Tuesday, May 18, 2010

From The Desk Of Rich Buckler: Part IV - Marvel & DC In The '70s Part II

Welcome to Part IV of the life story of Rich Buckler!  Following on from Part III, Rich discusses his 1970s work at both Marvel and DC in more detail, creating a fascinating insight into the differences between the two companies at the height of their popularity. 

If you enjoy reading these articles, and if you like the art you're looking at, then feel free to contact Rich directly and arrange a commission.  Rich's schedule is fairly open right at the moment and Rich is more than capable of doing some stunning work.  Give it some serious consideration and spread the word.

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy Rich Buckler's life story, exclusive to this blog.

When I was finally moved up to work on Avengers and Fantastic four it was a big step--and it had a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time--and everything to do with Roy Thomas' faith in my artistic abilities.

I wasn't much of a social creature in those days. There just wasn't all that much spare time and I wasn't much for "hanging out." But when I did "hang", it was with Alan Weiss, Steve Gerber and Steve Mitchell. We would visit professionals that we knew and haunt the offices of D.C. and Marvel, always scouting for work possibilities. I don't know if we had any wild fantasies of being destined for greatness, but we were all determined to be in print! It was nose to the grindstone most of the time as I applied myself toward building a solid career as a professional comic book artist.

Most of my friends and work associates thought I was some kind of workaholic! Well, maybe I was, but I was living my dream. For me it was more like focus and determination--and always giving 100%! And need I mention that only a handful of people even suspected that I was a creative genius?--and those discerning individuals were mostly friends or close relations!

As I turned out more and more work in that borrowed office space at Marvel Comics, I was getting a lot of steady work because my art was very well-suited in terms of the "Marvel style" (whatever that was, and nobody seemed to be able to define it--except maybe John Romita). Of course I still had my D.C. Comics "chops" too, but I would develop that later when I went on to draw just about every character in the D.C. Universe.

I had drawn a lot of covers by now under John Romita's excellent art direction. Every day was hectic and almost non-stop drawing. I would zip back and forth from office to office, hand Romita a finished cover and he'd say: "Are you up for another one?" After awhile, he just stopped asking and just handed me the next cover job on the schedule. I never knew what would come next--and yes! I was always up for another one! And that was in addition to whatever stories I was working on.

I started to get known at Marvel as an "all-around guy", sort of like the King, Jack Kirby--only about one half as fast and with only a comparatively minuscule amount of his experience! How was I able to keep up with professional artists who were in the business for twenty or thirty years already? I wonder sometimes!

Well, I was never short on enthusiasm, that's for sure! And I would like to think that at least some of it can be attributed to my drawing skills which were developed under the assumption from my teen years that it was necessary to train to be an artist first and not limited by being a cartoonist. All those long hours studying and practicing from drawing books by George Bridgeman and Andrew Loomis were beginning to pay off! I saw that as my competitive edge. Plus, I was reliable and would always meet the deadline (an absolute must!).

Every once in a while at the office I would run into Stan Lee. I was in my early twenties; keep in mind, so those were always awkward moments for me. Usually it was in the hallways or at the photocopy machine. He would greet me with a cheerful "Hey, Rich, how are things going for you?" And yes, "Smiling" Stan did smile a lot. I answered something like "Um, okay. You know, um--ahh--better than okay! Ahem!" So much for my communication skills. I would find myself stammering or swallowing my own words (just like I did before on the telephone with Jack Kirby) because here was Stan Lee talking to me, the young upstart, like I was just one of the gang.

I always stubbornly viewed comics artists as "real" artists, even though the world at large evidently thought differently. The distinction between professional commercial artist and fine artist was a "fine" one indeed. It seemed to depend more upon who you knew and how well connected you became. Nonetheless, I always thought of myself as an artist first, and a cartoonist second (with no apologies for the latter!).

I wanted to take time to sketch and paint, but there was never a spare moment! Here I was working full time in different cartoon styles, but from the beginning I wanted to be a "real artist", like Salvador Dali or Frank Frazetta--or maybe something in between. The "real" world status of fine artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, in particular, always confounded me. And there were so many incredible geniuses in the comics business! Why was the "art world" ignoring them?

Okay, so now I was under pressure to produce a lot of artwork and very fast--almost no "serious" drawing and nearly all of it "cartooning"--which left little room for showing off any brilliant drawing skills. I never did get to meet Salvador Dali (my favorite artist!)--and if I did, I doubt very much that we would have understood each other. I did get to meet Andy Warhol at his workplace when I later went over to D.C. Comics--but that's another story, which I'll save for farther along.

