine’ and mimeograph era. Dan and I would spend hours on the telephone late at night (when long distance rates were the lowest) and talk shop. We just had this incredible rapport and Dan is one of the nicest guys in the business.

Dan introduced me to the work of Reed Crandall, Jack Davis, George Evans, Graham Ingles (one of Berni Wrightson's favorites), John Severin (who I would later have the pleasure of working with) -- the E.C. Comics crew. I was never a big horror fan, so this was mostly undiscovered territory for me. And of course there was Wally Wood, whom he worked with (and I would later get to meet when I finally moved to New York) and Al Williamson.

This was around the time that Dan was producing work for Dr. Strange for Marvel, Thunder Agents with Wally Wood and various stories for Warren (Creepy & Eerie Magazine). Those were magical times, as we both worked pen and pencil at the drawing board, miles away from each other, and burned up a lot of late night long distance minutes talking about everything under the sun (but mostly comics and ‘shop talk’).

I also participated in a film club that met at different member locations, usually somebody's living room. Each member chipped in for the cost of the rental. This was the only way, outside of special viewings at comic book conventions that we could get to do this as often as we did. There were no video versions of any of this stuff.

We would rent 8mm movie equipment and have movie showings, and this is how I got to see a lot of the old movie serials and sometimes the original horror classics from the 30's and 40's (most of which were never shown on television). Around this time is when I became friends with Arvell and Desmond Jones and Al Milgrom.

Arvell lived on the ‘other side of town’--that is, the East Side, which was at that time a predominantly black neighborhood. What made things at times difficult for both of us is that black people rarely visited the ‘white neighbourhoods’ and vice versa. It just wasn't done at that time--and if it did, there were tensions, to say the least. So I was in the ‘white neighborhood’, and that's when I found out just how ‘white’ our neighbors were. The whole situation was a nuisance, but we managed to work around it. There were, however, some tense moments.

Detroit was at this time very racially polarized. Comic book fans, though, seemed to pay no attention to racial and ethnic boundaries, and so we visited each other anyway and managed to enjoy ourselves. A lifelong friendship formed, although these days he and I are separated too much geographically (I'm in New York, he is in Detroit), but we still keep in touch.

My last actual ‘job’ before moving to New York was working as an ‘apprentice’ at a small advertising firm--actually just a small office building with two other ‘graphic artists’ and a mostly absentee boss. They did a lot of dull stuff, mostly automobile ads. I say ‘apprentice,’ but I had little or no opportunity to learn anything about advertising art while I was there. It was frustrating too because the artists who had the college degrees got to do the real work (laying out and illustrating ads), but I was only qualified for an entry level position (doing deliveries, sweeping up and dusting/polishing, cleaning toilets and working with smelly chemicals to maintain their photo developer and also operating their graphic arts camera).

I was really qualified to do a lot more, but the boss never let me anywhere near any of the drawing (and he knew I could draw rings around the other guys, even though I had no formal training). It was obvious that a career as any kind of artist (advertising or otherwise) was unlikely for me in Detroit.

I did a lot of pick ups and deliveries of art and ad materials, and put in a lot of driving time. Probably the thing that really got me hired was the fact that I owned my own car--so, really I was just a glorified delivery boy. This was actually the best job I had, but I couldn't see it developing into anything, and this was definitely not where my heart was at. Prior to that I worked the usual part-time jobs after school delivering pizzas and delivering flowers (mostly to hospitals and funeral homes). Probably my worst job experience was working for the Post Office. The less said about that the better.

Okay, I was starting to grow up and getting a grasp of how things really work in the ‘adult’ world. The world was your oyster, it seems, if you had a college education, so I took the entrance exam for University of Michigan--and I passed it. But I couldn't afford the tuition, so that was not a viable option.

To say that our family was poor is not an exaggeration. At least we were not ‘dirt poor,’ and my carpenter grandfather had taught me well how to work hard and stay focused and determined. We lived in a dilapidated old house that my mother had inherited from her father and which we were constantly repairing and revitalizing.

