Sunday, June 27, 2010

From The Desk Of Rich Buckler: Part VI - D.C. Comics In The Late '70s

Welcome to Part VI of the life story of Rich Buckler!  Following on from Part V, Rich discusses the creation of one of his most famous creations, Deathlok.  Keep watching this series as there's some exciting news that, once the ducks are all lined up in a row, will thrill a lot of people. 

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.


Before we start I'd like to point out that all of the cover images shown in this post are Rich's own favourite DC covers.  When Rich points out what he loved drawing, well, you can see why people loved those covers then and still love them now.

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

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I put my whole experience with Deathlok at Marvel behind me. Creating something new for mainstream comics was clearly much more complicated than when I created characters for fanzines in my youth. I look back on those times at Marvel now and I am amazed at how much was accomplished with so little resources and creative freedom.

Hard to believe that I was only twenty-five years old and I was editing, writing and drawing my own book. It had been a crazy creative roller coaster ride that opened my eyes to how incredibly naive a young comics creator like me could be. I learned one really hard lesson--that creativity was one thing in publishing, but business always comes first. So it was back to "work for hire" (that is, somebody else writes it, you draw it, and the publisher owns it).

I didn't know one single comics artist in my circle of friends who didn't feel incredibly lucky to be working in the business--including me. So, what do you do when things don't quite go the way you wanted them to? You move on.

It was around 1976 that I came under the wing of D.C.'s art director Vince Colletta. By way of a footnote, let me mention that I never have understood fully the controversy over Vince's inking on Jack Kirby at D.C. I loved that stuff. Maybe I just wasn't privy to the background details, or the politics involved, or whatever. It was my understanding then that Vince was one of Jack Kirby's favorite inkers.

Those days at D.C. were auspicious times and very exciting for me. As D.C.'s art director Vince was always one of my main boosters and he practically adopted me. He was dynamic, straight-talking, a good teacher, a tremendously prolific and vibrant talent and a good friend. He was a rarity in the "business-first" world--a straight-shooter who always--always! --championed other artists.

It was Vince who arranged for me to have some private desk space at D.C.'s offices (this was when the company had an entire floor in one of the buildings at Rockefeller Plaza) so I would be more accessible.

Frankly, I needed a work space of my own away from home and I welcomed the change of environment. Once again I felt the need for a place to work where there would be no domestic distractions and I could be as productive as possible.

As an added bonus, occupying that office/desk space also turned out to mean lots of covers would be come my way from all the various editors (just like it did at Marvel). I was still a wide-eyed youth. If I were on my own, with no guidance, I am sure things would have played out much differently. Vince would ink my work on some of my favorite covers for Wonder Woman, Black Lightning and Superman Family.

Oddly enough, every time I would switch companies I would somehow just miss Jack Kirby in the transition, and I always regretted that. As I was arriving he was leaving. I would sometimes get lucky and be in the unique position of getting to see original Kirby pages when they came in to the office at both companies--but I would rarely get to see Jack in person. In those early years when I was at Marvel, Jack had already left for D.C. Ironically, when I went back over to D.C., Jack had left them and gone back to Marvel.

A bitterly ironic sidebar--file this one under "surreal" and Jungian "synchronicity": I was born on the same day of the month of February as Adam Weishaupt (founder of the Bavarian Illuminati)--and I'm not sure what that means, if anything. But in 1994 Jack Kirby passed away on my birthday. That was for me one hell of a synchronistic shock.

Of the half dozen or so editors I worked for at D.C. there was another very influential figure that comes to mind--Joe Orlando. I recall him taking me off to the side one day and asking me in a hushed voice if I had ever heard about a character at Marvel called Deathlok. Ulp! That was an awkward and uncomfortable moment--did it mean trouble ahead?

I became a bit apprehensive as he continued: "This Deathlok character kind of grabbed my attention, you know, because he looks a lot like John Albano's character Jonah Hex, don't you think?" I thought: "Hmmm... I don't think I like where this is going."