My "fine art" aspirations were put on hold as I was quickly learning that drawing comic books for a living did require a lot more than even I suspected. Comic book drawing was "intense cartooning"--not really "realistic" like illustration, but more demanding and it was more like "cartoon drama", as opposed to the funny "big foot" stuff like Mickey Mouse or Peanuts.

Being a unique art form with its own peculiar demands, comics illustration was my chosen field from the beginning despite my not seeing much hope of fame and fortune on the horizon. I was totally focused and determined to make the grade no matter what. Developing into a "fine artist" would come, but much later on.

In all of my years working in comics what always appealed to me almost as much as the drawing part was the storytelling aspect. All the great comic book artists that I admired were great storytellers! That was where I lived--and that was what kept me going.

The downside, if there was any, was that the pace and work schedules were such that no artists had the luxury of time so they could do all they were capable of (so, forget "showing off"). That aspect of the work I was not prepared for--that, and the long and gruelling hours! So, creatively I made the necessary and important adjustments.

It was a bit of a conundrum for all comics artists, that as you furiously pushed the pencil or pen and brush, always with the deadline in mind; you were continually looking for that "happy medium" between good drawing and good storytelling--without sacrificing either one! But always, it seemed, you had to draw whatever you drew as fast as humanly possible!

I would say about 98% of what I drew in the comics then had to be made up on the spot with no reference (which is a definite "no no" for commercial illustrators). That's the tricky part. It was hard work and long hours, as I've said, and a lot of thinking and conceptualizing--and so you were never given the opportunity to get it perfect." I was told many times--It didn't have to be perfect--it just had to be done!

I was always motivated, so I was okay with that. Nowadays apparently artists are given extended deadlines on books that are scheduled way in advance--so they can "cut loose" without feeling the pressure that comics professionals used to have to deal with on a daily basis.

When I was on the job I was always very disciplined. I had to be. I was at the drawing table to work, not to play or waste time--and I hardly took a break except for lunch and to go to the bathroom or consult with other comics creators and editors. There was rarely a spare moment even to steal off to the library and take out picture reference. I was always "on the clock." Nearly everything was done "on the fly". You either made it up out of your head using your imagination, or you worked from memory and observation. I jokingly referred to the nature of my job as "being brilliant--on a deadline!"

It was just me, a drawing board, some paper and pencils (actually, the company always supplied the paper). When I drew covers the only reference would be photocopies of the story pages--the actual cover idea I had to come up with on my own. Ideas always came to me quickly though, and the first thoughts were usually "on the money."

More than one time I would be asked: "Don't you need reference? I don't see any comics around your work space. How do you get the details of all the costumes right? Where's your reference?" And I would smile and point to my head and say: "It's all up here." And it almost always was--though now and then I would "cheat" and sneak over to Marie Severin or John Romita to check on some details here and there.

Thankfully nobody ever bothered us much in that back office, nobody we didn't want to see anyway. That was mainly because almost nobody even knew about it! No one visited from the main office, not even John Verpoorten or Sol Brodsky who originally arranged for me to have the space. And except for friends and fellow freelancers and Ed Hannigan, who set up his own work space across from me, plus occasional visits from Tony Isabella or Jim Salicrup (who were editorial guys, but they were cool and we considered them "part of the gang"), it was mostly quiet solitude. I enjoyed the relative anonymity and privacy.

In all my years drawing the comics I was never handed back anything to re-draw. In these early years this wasn't so much due to my remarkable drawing abilities--there just simply was no time for doubling back or re-thinking. From time to time, if and when a correction was needed, it was done by John Romita or one of the "bullpen" artists like Mike Esposito, Marie Severin or George Russos.

I remember there was a story for a British book that Tony Isabella brought in during one of his unannounced visits. All visitors were "unannounced" since we didn't have a telephone. He needed the pencil pages inked by the next day (I don't remember who the penciler was). Was this possible? I said: "Well, yes, if you got Vince Colletta maybe"! Everybody knew that Vince was the "go to" guy if you needed it fast. Tony said Vince wasn't available and that he needed it the next day--no matter what! Could I handle it? On a whim I decided to take the job as an experiment.

My strategy was that Ed Hannigan and I would ink, taking turns and moving pen and brush as fast as humanly possible, without being overly concerned with the results. "Don't think! Just ink!" I think a few other visiting freelance artists contributed, but between all of us we were still not working fast enough--and I was absolutely amazed at how much work was still involved, and the human hand can move only so fast!

And of course you had to think about what you were doing--otherwise the results would be disastrous. Well, I lost quite a few hours of sleep but we met the deadline, and the final inked pages were deemed acceptable. It didn't look as good as Vince would have done--but hey, you can't have everything! Would I do another job like this one if the opportunity presented itself? No way! But I now had a new-found respect for Vince Colletta, that was for sure!