So, my background, location age and lack of experience and formal education were all disadvantages. To top it off, there wasn't in those days even one decent school that taught cartooning or comic book art. Little did I know that I would have to overcome even tougher prejudices when I broke into the comic book business. I knew one thing, though, for certain, that nothing would prevent me from one day realizing my goal.

My youth, and my even more ‘youthful looks’ (I looked years younger than I actually was), would always work against me too, but by the time I moved to New York and pounded the pavement and was able to show my wares, I was already used to that kind of treatment.

I was living with my Mom and my sister and brother (my father passed away from cancer when I was ten years old), and my job was not bringing in enough income to allow me to help support our family and save much beyond the cost of an airline ticket, but my sister (lovely lady that she is) had managed to save a few hundred dollars and loaned it to me. So, to make a trip to New York--and it had to be fairly soon--was clearly going to be a difficult undertaking, to say the least.

I decided though, against all good advice (although my family fully supported my decision), that any time was going to be a bad time to do this, so I might as well go ahead and commit and just do it anyway. Some plan. Sounds crazy, right? Well, it was. But like I said, “More courage than good sense.”

So off I went to New York, not to stay at the Hilton (not on my budget!). Not even to stay with friends this time. I was on my own. My connection for rooming was the YMCA, which cost then about $5.00 per day. I figured once I was there I would start earning, and just more or less fly by the seat of my pants and hope for the best. Like I said, some plan, right?

The YMCA at 34th Street and Eighth Avenue was a nightmare. If you remember those 70's movies where there were New York flop houses that accommodated the worst criminal element, low-life, junkies, pimps and prostitutes, you get some idea of what it was like. Only this was reality and far worse (and far, far from being a Young Man's Christian Association)!

All I needed was a bed where I could sleep and some room for me to set up a drawing board. That, along with one broken down chair, was all there was anyway. The bathroom was a community affair (and so was the shower area), and both looked foreboding and unhealthy. But I was young and resilient and could make this somehow work, I was sure of it. Actually, with my budget, there really wasn't any choice. I could endure these temporary accommodations for a few weeks or months even if necessary, until I could save enough money to rent an apartment.

I made my appointments on a pay phone (no cell phones, then), and since I had no familiarity with the subway system or bus routes I walked everywhere. That was a lot of walking! Sometimes when I got back to bed, I found that my feet swelled up like balloons -- so it made sense to get a map and start using the bus.

I tried taking the train a few times, but the subways scared the hell out of me, and I'm not one to scare easily. The trains, at that time, were mostly old and worn down, and the whole area around where I was staying was run down and crime-infested (not at all like the Midtown scenes in all the movies with a New York backdrop that I had seen on television!).

Some of the subway cars would go completely dark for five minutes at a time. One time a subway car I was on actually caught on fire. Rats and garbage everywhere. Nobody seemed to notice or care. Sounds like a scene out of an E.C. comic, right?

This was all new to me. Especially how big everything was. It was major culture shock for me. You see, we have no subways in Detroit. Everything is flat and spread out, and nearly everybody there has a car (they don't call it Motown for nothing). Subways were, to me, an enigma. Also, there is something really unnatural about travelling under the ground. I had to wonder how this all came about in such a great city as New York, where the subways (at that time, anyway) were always wet and filthy, over crowded, uncomfortable, unsafe, smelly and unhealthy, and sometimes extremely dangerous. It is a lot better nowadays but I still avoid the subway.

(An undated sample page for Warren. It was done in the days before I went pro.  I guess I was looking too much at those crazy slanted and angled panels that Neal Adams used to do!)

So, off I ventured with my portfolio to every comic book publisher I could find. At every company I made it a point to mention that I moved to New York permanently, and every publisher I went to gave me work! That created a whole set of unexpected problems, and I'll get to that a little farther.

And yes, I did remember that Jack Kirby gave me that glowing recommendation--which I have to admit, greatly strengthened my resolve--and I will get to my first meeting with Stan Lee a little farther along.

Maybe it was a case of being in the right place at the right time, with the right sample pages -- I don't know. However, things were now a whole lot different from before! I had to find enough change so I could call home with the good news. I would be sending money home soon. After I called home, I scrounged for more change so I could call up my friend Alan Weiss in Las Vegas.

