Wednesday, September 15, 2010

From The Desk Of Rich Buckler: Part VII

Welcome to Part VII of the life story of Rich Buckler!  Following on from Part VI, 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.


Comics fans might be under the mistaken notion that freelance comics artists could always pick and choose their assignments. I know that's what I always thought, before I joined the professional ranks. If you ask around to just about any veteran freelance comics artist they will tell you the same thing I am about to do. You didn't get to "pick and choose" -- if that were ever the actual case, in my experience, it was an exception rather than the rule.

Opportunities to create something new and original for the big companies have always been few and far between.

My assignments for the most part were always chosen for me (that's why they were called assignments). Sure I had the option of turning down work -- but in those days I don't know anyone drawing the comics for a living who could afford to do that.

Once in a while a project would come along that I especially enjoyed and could really throw myself into. Almost always, though, the work was temporary, and that took some getting used to at first.

Often just when I would get something going with a series I could really creatively sink my teeth into I would be pulled off that for something else. Gradually I came to accept that what I was doing was "art" to me, but not necessarily to everyone else.

It sure took me a while to reach that conclusion! So, am I the only artist in comics who realized that for the comics, artists were not producing "art" per se, but rather "commercial art?" Actually, probably not. Again, ask around. Most comics artists do know it but rarely discuss that aspect of it. Comics fans, by and large, do not realize this.

From the publisher's point of view, that was the reality -- it always has been, and probably always will be. Except for the precious few "creator owned" books (not a lot of those around these days). There is not much that is "literary" about it -- at least, not in terms of how the comic books are run as a business. It's the entertainment business, folks! The emphasis on the foregoing statement is "business." I still wonder though how a corporation can be considered an "author" -- but legally, I suppose that it makes some kind of sense.

All of the astounding creativity and skill notwithstanding, comics were and are always considered product. Are they more than that? Of course! But first and foremost they are created in order to make money. While the talented and highly skilled people that create the comics make thousands, the companies make millions. That's how it's always been.

That realization always clashed with the comic book fan within me and it would be a source of not inconsiderable frustration from time to time. Overall, though, the good experiences I had did tend to outweigh the bad.

There were short periods at both D.C. and Marvel where I worked under contract (guaranteed regular work, but you worked exclusively for one company, and you had to always meet a work quota) -- but for the better part of my forty some years in the comics business I was an "independent contractor." That always meant, to me anyway, that I could always exercise the freedom to go where I wanted to go and work for whoever I wanted to.

In the seventies, I was one of the few artists who moved around quite a bit -- sometimes working for Marvel and D.C. and/or "independents" at the same time. It was "touch and go" a lot of times, because the companies would always frown upon this practice. This was, of course, all about control and an attempt to monopolize talent.

Just to assert myself, I would often draw Marvel jobs on D.C. paper, and vice versa. In a kind of perverted way I thought I was being funny, but I found that the companies didn't have any sense of humor about that kind of thing.

Also, I found that if you were not under contract and not on staff that still did not mean that you were immune to office politics, occasional power plays, and the vagaries of egotistic or bullying editors (and sometimes fellow freelancers who could be worse!). Certain editors were downright villains when it came to this kind of thing!

To give you some idea of this, I recall there was one instance after I had been working for a few years at D.C., where one of the assistant editors came up to me with a somewhat candid and surprising apology.

I didn't actually know who he was before he introduced himself to me. He told me that he actually had hated me personally for a long time, and now came to realize that I was an okay guy. It was for some stupid reason he couldn't even remember that he used to feel that way, but now he just wanted to say he was sorry about it and sorry for any damage he might have done to me.

Imagine that? Hating someone for absolutely no good reason? This was an entirely new concept to me. Maybe he was envious, under a lot of stress, or suffered from an exaggerated sense of importance or low self-esteem -- who knows really? I accepted the apology -- no hard feelings, of course. But it made me aware, from that moment on that nobody was immune to this kind of nonsense -- and it does occur in this business more often than you would expect (and I thought that kind of thing was left far behind me back in my grade school days!).