Back to my work on the regular Marvel stuff. Sometimes the "corrected" result on my pages or covers (a face or "corrected" figure) would bother me a lot. Too much white-out. Styles would always clash and I felt that the corrections somehow always stood out. I couldn't help feeling that somehow the integrity of the original art was violated. There was a part of me that still regarded the original comic book pages as "art"--it wasn't just product!--but I had to accept that once it was handed in, it was no longer my domain, like it or not.

That was my rather idealistic purist creative side always trying to assert itself--you now, "artist first." But I was constantly reminded: "We're not asking for Michelangelo here, we just need it done!" And of course that meant "professional quality" too. That always nettled me a bit, and it always came from "non-artists."

I even, at one point, had the brass to start insisting on making my own corrections at the office when possible and asked that I be able to draw my own covers for the stories I drew--which the editorial department usually respected and tried to accommodate (even though it probably sounded a bit egotistical to them). That was a bit quirky and contradictory on my part now that I think about it, since I did so many covers for other artist's books!

I keep mentioning that because of my comics fan and fanzine background I had a "good sense of comics". That was probably true of all the best comic book artists of the time. But I can't emphasize that enough. I wasn't just some commercial illustrator who was told every minute detail of what to draw. In comics the artist is expected to be a "co-storyteller." There weren't any detailed instructions or "stage directions"--like how to set up a "shot" or "camera angle", what to put in or what to leave out, etc. Aside from very sketchy word descriptions there was rarely, if ever, any art direction at all!

I mentioned that being totally immersed in comics is what seemed to make up for youth and lack of practical experience--but that was also a necessity! Because I read hundreds and hundreds of comic books I had a good grasp of what was "Marvel" from the beginning and the editors knew I understood Marvel's "house style" or the "Marvel Approach"--and not once was I ever asked: "Um, Rich, are you sure you know what you're doing?"

My take on Marvel's approach was the use of dynamic movement, high drama (more like "soap opera" dramatics) and lots of action and bold exaggerated action figures that were "larger than life", with style elements of Kirby, Buscema and Romita. Probably, first and foremost, you could say that my priority was character and story.

And I would always listen to the advice of seasoned professionals like Ross Andru, Marie Severin, Dick Giordano and John Romita (or anyone else who would "talk shop")! Years later I would put all of my accumulated knowledge, gathered from years of being "schooled" by most of the comic book greats, into a book on how to draw comics. But more on that later.

Here's an interesting story about my first drawing encounter with a character that gave me trouble at first (no, it wasn't The Thing--that character was a whole other set of problems)--it was The Hulk. As you might imagine, things were not always smooth going! I remember the first time I attempted to draw the Hulk. I think it was on a cover with John Romita art directing me. I'll always remember that first "lesson" he gave me.

I drew what I thought was a huge and bulky mutant monster; with a pumped up build like Lou Ferrigno--and John told me the figure I drew looked skinny. I thought: "Lou Ferrigno is skinny?!" "Okay," I said. "Let me try again." So I drew him much bigger and showed it to him again and--nope, not big enough yet. I asked: "Really, John? Are you putting me on?" He wasn't. I went, scowling under my breath, back to my desk and then drew the biggest, most humongous muscular green monstrosity that I could come up with, and I thought for sure it looked totally ridiculous. I showed the result to John and he said, "That's it! THAT is the Hulk!"

Some more thoughts on the storytelling aspect of comics: It was on Killraven and Black Panther and Morbius (and some of the stories I did for Warren's Creepy and Eerie) with Don McGregor that I would develop some of my storytelling abilities and experiment a lot with layout.

I knew all the rules by now. And rules were meant to be broken sometimes, right? For me, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner and Alex Toth were absolutely top notch storytellers. They had raised the bar in their time, so I thought: "How to put some of that into the super-hero genre and make it work?" I always did have that part of me that loved to explore the new and different. While I loved all the work of the "old school" artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan and Dick Ayers, I would constantly be on the a look-out for opportunities to explore the new.

I'll always be grateful that Editor In Chief Roy Thomas believed in us enough to decide to put Don and me together as a creative team. Honestly, nobody really knew what to expect from us. Since the above characters were not big sellers for Marvel Roy pretty much left us to our own devices. And between me and Don there was a lot of new territory to explore!

So Don and I got to work and the Panther's world and characters got a complete makeover. This was a pure labor of love so for this feature I took the extra time to dig up all the research I needed from the main picture library in Manhattan.