The conversation went something like this: "Alan, it's Rich. I'm in New York, I moved here. And guess what? I got work--everywhere I went! I don't know how the hell I'm going to draw it all, but that's beside the point. Come to New York! Now's the time! If they're giving me work, I am sure there's work for you too!" And he did.

I was drunk on my newfound success. I even went to an interview with Gil Kane and got hired as his assistant. That turned out to be a bit of a mistake. Howard Chaykin was already employed by Gil, and Howie and I got along fine, but we just never became close. After a week of showing up late, Gil (always the gentleman) gently suggested that I reconsider my position. I had all these freelance assignments of my own, barely getting any sleep, and I still hadn't figured out how to get all the assignments done (and on time!) without pissing somebody off. Finally, it became obvious (and was already abundantly obvious to Gil) that I was stretched way too thin. I left that job, regretting that I was not going to be learning from one of the comic book greats -- but at least we parted friends.

(Here's another rare treat.It's a pencil page from a werewolf story written by Al Milgrom. The inking was done on an overlay. I have never, over the years, ever gotten back any original art in ink form from Warren--and I'm not sure why.  This page shows some of the cinematic techniques that I was developing at the time. The extra shading was in blue pencil. For Warren at the time this would be completely uncharted territory. We worked this "Marvel style" with the dialogue written at a later stage.)

Work had come from Marvel, Warren, and D.C. Comics. My meeting with Stan Lee is clearest in my memory. I called Marvel, made an appointment through Flo Steinberg, to see Stan Lee. I was amazed that I got an actual appointment. My meeting with him was actually even more amazing.

Stan greeted me when I got to Marvel's offices. There was a small waiting area outside of Stan's office, maybe one other office and a small ‘bullpen’ off to the side of that -- that's how I remember it anyway. It was a very modest business set-up that did not resemble at all the corporate trappings and scale of the accommodations of today's large comics publishers. Stan looked over my artwork and said everything looked ‘quite good.’ Was I ready to draw a story, he asked. "Now?" I stammered. "Sure." And he proceeded to make something up right on the spot while I quickly took notes. That was it. No written story plot, no paperwork. "Now," he pronounced, "go and draw it!"

I left that appointment more than a little light-headed. I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to mention the recommendation by Jack Kirby. But, amazingly--it wasn't needed! Or so I thought.

It was a few months later that I had an epiphany and realized that the whole thing with Stan was too quick and easy. I suspect that Jack mentioned me to Stan in a phone call before I arrived, and that was probably the case, though I was never able to verify it.

The assignment was a short Man-Wolf story, which, unfortunately, was not ever printed.

I had to draw those first few assignments in my room at the YMCA. Time was going by quickly and after a few weeks, I was starting to run low on funds. The answer to that problem was to cut down on expenses.

I bought a $2.00 tea pot and made tea by boiling water on the radiator in the room. I ate a lot of graham crackers for lunch and had a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. My most urgent task was to get my work done, get paid, and save up enough money to get out of this place. I didn't know what would come next, not really. I was planning things one day at a time. But I knew, somehow, answers would come and that help was on the way--or at least if I didn't know it, I hoped it was on the way!

I had a horror story to do for Warren and a Rose & The Thorn for D.C. Comics. No main titles and lead features yet--and I understood that they were ‘breaking me in’. I would have to prove myself and work my way up to the ‘majors.’

Of course I thought I was ready for the big time super-heroes, and here I was drawing mostly horror stories--not exactly my favorite genre. But it was paying work. And I always gave 100% no matter what the material was, so I knew that I was on my way to bigger and better things.

My earliest Marvel assignments were back up features, many of them horror stories--we called them "mystery stories" then, because they were pretty tame and had very few graphically depicted horror elements. E.C.Comics did the real horror stuff in the fifties--before Fredrick Wertham and the Comics Code Authority came along.