"Maybe somebody trying to rip us off? Do you know the character?" he asked insistently. I winced slightly and said: "Yeah, I do. I created him. And no, he's nothing like Jonah Hex. Rest assured. You've got nothing to worry about, Joe."

"You're sure?" he asked, looking a bit cagey. I nodded a real serious nod. Who would know better than me? Actually, I'm not so sure he was all that seriously concerned about it. He had to have known about my involvement in the creation of Deathlok before he even asked about this. Was he putting me on? Well, he probably was. He sure was passionate about Jonah Hex though.

Of course there was only a superficial resemblance between the two characters, so it was never an issue--not really. I was a bit nonplussed after that encounter because I was both a Jonah Hex fan and a Joe Orlando fan! And I was genuinely thrilled at the prospect of working with Joe.

This man was an E.C. Comics legend whose accomplishments I knew well! He put me at ease a little later, but you know what?--I was still a bit nervous around the "big guys." To give you an idea of the generation gap here, Joe Orlando had started out in the comics business in the year I was born. So, not only was I nowhere near being a "big fish," I was actually more like a mere tadpole.

When the time came to draw some Jonah Hex stories and a few covers for him, well, it seemed like I was back in "comics fan-boy heaven". Hey, I was still in my mid-twenties, still a fan, and still very much a kid—and for me the giants of the comics business would always be giants. Besides, as for genres other than super-hero, the Westerns were probably my favorite (as a matter of fact, Alan Weiss and I have always shared this passion).

As an editor Joe was exacting and precise and always knew what he wanted. Smoking those thin black cigars, he was mild-mannered with a wry sense of humor and a crooked smile which he would put to use whenever he had serious criticism or an important point to deliver.

When he gave me advice I always weighed his words carefully. Knowledge and experience were at work here and I was all ears. I would find out, a little further on, that he and Dick Giordano supposedly had big plans for me.

Joe had also been mentoring another young talent on the comics scene--Jose Garcia-Lopez. When Jose's work first passed through Vince's office I took notice and I was really impressed. His pages were really well-drawn, he did top notch covers, and he seemed to be making the transition style-wise and storytelling-wise to American comics without much of a struggle at all. But there was something vaguely familiar about his covers and design sense that I just couldn't put my finger on at the time.

It was years later at a comic book convention that Jose and I got into a private discussion about those days at D.C.--and Jose admitted to me that when he started at D.C. he really didn't know what he was doing at first (even under Joe Orlando's guidance)--so he had used my work as a guide! Whenever he'd get stuck, he'd ask himself: "What would Rich Buckler do?"

I was immediately hit by the irony of it, because I had been following his work closely then too--and I understood now what had been so familiar about it.

I remember saying to him: "You want to hear something really funny? I remember your first work and I was wondering then who was this guy? He's amazing! How did he get so good so fast?" And then I told him: "I remember thinking: 'This guy Garcia-Lopez is definitely on to something!' And that's when I thought I had better keep a close eye on you and study what YOU were doing!" We both had a good laugh about that.

You know what? Try as I may, I still haven't caught up to Jose's level of drawing skill (or even Alan Weiss's for that matter!).

In those days the work atmosphere at D.C.'s offices was always serenely quiet and ordered--it probably is even more so now. The environment there was nothing like the frenetic activity and hectic pace of Marvel that was so familiar to me. It was like a different world and took some getting used to.

There was no wandering around in the halls or loitering for freelancers. Lots of rules too (and, if you haven't guessed by now, I hate rules!). For example, if you were a visitor you either had an appointment or you were politely asked to leave (which I thought was harsh). Real corporate and efficient, then--a lot like it is at both Marvel and D.C. now.

It was more of a suit-and-tie thing, although the freelancers were always dressed more casually. I remember editor Archie Goodwin and also Len Wein and a few other freelancers were still wearing jeans despite the apparent "dress code".

Being the somewhat quirky and eccentric individual that I was (and still am), I happened to be the only guy with the long-haired "rock-n'-roll look"--so as you can imagine I didn't exactly blend in with the corporate environment. But I was there every weekday from 10 to 6 PM so after a while everybody got used to me.