We were going for a more authentic African look to T'Challa's environment. We updated the look of the characters. The way Don planned it, everything in the stories would take place virtually outside the Marvel Universe. At this time, actually, there was very little coordination between editors--so from time to time a writer and artist could sort of ignore continuity that was already established (that is, until somebody in editorial would catch on) or venture out into "unknown territory" that wasn't part of the main continuity of other books. And since Don and I were both "frustrated filmmakers" we employed lots of "cinematic" storytelling techniques. Some of the page layouts were done from Don's "diagrams" and suggestions which were innovative and always inspiring!

Don and I would have long brainstorming sessions in my back office at Marvel with nobody interfering or guiding us. Some of those discussions would continue on into the evenings back home in the Bronx at both his place and mine. Amazingly we had almost total creative freedom. Did we take full advantage of this? Were we out to destroy stereotypes, to take on stubborn taboos and controversial subjects and break a lot of creative new ground? You bet!

Nowadays there would be dozens of writers meetings and editorial consultations and someone "looking over your shoulder" at almost every move. If they did it like that back then, every innovation (and there were many on Black Panther) would have been scrutinized and subject to approval. If Don and I had to work that way in those days almost nothing would have gotten done!

And we weren't the only artistic rebels. Jim Steranko's experiments on Nick Fury Agent Of Shield shortly before us were the first hints of any kind of real innovation beyond the standard super-hero fare. That would change drastically as more and more new artists like me came along. Artists like Jim Starlin, Barry Smith, Frank Brunner, Billy Graham and Paul Gulacy would soon start to shake things up a lot. Each of the new artists would bring in their own freshness and stylisms as the Marvel "house style" began to evolve further. Those were really exciting times for creating the comics!

My work on Avengers proved be a chance to show my flair for melodrama and action figures, but there wasn't much room for any storytelling and page layout experimentation on F.F. and Avengers at first. The "style" for these books was established already for the most part. So that work tended to be more conservative and straight-forward. Whenever I could, though, I would take some artistic and storytelling chances and try to "push the envelope."

I must say that, looking back, I never was one who suffered from lack of self-confidence, and more than one editor would tell me that! No, I didn't have an attitude or a "big head" about it. I was just very confident and decisive. But if it were somehow all just a big "ego-trip" then I would most surely have been setting myself up for a big fall! Well, that didn't happen.

Fortunately for me and the editors I worked for I always delivered what I would promise. The energy was there and I was driven, yes--but I never set out to be a big comic book "superstar." I loved the work, almost every minute of it, and the "celebrity" that would come with it would just be something extra.

I knew myself very well even in those tender years and it wasn't ego that was driving me--it was more like bliss! It all came from my creative center and knowing for a certainty that I was by this time up to any challenge--and I knew absolutely no fear!

There were no real story sessions or brainstorming with my writer-collaborators on Fantastic Four, and although the working relationship was more compartmentalized things couldn't have gone better! That was the usual way it worked. You got the written story plot and went to work on it. Any questions? Check with the editor.

Writers, for the most part, worked alone and unhindered at their typewriters and handed in story plots--which the respective artists would use as a guide to structure story pages.

Some writers paced the story, outlining page numbers--for others it was sort of a free-for-all, with the actual pacing left up to the artist. A story plot could be multiple pages and sometimes it was only a few paragraphs (it depended on the individual artist, and what he needed to follow the story). Usually the story plot was a bare-bones outline with very terse descriptions of the action.

I found familiar ground in the writing styles of both Roy and Gerry Conway, both writers that were very similar to Stan Lee's prose style and "melodramatic" approach (Steve Englehart, too, to some extent)--with each one of them still finding their own "voice."

Roy was especially a pleasure to work with (and in case I didn't mention it before, he is my favorite comic book writer). What showed through in the work of both Roy and Gerry was that same drive and passion and flair for story plot and character treatment that I thought made Stan Lee's comic book work so memorable. More often than not the story was summarized in written form much like a conversation between writer and artist.

And the best writers wrote very visually, too, in terms of situations and story pacing. What I mean is that they would "show" more than "tell" and always kept things moving. Story and character were always what mattered most! It was the same deal with Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber and Len Wein.

Due to Roy's confidence in me (thanks Roy!) I was given a generous amount of creative room to pace the stories and interpret the "acting" and stage the fighting sequences. Occasionally I was allowed to just "cut loose" and "do my storytelling thing". For example, in a story plot there might be a description like "pages 12-16, fight sequence," or "next comes the big battle, which ends with..."--and that was it, so I just ran with it and I got to improvise a lot.