I eventually got out of that horrendous YMCA, flopped at Denny O'Neil's place in the Village for awhile, then roomed with Alan Weiss briefly until I went back to Detroit (I was really homesick!) for a few weeks to get myself organized. The return trip was by rental car (a station wagon) with my comic collection and more clothing and personal belongings after I had secured a place to live, as well as a young would-be actor who shared the expenses with me (and also became a roommate for awhile).

Around this time I was hanging out a lot with Alan Weiss, Steve Mitchell,and Steve Gerber a lot. All of us "new guys" networked with each other and spent time together--Berni Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, Jim Starlin, etc. Starlin and Alan would later help me out now and then with deadlines--and at one point Alan and I trekked to the far end of Long Island to help Bill Dubay on his first art job for Warren (that's a story in itself, which I will get to later).

It was with Neal Adams' help that I had been able to find my first apartment in the Bronx (prior to taking a plane back to Detroit). My idea was just to find a roommate or somebody who wanted to partner up and share the rent on an apartment.

Neal, always offering good advice, suggested that I find an apartment first, and the roommates would follow (he was right). It was a fourth floor walk-up (meaning no elevator), but it was affordable--and they actually rented it to me, even though I had no credibility beyond Neal's personal recommendation.

That actor and roommate, by the way, went on to a career in movies (one of them was The Titanic), but he was so obnoxious and insufferable that we all wanted to kick him out -- we didn't, because he we all thought he was such a sorry case and would never make it (hey, what did we know -- we were comic book guys). It seemed like all he could talk about was making connections and getting his teeth fixed. He would tell us, "To make it as an actor, you have to have great teeth." We thought he was a bit wacky, but now that I think about it, he was right about that. Just about every single successful actor, in movies or otherwise, does have great teeth!

Anyhow, finally getting my own place led to rooming initially with comics writer Chuck McNaughton, and comics artist Jack Katz joined us later. Steve Englehart, under Neal's tutelage at the time, also joined us for a few months. During this time Steve was trying to break into comics as an artist and Neal was giving him pointers and sort of "art directing" him.

(A couple of rarities here. Two alternate pencil pages from "The Symbionts". I did these first and decided they weren't strong enough so I redrew them. I don't have any of the original art from this story (never got it back), but this is a rare peek at my pencil work at that time. Look closely and you will see that the panel borders are off (which is never acceptable))

Another problem was that my line density was not consistent--too light in some places, too dark in others, and also portions were a bit "sketch" and unfinished looking. I knew I could do better. I also felt that the storytelling was not strong enough and that I could heighten the emotion and "acting" of the character. I got better results the second time. I would rarely re-draw pages, but this was to be my first D.C. work and I felt that the pencils should be as strong as possible and deserving of Neal Adams' inking.)

Oh yeah--one of the things I did first when I first moved to New York was visit Neal at his apartment in the Bronx. Neal invited me to work on the inking to my first pencil job at D.C. for House of Secrets (the "Symbionts" story by Marv Wolfman). A year and a half since I handed in the job and it still wasn't finished. I ended up doing about 25% of the inking so it could finally get handed in and published--all the while Neal "busted my chops", looking over my shoulder as I worked in his living room, and managed somehow to get pretty decent results from me (as an inker I was still very undeveloped).

Now, up to this time most all of my earliest assignments were for the "horror" genre, with many black & white jobs for Warren and Skywald. Both publishers offered paying work, so even though this was "off the beaten track" for me, I always gave it my best. My goal, in terms of comics output, was to be as versatile as possible, and like my idol Jack Kirby, to do work in every genre and category.

The Skywald days were adventurous times. In addition to meeting and working with the legendary Sol Brodsky, which was one of the best parts, I got to meet and make friends with Bill Everett, the creator of Namor, The Sub-Mariner! He even came to my apartment a few times for visits and had many stories to tell about his early days. By the way, I had no idea at that time that he was also a direct descendant of poet/artist William Blake.

Most fans think that Marvel, after Warren, opened up the black & white comic magazine market, but it was Skywald that came first before Marvel. It was really ‘distribution wars’ that eventually put Skywald under, from what I understand. Competition in the comic book business can get really fierce. This is something I know from direct experience.