My work space was conveniently located in a small office across the hall from Vince Colletta's and Julius Schwartz's offices. I packed my own lunch every day so that I didn't have to take a real lunch break--and because I wanted to spend every minute possible pushing a pencil and meeting new people.

I got to meet a lot of fellow professionals--Murphy Anderson, Tex Blaisdell, Ric Estrada, Bill Draut, Nick Cardy, Winslow Mortimer--many of the old school artists. For some reason, I never ran into Curt Swan, who I greatly admired (my very first efforts at drawing comics in my early teens were attempts at copying his beautifully realistic figures).

This was a really satisfying time for me at D.C. I had a great deal of creative freedom, now that I think about it--and I never had to justify anything I drew or fight for that freedom. A lot of responsibility went with that too, but I was up to it. Amazingly, virtually everything that I drew saw print. I illustrated covers and stories for just about every editor at D.C. at one time or another. And, happily, Dick Giordano would continue to ink a lot of my work. For inkers (actually, artists who rendered other artists' work) I had lots of favorites--Bob McLeod, Joe Rubinstein, Klaus Janson, Frank Giacoia--but Dick was by far my favorite inker at D.C.!

I can imagine that to "old timers" like Julius Schwartz I probably seemed like some scrawny rebellious teenager from the sixties with a lot of attitude--but eventually he came to appreciate my creative passion for the comics and ultimately accept my somewhat "fierce individuality."

I never did like the suit and tie look--it always seemed to me to be too much like a uniform. My style of dress has changed since then, of course--but that "fierce individuality" part of my character has never left me after all of these years!

When I first started working for Julie (which is what everybody called him--"Julie", not Julius"), he was just plain tough on me, which I found bewildering at first. Julie was extremely efficient and organized but very demanding. He was a consummate professional, polite enough most of the time but he could also be quite deliberately cranky, I thought (a defence mechanism maybe?).

"What's his problem?" I inquired of Vince, wondering how I could break the ice with Julie. Vince downplayed it a lot and told me, half-jokingly: "He's just old. But he means well. Don't pay any attention." I tried not to.

Julie was really "old school" and he had worked with practically every big name in comics and science-fiction (including Ray Bradbury and Mario Puzo!). He knew his stuff and he wasn't shy about telling you so.

It did nettle me a bit when Julie kept jibing me and mentioning at every opportunity what an "ambitious young upstart" I was (even though I had already completed assignments at D.C. for years). I never got this from anybody at Marvel--ever.

I noticed that from the start Julie was unusually sceptical and kept challenging me. That always kept me on guard. I was used to being able to easily make friends with just about anybody. This guy was going to be a challenge.

I remember my first "interview" with Julie in his office before he had even given me an assignment. How could I forget it? The way it went was more like a confrontation. I came into his office and sat down, not knowing what to expect next and he just got right to the point.

"So," he prodded, looking me straight in the eyes and pointing a foreboding finger at me, "What makes YOU think you can even hope to compete with artists who have been in the business for twenty or thirty years?"

Just like that--BAM!!--like, "who do you think YOU are?!!" And like it was probably meant to completely blow me away. But I was prepared for that one.

"Well," I offered bravely, "Vince Colletta thinks I can. And Dick Giordano. I think I can. Try me. And if I'm not up to it today, I know that I will be tomorrow, or next week or next month. I always finish what I start. And I never give up."

"Good answer!" I thought. As he pondered my words, I wondered: "Where did that come from?" It was uncharacteristically bold of me at the time, but I was nervous and a little bit overly defensive so the words just came tumbling out.

That always has been my point of view, though--that I would constantly improve and evolve as an artist--and throughout my entire career I have never wavered from it. I could see from our first meeting that convincing Julie would not be an easy task and that I was going to have to prove myself.

Another thing about Julie--you could never quite tell if he was putting you on or if he was dead serious due to his quirky sense of humor. So early on I factored that into my assessment of him.