Being such comics fan-boys (all of the new young writers and artists were!) we always knew the characters well--the costume details as well as their individual personalities and histories. It helped that I knew the writers personally and they knew they could depend on me to take care to always have my "actors" do things "in character."

Sure, I was adept at the D.C. way of working with finished scripts, and amazingly I knew just about all of D.C.'s characters as well, but I was one of a few artists who were just as comfortable with the "Marvel way" of drawing pages from a story outline.

And there were big differences in how each company handled the story process. D.C. scripts were always self-contained stories with a beginning, middle and end--and they read like movie scripts. Stories for Marvel were a lot like "soap operas" and it could take two or three or four issues of a book for a story to play out. I loved that! No hard and fast rules and "beginning, middle and end" formulas--just a continual drama unfolding--with characters and situations taking unexpected and delightfully surprising detours or developing sub-plots and new story threads.

It took a writer as eclectic and adventurous as Don McGregor to start doing story arcs that were really "mini-epics" and could be assembled later into "graphic novels" (which didn't exist yet). Don's fantasy world was full of passion, drama, pathos and ironic humor. I loved his word play and descriptions of emotion and what the characters were experiencing with their senses. But around this time comics were starting to get some of that from all of the writers that were striving to "push the envelope." I wasn't the only one to notice that there seemed to be a bit of a renaissance going on in the 70's that would continue on into the mid-80's.

A word on production in those days. If you've been paying close attention, you will recall that everybody worked fast in those times. You had to, really, because as I mentioned earlier the deadlines could be brutal. The production department was no different. It wasn't unusual to see coloring mistakes, crooked logos and sloppy paste-ups that would go unnoticed and make their way into print (that almost never happened at D.C.).

Sometimes it seemed like I drew so fast and furiously that I barely had time to erase or redraw. It wasn't unusual for me to finish the pencil art on a Friday and see finished inked pages only a few days later. A week or so after that the color proofs would come into the office! And sometimes there were mistakes in the art.

I remember one blooper (somebody was going to get a "no-prize" for noticing this one) in an issue of Fantastic Four inked by Jim Mooney. We were in Marie Severin's office looking at the color proofs--and Marie pointed out something that didn't immediately stand out. It was a splash page of a sprawling free-falling Mr. Fantastic--and he had one foot and three hands! Oops. Too late for art changes at that point. It was pretty funny. I don't know to this day if that was the inker's fault or mine, but I think it was probably mine.

I was doing two and sometimes three fully penciled pages per day. The pay wasn't great either (which was another reason you had to work fast). And at times I was hard pressed to keep track of it all because I might be working on two books at once and would have to juggle things so that there was always a steady stream of art being handed in for each book.

Sometimes I would do two or three pages from one book , which were lettered and shipped out immediately to the inker, and then a few more pages of another book which went right into production. A few times even I delivered work to the writer's home (so he could write dialogue and narration), or if I was inking I would sometimes pick up pencil pages from the letterer at his or her home. Amazingly, big John Verpoorten as production manager coordinated all of this, and I think he worked more hours than anybody did!

As you can imagine, at all times, and even on weekends, there were pages being lettered while other pages were penciled or inked, and writers often worked piecemeal (having to write final dialogue and narration with some but not all of the pages of the story before them--that must have caused some headaches!). It was truly a wonder how it would all come together under that kind of stress!

Even though everything was done at a whirlwind pace, somehow I did not really feel any of the stress. Well, lots of coffee helped (but no drugs or alcohol--ever!). What I would do is find that almost mystical "eye of the storm"--you know, that creative center where everything was calm and peaceful and the ideas would just flow freely and time and space just seemed to disappear!

Not everybody could keep up with the hectic pace. But hey, as they say, "If it were easy, anybody could do it, right?" One issue I worked on of Avengers was done with George Tuska penciling half and me doing the other half (but the pages were almost shuffled like a deck of cards) with Dave Cockrum's inking pulling it all together. It wasn't uncommon to see stories broken up and fill-in issues used when things got bottle-necked--or when artists got sick (I almost never got sick--there was no time for that either!).

When Marvel introduced their "two-for-one" art production trick, I absolutely hated it. This was where two pages of the story in each book would be drawn on one art page (it was usually a two-page spread). It was done to save time and money, but what it actually did was cheat the artist/writer/letterer/colorist out of one page and cheat the readers by lowering the quality of their books.

Around the time I got the Avengers assignment it seemed like John Buscema was already starting to get overworked even though he was faster than just about everybody else. By this time John had the Kirby-inspired "Marvel style" down pat. I couldn't help thinking, though, that what they needed was Jack Kirby, and it seemed to me that it took a lot of artists to "fill the gap" when Jack left to work at D.C. Comics. As far as I know, Jack was the fastest in the business. I have heard that he drew 4-5 pages per day, sometimes more, and sometimes whole books in less than a week!