Sol Brodsky gave his artists a lot of freedom. He also discovered and nurtured some new talent along the way--like Boris Vallejo and Luis Dominguez and Pablo Marcos. Under Sol's direction I was given opportunity to develop my inking skills--which I really wasn't up to then, and my first few efforts were pretty shaky and uneven at best). I did a few horror stories, and the one closest to a super-hero in look and feel was the epic fantasy "Out Of Chaos...A New Beginning!"--a two-part story written by Marv Wolfman that featured a very William Blake/John Milton-like war of heaven and hell type thing.

Then came the opportunity to work on what I believe was the first black female super-hero in the comics, The Butterfly. Because Sol gave me a lot of freedom, and it was his idea initially to go ahead and make some extra effort to update the character and give things an edge. I actually ran into some unexpected trouble--not creatively, but "real life" kind of stuff.

This was 1971. Black characters in a feature were just starting to happen in the comics around that time. I thought this was the perfect time to "push the envelope" a bit and make some bold and (I hoped) important strides. The long and short of it is that I decided to get involved in the storytelling, take on racism and political corruption in the story, and also totally revamp the look of the character.

Well, the story was approved, but it was the art (which I also inked) that became problematic. I was informed that I did too good of a job making the black characters look black. I'm not sure who, exactly, decided this, but I sensed that old bugaboo called racism was at work here. What, nobody found this absurd, I asked? What's the point of making the character black, and then not having the character look black?

I refused to change any of the art, and out of respect for Sol I didn't press things any further--but I ended up regretfully leaving the strip. Sol apologized profusely and was visibly embarrassed. I had other irons in the fire, though, and a few more headaches were on the way. My suspicion, which I never was able to confirm, was that this attitude was coming from Sol's business partner.

Okay. So, they did print the story but ended up hiring Bill Everett to touch up many of the faces--and I don't blame Bill for this, he was just doing his job, but the result was pretty shabby (it looked like white people pretending to be black, and the art changes were not even consistent). This would not be the last time, unfortunately, that I would encounter bigotry and ignorance at a publishing company, although Marvel and D.C. Comics were making some important strides. Was I young, outspoken, and idealistic? Yes! Now I'm older, and probably just as outspoken and idealistic.

The other main project that was just getting underway (those "other irons in the fire") was a new title for Skywald, which Chuck McNaughton and I pitched, called Science-Fiction Odyssey. This was to be an all sci-fi comics anthology featuring adapted short stories by top name science-fiction writers. Chuck and I had managed to secure the adaptation rights to stories by Harry Harrison, Robert Silverberg, Isaac Azimov, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison. Fred Pohl, Roger Zelazny, Larry Niven--a long list of top-flight sci-fi authors. The idea was to give comic book readers an anthology of some of the best writers that the science fiction genre had to offer -- illustrated by the best comic book artists of that time. We had, as I recall, Mike Kaluta, Berni Wrightson and Jeff Jones signed up--and more comic book greats on the way.

I was a science-fiction fan and voracious reader since my early fan days and the first few Detroit conventions (which were mostly science fiction and film and only partly comic books--with no comic book guests until things evolved). Chuck was an aspiring author and an extremely talented pianist. He turned me on to classical music, which I didn't have an ear for at first, being more of a rock n' roll guy.

In terms of business, I knew how to go after adaptation rights, having published a lot in my fan days and in my teen years I even approached the publishers of Robert E. Howard's Conan and the agents for Doc Savage and the Shadow (I was turned down--too young, independent, and inexperienced). Their story was that they were all holding out for offers from the big comic publishers.

Anyway, even with a modest budget we had managed to solicit through their agents an incredible array of talent. This was a pure fan project that was going mainstream and we were really excited about it. I don't think Skywald quite grasped the enormity of our undertaking. Unfortunately, the company around this time would run into serious financial troubles and the title was cancelled. We were about one and a half issues into production with Chuck and I doing the packaging (that is, we were the editorial and production department) when the bad news came.

It was a really ambitious and worthwhile project that we totally believed in, but alas, it was not meant to be! To this day I feel a tug of regret that none of it saw the light of day (except for a few stories that were printed in Nightmare and Psycho before the company folded).