As Vince had told me, Julie was THE D.C. editor to work for, and so I knew one thing for sure--no way was I going to screw things up with him. Also, he kept referring to me as "Buckler," like that was my first name, and I found that particularly annoying. "Can you get Buckler to do it?" or "What's Buckler working on now?" I had to wonder--what was up with that? I'm surrounded by suit and tie types, all of them accepted me and were friendly to me, and all of them knew me as Rich. As Ben Grimm would say, "Sheesh!"

Vince kept trying to cheer me up whenever he would notice how this was bothering me. He would reassure me with: "He's only kidding. He's jerking your chain. Really! He likes you!" I wasn't always so sure.

Another time, on the subject of Superman, Julie called me into his office for a meeting in order to give me some "art direction" for handling the character. That meeting was somewhat more positive.

This was after he had seen some of my work for other editors and he was getting the idea that I could draw and tell a story and also meet deadlines. By this time it was obvious that I was a hard worker and not easily discouraged. He told me he was THE Superman editor, and as such he required that when an artist drew Superman's "S" symbol on his chest and cape it had to be absolutely correct each and every time--or else! "So far," he said, "Curt is the only artist who never screws it up."

He then proceeded to sketch for me a perfect diagram of that "S" symbol--all the while giving me tips on how to "get it right every time". Yes, believe it or not Julie was a technical expert on that subject. Who would have thought? I told Vince about that meeting and he said that Julie only gives that lesson to artists he is considering working with.

Well, I was thankful for that lesson! From that time on I always did get the symbol right! But, aside from a few covers, I didn't start out drawing Superman for Julie--that would come later with the Superman vs. Shazam tabloid and other assignments.

Eventually, as I did more and more work for him, he did begin to warm up to me somewhat (but he never, ever gave me a compliment! That was not his way. It would have meant that he actually liked me!).

Before I got to draw Superman, an opportunity to draw Batman actually came before that courtesy of Vince Colletta (who was the one who talked Julie Schwartz into giving me a try in the first place). Now, I was no young "superstar" in the making at D.C. at the time, mind you--far from it. But it seemed like I was starting to work my way up to bigger assignments.

On this Batman assignment, for some reason, maybe because we always got along so well, Vince had decided to give me my choice of inkers. Such an opportunity was rare in those days. Now, I could have asked for Neal Adams, or Wally Wood, but before I knew it I just blurted out: "Can you get Berni Wrightson?"

I knew Berni since the early fan days and I knew that he always wanted to work on super-heroes--but he never seemed to get any breaks along those lines then because everybody had him pegged as a horror artist. I knew that Berni was very versatile. Everyone thought he was an incredible artist. I loved his sensitive and flowing line work and dramatic use of light and shade--and I thought he would be great on Batman!

Vince had gone out on a limb on this one, I was sure of it--even though he had promised, he would never actually get Berni, and if he did he would never get approval for this. But he got him! One thing I learned early on about Vince and could always count on--he always kept his word.

Regarding the craft side of drawing the comics , I was no expert on drawing materials--I figured to each artist his own. I learned that some artists used special pencils (or blue pencil). Some shaved or trimmed their brushes. Some would even bake their ink in an oven or dilute it with distilled water. Others used modified crow quill nibs and/or mechanical drawing pens.

I was never one to trust the "experts". I always kept it simple. My favorites were a No. 2 secretary pencil, a kneaded eraser, a Windsor Newton No. 2 brush and flexible crow quill pens for inking. But one thing I was always picky about was my choice of paper. I made it my business to know what a good surface to draw on was and what was not, because different types of paper yielded different results.

So when it came to the quality of the paper used by artists to draw their original pages, after my own experimenting and seeking advice from other artists, I seemed to be on solid ground with my complaint that the paper the publishers were supplying then to the artists was just plain inferior. I had noticed back at Marvel this had been a problem too.

I worked with John Romita and Sol Brodsky on this at Marvel, and would later consult at D.C. with Sol Harrison and Vince Colletta about it. What was the problem exactly?