Marvel was stepping up production then and turning out a lot of books as they expanded to compete with D.C., who was also expanding their line of titles. The production, and the stress, would just keep building! Later, inevitably I think, in the late 70's the marketplace would suffer from a glut. Remember the "D.C. Explosion"? Well, it was followed shortly thereafter by the "D.C. Implosion", which left quite a few of my artist friends with no work!

I remember that nobody really wanted to work on team books (same deal at D.C., too, with Justice League and Legion Of Super-Heroes, etc.). You can't blame them, really--too much work, too many characters, too many details, too much of everything! For me, though, too much was never enough.

You had to be Jack Kirby or John Buscema to take on so many characters in one story, or so it seemed. I think that's why the Avengers book "came up for grabs". Nobody else wanted to draw it! When it was offered to me, I said "no problem!" With me, it was never a problem--no matter what it was! Besides, I honestly don't remember any time when I was ever in a position to turn down a book, no matter how difficult the assignment might have been!

Working on Avengers was especially exciting and challenging since it was about twice as difficult to draw as most of Marvel's other books! For a while there I did have to get by on a little less sleep. But a big plus for me was that I got to draw my favorite Marvel character--Captain America! I was in heaven!

My artwork on this book and the Fantastic Four would turn out to be some of my most memorable work for 70's Marvel fans--and they were memorable times for me too! I was still not matured as an artist (but now getting tons of experience!), and I was having a heck of a good time figuring things out as I went along.

If I can digress for a moment, I remember having a conversation with Jim Steranko and Paul Gulacy at an out of town convention a few years ago. We talked for hours over dinner about the business and creative side of comics and I wasn't all that surprised to learn that, like me and so many other comic book professionals, they were both "self-taught." Jim's point of view and Gulacy's about having worked in the comics turned out to be a lot like mine.

We were reminiscing about this Paul remarked how lucky we were to be comic book artists, and Jim said: "Yeah, drawing comics for a living sure beats the heck out of having to work a job!" "I agree", I said. "And," I added,” sometimes I felt a little bit guilty, like I was getting away with something. Because, you know, I didn't know what I was doing a lot of times and I was really learning as I went along. And I improved because I had to." "And you got paid for it!" Jim chimed in happily.

Jim also pointed out one particular cover he liked a lot from the Fantastic Four. I had drawn it for one for a Giant-Sized F.F. book that featured the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse. For some reason, he said, it stayed in his memory all these years. That was so cool. Jim Steranko actually had a favorite Rich Buckler cover! Of course, I have a lot of favorite Jim Steranko covers! Funny thing though, after all the hundreds of comics I have drawn over the years and a solid feeling that much was accomplished I still feel like I'm in school, still learning and developing as an artist.

Back to my days at Marvel in the early 70's. I mentioned before that I was an avid reader of science-fiction. So the name Harlan Ellison was not knew to me when Roy brought it up. Here we had a chance to adapt one of his short stories--and I got to meet Harlan Ellison. So, I realized, I was finally going to get a chance to adapt some science-fiction by a "big name" author after all!

I was no less elated to find out that Dan Adkins was to do the inking. Later when I saw the inked pages Dan produced I poured over them and made photocopies to study later. Seeing what professional inkers did over my pencils did much to help me to better understand what to draw on a page and what to leave out. It improved my understanding of line and technique, and it also helped me to develop my own inking work. This was better than art school! And, as I said before, there wasn't any school at that time to learn the craft of comics.

By the time Joe Sinnott started inking my work on Fantastic Four, I had a lot figured out and knew what worked best in terms of line and shade for the inker (or ink artist, as I prefer to say--never liked the term "inker"). Joe's clean line and excellent draftsmanship would smooth out a lot of my rough spots and give my work a slick professional look that I hadn't even imagined was possible. Seeing those early results helped me tremendously to improve my skills with ink--and it increased my respect for "inkers" in general.

The character of the Thing was problematic at first. On my first Fantastic Four pages I would just outline the character of The Thing and Joe Sinnott would fill in and render the "bricks"--but, for my money, it looked more like he was covered with interconnected orange peels, not bricks! So, as things went along, I started to pencil in every "brick" and make them larger and more block-like, like Kirby did. The key to drawing The Thing was to always give him that huge attitude and overarching movements that conveyed his bulk and physical strength. No matter how he was drawn though, he would always look somewhat like a walking and talking cartoon. The trick was in the "acting"--to give him exaggerated facial expressions and body movements but at the same time make whatever he was doing look believable and convincing, and that wasn't always easy!.