Around this same time, I was working for Jim Warren too. I remember my first meeting with him. Alan Weiss and I went to his offices on Park Avenue and 33 Street. With portfolio in tow, we were ready to rock n' roll.

I went into Warren's office first while Alan waited to be next. Warren reviewed my work slowly and carefully and mentioned that he actually started out as an artist. I wasn't aware at the time that he had a bit of a hearing problem. Dick Giordano had a problem with his hearing too (he didn't keep it secret), but I communicated with Dick just fine. I decided to use my usual tactic for interviews, which was to let him do most of the talking.

"You seem to have a lot of styles," he said. "Maybe you should make up your mind and just pick one and stick to it. Good storytelling, though. Not bad." I remember that I had to use the bathroom, really badly, during the whole interview, but I didn't dare interrupt him. I was especially nervous the whole time because he had a reputation for being extremely tough and his criticism, I had heard, could be devastating. I held my breath (and held back my bladder), prepared for the worst. Well, he hired me and gave me a script on the spot!

I came out sort of numb and headed for the bathroom. It was Alan's turn and he went in, cocky and confident. When I came back, Alan was sitting in the waiting area. I asked him, "So, how did it go?" Alan smiled wryly and said, “He tore me to pieces." I couldn't believe it! Alan drew everything at least ten times better than me (and these days, I still haven't caught up to him!).

I missed out, somehow, on the somewhat legendary Rutland Vermont Halloween bash but started to attend regular (semi-monthly) get-togethers at various artists' and writers places. Everybody who freelanced (well, all the ones who were cool, anyway, or not too busy otherwise) attended, and there was always free food and drink and a party-like atmosphere.


One was at Denny O'Neil's place, and the one that stands out in my mind was at the apartment of Jeff Jones. It was a huge "railroad flat", and the crowd included many notables like Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Gray Morrow, Joe Orlando, Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson, Nick Cardy, Marie Severin, Ramona Fradon, Al Williamson, Roy Krenkel, Bill Everett, Wayne Howard, Frank Thorne, Vince Colletta, Howard Chaykin, Larry Lieber, Berni Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, Walt Simonson, Alan Kupperburg, Bruce Jones--and those are just some of the ones I remember. It was like ‘networking heaven’ -- and beat the heck out of any comic book convention I even went to. I don't know who came up with the idea (I suspect, though, it was Neal Adams) but It was such an ideal meeting place where the "old wave" met the "new wave."

There were of course lots of writers too, like Denny O'Neil, Archie Goodwin, Mark Gruenwald, Gerry Conway, E. Nelson Bridwell, Gardner Fox, Steve Gerber, Steve Skeates, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Robert Kanigher, Paul Levitz, Mike Friedrich, Steve Englehart and more. This was where you could meet new friends and meet would-be writer collaborators and learn about all the latest inside news of what was happening in the industry.

It was at one of these networking parties that I connected with Wayne Howard, who worked as an assistant for Wally Wood. This led to an important (for me) visit with Wally Wood at his art studio, which was the post-Thunder Agents period but a nonetheless exciting and magical experience! I also met Al Williamson, Frank Thorne and Gray Morrow for the first time.

I had many long and fascinating conversations with E.C. great Roy Krenkel (what a talker!) whose knowledge was almost encyclopaedic. A lot of connections were made, telephone numbers were exchanged, and a lot of collaborations were started at these affairs. I miss those times and really wish that we had something like this going on today.
---------------------------- 

Check back soon for Part III.

Rich Buckler's web-site can be found here. Rich is avaliable for commissions and recreations, and, as you're clearly reading, has a long history in the field of comic book art, spanning over 40 years. Visit his site, check out his art and treat yourself! 

1 comment:

woody0023 said...

Reading about the Able Man's bookstore reminded me of this photo:

http://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/dlib/lat/display.cfm?ms=uclalat_1429_b552_229169&searchType=keyword&k=comic%20book&w=none&x=title&y=none&z=none&s=1

I'm sure they were nothing alike, but they're both nice to dream about!