Well, as I mentioned before, the companies would supply the Bristol board (with pre-printed blue line templates) for the artists. But what they were presently using was shoddy and cheap and not really suitable for either pencil or ink work. Ink would bleed, pens would snag, erased portions of the paper would become fatigued--plate finish (smooth) or vellum (rough), it didn't matter. It was all crappy. I guess that over the years it just became a standard and the artists just simply put up with it for years and years.

I thought that the standard paper the comics were printed on was bad enough (about two or three cuts above the grade of standard toilet paper in my estimation). My point was that the stuff we were using at the time to draw our originals on wasn't all that much better.

Eventually, both D.C. and Marvel gave in and ordered new drawing paper that, with my recommendation, was equivalent to Strathmore 2-ply bond (professional standard). After much trial and error and careful testing ("Hey, Rich, what about this one?" "Nah, it's okay for pencil, but lousy for ink" "Too rough" "Too smooth" "Nope, not enough tooth" "This one bleeds like mad" etc., etc.), finally we eliminated the "dross" and the best paper was selected--only this time, things were done with artist input in the decision-making process.

It wasn't rocket science to me. If you improved the paper for the artists to draw on, you improved the quality of the art.

Vince Colletta acted in those days as my liaison to all the D.C. editors. At the office he was "suit and tie" in look, but he was definitely an artist in his attitude and thinking. Vince was no-nonsense, always confident and always professional. He was a real gentleman, always polite--and the way I remember it, when he spoke up people always listened.

"This is Rich Buckler. Keep this guy busy," he would tell editors as he introduced me. "He's good, fast and he's reliable!" And: "Rich, this is the illustrious Joe Kubert. Watch out for that handshake of his--it's a crusher!" It was.

I had worked in my earlier days at D.C. with E. Nelson BridwelI (a virtual human encyclopaedia of comics history, trivia and minutiae). Nelson was Julius Schwartz's assistant editor)--and a good guy to know for getting the details right. For my money, he was the expert on all things Superman.

I did a lot of Wonder Woman covers for editor Larry Hama (who was always a pleasure to work with--"Hey, Rich, I need this cover by two o'clock!"). With Larry there was never a problem. Also down the hall from Julie Schwartz's office there was one of my favorite people to work for--writer and editor Jack C. Harris (who, as a writer, I worked with years later at Archie/Red Circle).

I already knew Paul Levitz who was Story Editor at that time. Paul was now the editorial person who coordinated all script assignments--so he was a good guy to know then, for sure.

He was always pleasant, alert and quick to make a joke (and amazingly he understood my jokes--almost nobody else ever did). Sometimes he would see me looking seemingly very intense like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. "You're so serious, Rich," he would tell me. "Lighten up. Don't forget to have fun!" What he was seeing was a somewhat "serious face" I would wear most of the time--and not because I was always necessarily serious. I couldn't help it--It was just the face I was born with.

Of course nobody at that time even suspected that Paul would go on to become President of D.C.Comics. He was a writer, editor and a comic book fan big-time, and he loved all the D.C. characters, but especially Legion Of Super-Heroes and JLA/JSA. He and I had known each other since the comics fanzine days when I had done artwork for his fanzine "The Comic Reader".

A special project came up one day featuring, of all things, dinosaurs--and Paul offered it to me. It was one of those rare times when he and I seemed to be totally synchronized. I just happened to be totally into dinosaurs! How did he know? Anyway, I jumped at the opportunity to draw the D.C. Special "Danger Dinosaurs At Large!" featuring Captain Comet and Tommy Tomorrow.

It was a clever madcap time-travelling story by Bob Rozakis that raced through time--thirty-four pages of thrills and action and prehistoric monsters! How could this not be fun?

I think this was one of the earliest inking jobs by newcomer Joe Rubinstein. On that book, Joe's rendering over my very tight pencil work was skilful and intense! I thought, "There is not one thing in my penciling that he didn't understand. Boy can this guy draw!" His facility with a pen and brush were, in my opinion, easily a cut above most other inkers I had gotten so far.