My work was getting known and I was finally "settled in"--no longer struggling creatively or financially as a working professional artist. And I was getting some notice in the fan press finally--nothing big, but I was being taken seriously. In my Detroit days, I was known as Rick, not "Rich." Not all that big of a change, really, but my family still calls me Rick. When I moved to New York everyone I met would try their shortened version of Richard--and finally I said, let's make it Rich. And that's what stuck all of these years.

My name was getting known in the industry, but I was still correcting people on my last name: "No, it's not Butler, not Buckland or Buckley--it's Buckler." It took awhile for people to catch on. And one thing I learned early on--where to sign my name on covers so that it wouldn't get chopped off or left off entirely (and that happened a lot in those early days). The credit was important to me because it meant easily identifying the art--and that was important if you wanted to get noticed and taken seriously and get regular work!

Early fan reactions to what Don and I were doing on The Black Panther were very positive. I still didn't have "guest status" at the comics conventions--that would come later. I do remember meeting some Black Panther fans at one of the New York conventions, and one of them said to me: "You're Rich Buckler? I thought you were black." We all had a good laugh with that one.

Actually, I'm physically quite the opposite-- blond haired and blue-eyed, half German, part Irish, French and Native American (Blackfoot Indian)--sort of a mongrel, really. I remember, though, one slightly awkward moment at Marvel's offices when John Verpoorten asked me, after meeting three or four of my artist friends from Detroit: "Rich, do you have any friends who are not black?" He was just joking around, not meaning any harm really, but his question sort of hit me sideways. I answered: "Let me ask you something, John. Do you have any friends who are not white?"

As far as I knew at that time besides Wayne Howard, Billy Graham and Ron Wilson were the only other black artists in the comics business at that time--but that would soon change. Hey, my artist friends from Detroit didn't trek all the way to Marvel's offices just to say hello! Others would soon follow. And there would be a serious influx of comics talent coming from Detroit, and I don't think anybody was ready for that.

Anyway, by the time I was drawing the Fantastic Four on a regular basis I was in top form--and boy was I totally ready for it! If I wasn't exactly the richest and most well known comic book artist, well I was certainly one of the busiest! I was an FF fan big-time and I couldn't have been more highly motivated. I could hardly believe my good fortune. This was Marvel's top book. Being the Fantastic Four artist gave me a sort of unearned status--and I vowed to live up to this as best I could.

I struggled a bit at first to find a style that was best suited for the book, which finally evolved from a John Buscema look to a more bold and cartoony homage to Jack Kirby. Fans have speculated as to whether I was instructed by editorial at Marvel to do this. The answer is no. It was my idea--and, I thought, what better way to pay tribute and thank the man most responsible for making this happen for me!

It was fun, daring, and adventurous--and it was a perfect opportunity for me to indulge in all the "Kirbyisms" that I did in my fan days, only now I could do it much more convincingly. I remember talking to Roz and Jack Kirby by telephone about that work. I had asked Jack if he were in any way offended, or felt like I was "ripping him off" or imitating him too closely. "No, just the opposite!" he told me. He said he loved it!

Besides paying tribute to a comics master, I really wanted to try to bring back some of that magic from the days when I was a fan and a believer that Fantastic Four truly was "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine."

Ten years or so later I would have the privilege of inking a Jack Kirby cover of The Shield for Archie Adventure/Red Circle while I was managing editor there. That was such a thrill! Other collaborations with comics greats would include John Severin, Wally Wood, Steve Ditko and Alex Toth! But this was my one and only collaboration with Jack Kirby and as a dyed in the wool comic book fan that was very fulfilling.

I'm convinced that it was my new status as the Fantastic Four artist that got me the opportunity to create something new. It seemed to be the opportune time, anyway--like I was uniquely "in the right place at the right time" and had the "ear" of Marvel's Editor In Chief. So I would use that "status" to put across a new concept I was working on, which would eventually become the character Deathlok.

Check back sooner than you expect for Part V, when Rich details the creation of Deathlock!

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! 


JONMANKUTA@aol.com said...

I am REALLY enjoying the heck out of this series...I can't wait until Rich gets to the 1977-79 period over at DC where he was the house cover artist and working with Jack Abel and Al Milgrom...totally my favorite period in comics...! Also the period that I collect original cover art from the most...!

The Seditionist said...

[Blogger permitting, 1 of 2]

Danny, I'm taking this public for a few reasons.