That book also featured one of my favorite Green Lantern villains from the old Gil Kane days, Chronos!--and a new muscle-bound humanoid dinosaur villain I got to design named Tyrano Rex! I remember researching the heck out of this one at the picture library and Museum Of Natural History. I think Bob and I managed to cram in just about every species of dinosaur that was cataloged at the time!

I did a lot of covers for Secret Society Of Super-Villains, and a few stories, and that was loads of fun too. Drawing the bad guys was often more fun than drawing the heroes.

And then it was on to other fan favorites of mine, but the biggest challenge would be a 72-page epic scripted by Gerry Conway for a special tabloid collector's edition--Superman Vs. Shazam!

I'm not exactly sure how this assignment came about but as I mentioned before I was getting hints that I was being considered to be the next Superman artist. I guess this project was a sort of grooming for it--maybe. Maybe not. I'm just guessing, now, but that was my take on it at the time. The book turned out to be more like my "trial by fire."

I had never drawn a story of this length before (actually, nobody did, before these tabloid sized projects came along!) and it was going to be the largest comic book I had ever drawn--with the artwork pages drawn up at a slightly larger size than the usual 11" x 17". Was I up for it? Definitely! But seventy-two pages?! That was like the equivalent of four regular books. I don't know how I did it, but I completed that assignment in a little over thirty days.

And what about me as the new Superman artist? What did I think about that? Well, as far as I knew at that time Curt Swan was going strong and nowhere near considering retirement (and either was Julie Schwartz, contrary to the recurring rumors that he might be)--and I wasn't all that sure I wanted to be the guy to replace Curt if he did retire.

When the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve was in production I got to visit the set (courtesy of Thom Sciacca, who was one of Sol Harrison's assistants in D.C.'s production department). We got special passes to visit while they were filming an outdoor scene on a New York street. I was excited about this because now I could get a peek at how movies are done.

I recall being in a jam-packed crowd in front of the "Daily Planet" front entrance (actually a Rockefeller Plaza building, as I recall), and out walks Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. I noticed that Christopher Reeve had a thinner face than I expected, but otherwise I thought that he looked remarkably like the Clark Kent and Superman I had been drawing in the comics. I would have to wait, like everybody else, to see his portrayal as the super-powered man from Krypton when the actual movie came out in the theatres.

The scene began to play. "Quiet on the set!" someone announced. I was spellbound as the actors started talking to each other. Surely something magical was about to happen. I could see the microphone booms overhead and the camera was somewhere nearby but--wait! I couldn't hear any of what they were saying. Were they acting? Were the cameras rolling?

I was a little disappointed. Maybe I was expecting something spectacular, but I didn't see at the time what was the big deal--and it probably would have helped if I had some context for the scene. Then suddenly somebody from somewhere yelled "Cut!" and I knew I had just witnessed an actual piece of cinema being shot--but it didn't feel like I did.

The magic of movies, for sure, was not in the watching as they were making the movie--it was in the watching of the finished movie when it played in the theatre! Drawing comics was what I thought of as doing "movies on paper." This was clearly something else entirely.

On another day at D.C.'s offices around that time, Thom asked me sort of out of the blue if I wanted to meet Andy Warhol. "Um," I said, "not really. Why?" "I know him," he said. "Come on, it'll be fun," he coaxed.

And he took me downtown to SoHo where we came to a ramshackle factory-looking building and we took a cranky old elevator up to see the famous "pop artist" that everybody in the media seemed to be enamoured with. I was never much of a fan of Warhol but I thought this might prove interesting. I had never met a for real famous "fine artist" before.

"Hey, Andy!" Thom shouted as we were escorted inside a monumentally huge work space bustling with activity. It was one giant room full of workers moving like bees shuffling around and preparing canvases and moving things--very factory-like--and they seemed totally oblivious of our presence.

My overall impression was that the "maestro" was not so much creating art as he was manufacturing it. Thom became insistent and waved. "Hey, Andy, it's Thom! Over here."

An androgynous frail man with odd greyish white hair approached us. He looked slightly annoyed. Thom said: "I brought along somebody I thought you might like to meet. This is Rich Buckler. He draws Superman for the comics!"