First, I'm disappointed that the fourth part ran with no caveat from you in front of the piece. Following from where we left off: Big-time publishers fact-check or expected to. It's completely unreasonable to expect you to do so. What I would settle for, again, is an up front warning from you that Buckler has -- fact -- a questionable reputation for veracity and therefore the reader must be ready to doubt his version of events -- or, in case of all that plotting with Stan Lee well after Stan quit writing, the event itself.

Running questionable stuff and disclaiming any responsibility for it is wrong. Running it is fine but with a caveat is fine. Running the writing of someone who just muddies up the historical record -- that's not fine.

So I'm taking public because of dissatisfaction with the absence of any corrective to Part 3. Maybe if this gets through as a comment, someone will see it and fill in the gaps, provide corrective information, etc.

Too, you took the issue of Buckler's veracity kind of public with the thread at Timely-Atlas. (FYI: A guy thinking someone who sued him for absolutely no good reason isn't so much bitter as simply just can't forget a gratuitous screwing. That's not bitter. Too, Ted is a mensch. However much benefit of the doubt I'd extend Buckler, I really can't say he's a mensch. Maybe something of a schlemiel or schlimazel, at the end of day.) Amazingly, when you get blowback, as it were, to the piece and, again, Buckler's reputation, you fail to provide a scintilla of anything to support your position.

Too, there's the Janson matter. I can't grasp how Buckler takes pages of art, gives them to an inker without telling Marvel, and next we know, Janson's credited and, I presume, paid. And given more work. How does the latter happen if he got the job as claimed by Buckler (which is not at all to say Buckler didn't have some involvement in Janson getting the gig; I only question the "how" because Buckler's version is a little questionable). I forwarded you Janson's contact info; in response I get a quote from an old interview with Janson that touches on my questions not at all.

The Seditionist said...


Back to my ghost -- and possibly part 5. Yet again, this was a guy who was part of a small posse that included someone you've been championing. The work involved was done during Buckler's lean years, when, for some reason, Dick Giordano became a significant supporter of Buckler -- pretty much a lifeline, at least professionally. (I understand that Buckler may have screwed over Giordano a little bit but clearly the relationship endured -- and the source for the claimed screwing over is not so dependable to me, so I'm just throwing it out, not endorsing it.) So it'll be interesting to see how Buckler handles the time involved, the mid-to-late 70s.

Speaking of which: I'm also curious to see how he references George Perez who got his toe in the door as an assistant or somesuch to Buckler. I'm sure whatever he did for Buckler, it involved more than erasing unlinked pencils.

As to swipes: Actually, I have no problem with Buckler's proven tracings or slavish copying of Kirby on his FF run. It's relatively understandable if questionable. The Kirby run was simply history-making; a tribute like endless swiping is logical after a fashion. Refusing to admit to the proven swipes -- that is, well, it's a psychosis, dishonest.

And you can draw "like" KIrby -- high energy, dynamic -- without tracing. Example: Gene Colan (at least he worked under Shooter). To a lesser degree, John Byrne.

And what does a "homage to Jack Kirby " mean? What's a homage? Tracing? Actually, Kirby, with all his erratic memories, etc., is consistently on the record as discouraging slavish imitation of everything. He always encouraged doing new and different. So I cannot believe that he was so effusively pleased with Buckler's tracings -- you know, doing Xeroxed Kirby instead of "original" Buckler. (Another issue I don't want to touch now; another day, I'm sure.)

Amongst the problems resulting in Buckler's reputation is what appears to a reader as frequently blown deadlines. It can be as simple as a young, ambitious kid in a chaotic environment taking on more commitments than he could meet. But Buckler's denial is not an explanation. For that matter, again as a reader, with one exception, everything he did at Marvel was a short run. I know I'd appreciate an honest explanation instead of self-aggrandizing denial and factual inaccuracy.

A minor quibble -- question, really. I know Marvel and DC, at least, have provided the artists with paper for years -- but did this really go back into the 70s??

For the life of me, I couldn't remember Buckler doing Killraven, but I checked. The GCD credits him with one issue, so I'm wrong on that.

Part 4 again: Don McGregor is well known for art directing the life out of his stories. So all those unusual designs in McGregor/Buckler collaborations: McGregor? Buckler, as he claims? A true collaboration? Given his work with others, I have to give a lot of credit to McGregor. Buckler, on the other hand, is a little contradictory. Clarification would be nice.

I'd love Buckler's versions of the details of his collaborations with Severin, Wood, Toth, and Ditko.

More another time.

Answers, clarifications, etc., from anyone will be appreciated. Bottom line: I'm not saying Buckler's necessarily wrong so much as verifications and corrections are, I think, necessary.

woody0023 said...

Yes, the 70's seem to be the last great period before corporate really took over.