I smiled, a little embarrassed, and Andy shook my hand, looking totally bored. Actually he had no expression at all. An awkward silence followed, and then he just turned about face and walked away to go back to work. That was it? Not even a "Charmed," or "Pleased to meet you," or "Sorry, I'm very busy, this is a bad time for a visit."

Obviously, I muttered to Thom as we quietly left, he's not a big comic book fan. So, he was unimpressed with me. I was unimpressed with him. Okay, I thought, life continues. Not a big deal.

The so called D.C. Explosion was occurring during this time and with the stepped-up production I would often be doing two or three covers a day. That was when I started billing for the "cover idea" or "cover sketch".

I'm not sure if I was the first one to insist on this, but it seemed to me that the actual conception of a cover (the idea and design) was a separate stage from drawing the actual cover. I cleared this through Vince and Dick (who agreed with me) and it became standard procedure from then on.

Prior to that time, artists were only paid for the actual drawing. Sometimes I would be given another artist's sketch to work from (Ross Andru a few times), but I never liked working that way. It was always more fun to come up with my own ideas and designs.

How covers were done at D.C. was not much different than at Marvel (although at Marvel, because of deadline pressures, or because the interior pages weren't available yet, the scene on the cover would sometimes bear little or no resemblance to the story). Usually the covers were in production a little ahead of the story material.

To give you an idea of what was involved: The artist would be given some photocopied story pages and was expected to come up with a scene or composition that summarized the story or put across visually a highly dramatic moment or situation (without actually giving away the story).

Not as easy as it sounds. And not everybody could do it fast and do it well. My personal favorites for covers were Carmine Infantino, Ross Andru and Jose Garcia-Lopez.

Speaking of Carmine--another giant, to be sure--back in my days before "going pro" Carmine had actually generously given me some lessons by mail. I was eighteen or nineteen at that time and still living in Detroit. I penciled some sample pages and sent them to him and he replied by postal service with tracing sheet overlays on my art pages and an extensive written critique!

Back to covers for D.C. So, for each "cover idea" I started to bill $50 for each cover concept sketch (which had to be approved by the editor) before I went on to draw the actual cover. That was "standard procedure" now (as I said before)--so no problem, right?

Not so for everybody. I remember I did a couple of cover sketches for Julie Schwartz one time and, as he was sometimes wont to do--and I never knew when the mood would strike him--he decided to "bust my chops" a bit.

Deadlines could be pretty tight, even at D.C., and Julie needed these two covers that same day. So I took the photocopies he gave me to work with and went to back to my work space and got down to business. Ten minutes later I had two sketches which I then presented to him. "Wow," he smirked, "what took you so long?"

So far, so good. He looked them over and said he liked them. Then he suggested, "What if...?" And asked me to do some alternate versions. I said that was okay, no problem--but that I would be billing for those sketches too

"What?!" he exclaimed. "None of our other artists charge for alternate sketches!" "Well," I said, "they should." And he countered with: "If I'm not mistaken, you just spent ten minutes coming up with these two sketches, and you made $100. That's ten dollars a minute!"

I came back with: "If you think that I might be trying to take advantage, that's not the case here. In this process the artist is not being paid for his drawing but for the quality of his thought." For me, this was about respect for the artist and what was fair.

Now with Julie, if you had an argument with him you could walk away and never quite be sure exactly who had won it--but it was probably him. Anyhow, it didn't much matter because after that he never did bring up the cover subject again. I loved working for him, I got to draw Superman quite a bit, and he always got first rate covers from me--and they were always on time!

At D.C. Superman was of course frequently the topic of discussion. With the new movie coming out I thought there would undoubtedly be a comic book adaptation. There were some plans for doing this. I remember that at one point Vince Colletta told me I was being considered as the artist for it.

The actual deal, to everyone's dismay, fell through because of endless complications with contract details involving use of the actual likenesses of the actors. What they settled for was a tabloid photo souvenir book that showed how the movie was made. Too bad. I excelled in getting likenesses of real people. And I loved just about everything they did with the movie and I thought it would have made one heck of a comic book.

I was getting steady work and my career as a professional was really taking off at this point--or appeared to be. I wasn't getting wealthy but I was making a living and getting a lot of attention from both major publishers. But I always assessed my status as somewhat tenuous.

I suspected that if and when an artist was considered "hot stuff"--well, my take on it was that the fame had more to do with the character or project being worked on, and did not depend so much on who the artist was. Realistically, you could be hot this week, and not the next.

Maybe I should have had a plan, I don't know. Thinking back now on those years, maybe I was hopelessly immature (no, actually I probably was!) and I was more than a little obsessed (I thought of it as "focus and determination"), but I just didn't pay much attention to that side of things--and I wouldn't pay it any mind for quite some time afterward. My attention was always on the work at hand, not what might be coming my way later.

Actually, I was (as I said before) just living my dream. I was doing one assignment after another--joyously!--never sure what would come next. It was all very dream-like. For the most part career-wise I wasn't following a plan so much as I was just making things up as I went along (which, when you really think about it, is what most people are really doing anyway).

I'm a little more practical these days, but I still do think like a surrealist. For me, "reality" is overrated, the world does not work the way one would expect, and things rarely are what they appear to be. Just when you think everything is under control, it isn't. Never trust experts. Don't confuse me with the facts. The camera always lies. Always expect the unexpected.

I'm always wary of allowing my thinking to fall into "ruts" or to the tendencies of solipsism. Anyhow, those are just a few of my "pseudo-axioms" (or is it "oxymorons"?) that have helped me occasionally to deal with "reality" (which is, you know, the stuff that happens to you after you've made other plans).

So, despite my creative difficulties at Marvel, I would eventually start to get an itch for creating something new or at least doing a big project that I could really throw myself into. Nobody had a clue what I wanted--including me. But I knew what I didn't want. I didn't want to draw The Flash forever. Or Star-Hunters. I didn't want to be drawing any one title forever.

I was too restless--and besides, it would literally drive me nuts to have to draw the same thing over and over for years and years! I knew that just wasn't in my genetic make-up, so to speak. That's when I realized that being the new Superman artist was not something I looked forward to--or even wanted to happen (sorry, Vince!).

Eventually the "D.C. implosion" would happen and things would slow down quite a bit. A lot of artists got axed, but I was somehow spared. There would still be plenty of D.C. characters for me to draw, and I figured that as long as the assignments kept coming and there were always lots of new challenges to meet, I would be happy. And things stayed busy for some time--in fact, it was more than enough to make a normal artist dizzy!

Did I say "normal" artist? Now there's a conundrum if there ever was one! I'm fond of saying that I have been accused of a lot of things but being "normal" was never one of them.

Think about it. What's normal about spending most of your waking hours, day in and day out, alone at a drawing board--drawing away with no real promise of any reward beyond earning enough money so that you can afford to keep on doing it? Surrealist, maybe. Obsessed? Probably. "Normal" though has nothing to do with it.

I would go on to draw Justice League, Superman and Shazam in D.C. Presents and Superman and Batman in World's Finest Comics, Hawkman, New Gods, Legion Of Super-Heroes, Challengers Of The Unknown, and so on.

For anybody trying to keep track, by that time I had already drawn just about every character at Marvel. It wouldn't be long before I would do the same at D.C. Occasionally I would jump back over to Marvel on something--I did that a lot, back and forth, back and forth. Was I a Marvel guy or a D.C. guy? Well, happily, I was both!

I was always up for just about anything, drawing away and honing my craft and just biding my time until something significant would come along. And come along it did when the 80's rolled around, in the shape and form of All-Star Squadron.

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Check back sooner than you expect for Part VI, when Rich moves further into his life and into the '80s!

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!

2 comments:

Booksteve said...

Great stuff as always. I've been reading quite a bit of late seventies DC lately and this fills in a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff that makes it all the more interesting to revisit.

Simon said...

This is all great stuff and I'm really enjoying reading it. I admire Rich and his art and I can't wait to read more and more about his career.