There was another instance in the late seventies where I was so hated by one of D.C.'s top writers (and his inker partner) that what should have been a petty squabble turned into an "us or him" situation. It was so cut-throat that this writer and inker put it to Paul Levitz like this: "Either Rich goes or we do."

Now, I'm one of those people that doesn't take crap from anybody -- I don't mean that like it's some nasty attitude I carry around (I don't) -- it's just part of what makes me who I am, and by that time this was no secret to people I worked with. I wouldn't take anybody's crap, but neither did I give it out. I just kept to myself at all times and stayed focused on my work. So this whole thing sort of hit me sideways.

What had happened was that this particular writer was given a space to work in and it happened to be in the same spare office at D.C. that I occupied. He couldn't concentrate and with some visible anxiety he put it to me like this: he found it impossible to work because my constant pencil sharpening (I had an electric sharpener then) was annoying him. Sound a bit ridiculous? I thought so. In no uncertain terms he then indicated that this situation was intolerable. Apparently, just my presence there was not even acceptable. Where was that coming from?

I have to admit, I was not all that accommodating when I told him: "Interesting. I hear your typewriter clacking away continually and I'm not having any trouble concentrating all." Come on, I thought, we were both grown ups, right? Either he had to somehow deal with it or he could find another space to work in -- so no big deal, right? As far as I was concerned that was the end of the matter and I went back to my drawing.

Paul Levitz, who was Editorial Coordinator at that time, called me into his office on this shortly after that little spate and he told me about this "prima donna" creative team's ultimatum. He said, matter-of-factly: "Their position is, either I fire you, or they leave. What do you think about that?"

I said: "Well, I don't have anything against them, or anybody for that matter. You know me. I don't want any trouble. I just do my work. And I'm not going to tell you how to do your job, or tell you who should be working here and who shouldn't." And with that, I left the matter in Paul's hands.

Shortly afterward, both of my "sworn enemies" left D.C. I never did find out what had inspired such enormous hatred. In this business (the entertainment business, really -- and it is much like Hollywood), there are creative people of all kinds. Most of them are wonderful to work with -- but some of them have difficult personalities and monstrously huge egos. I have already recounted some of my difficulties with Deathlok on the editorial side. So it should come as no surprise to comics fans that behind-the-scenes nonsense like I just described does actually happen a lot in comics.

For the most part, up to that time I had a point of view that was still very much a wide-eyed comic book fan way of seeing the business (I know better now). I knew how lucky I was to even be in the business! It was unnatural for me even to view any other working professionals as competitors -- especially considering that the industry was so small and there always seemed to be enough work for everybody.

So, along the way, I would help a few others to get started, like George Perez, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Mark Texiera, Denys Cowan, Lou Manna, Willie Blyberg, Jackson Guice, Klaus Janson, Carlos Garzon, Ricardo Villagran and Eduardo Barretto -- and of course, my friends from Detroit, Arvell Jones and Keith Pollard.

I figured, why not? Other industry stalwarts like Neal Adams, Dick Giordano and Jack Kirby had used their influence to open doors for me and other young upstarts. I was just continuing that tradition and giving something back.

Who were the editors that I most enjoyed working with back in those days? At D.C., I fondly remember Julie Schwartz, Jack C. Harris, Archie Goodwin (at both D.C. and Marvel), Paul Kupperberg, Dick Giordano, Joe Orlando, Paul Levitz, Ross Andru, Denny O'Neil, Mike Barr, and Larry Hama. At Marvel it was Al Milgrom, Mark Gruenwald, Jim Shooter, Jim Owsley, Gerry Conway, Ralph Macchio, Mike Rockwitz, Tony Isabella, Jim Salicrup and Roy Thomas.

Who were my least favorites? Well, they know who they are.

Now, on to discussing the craft of the comic book artist. I have a few observations I would like to make. By the late seventies I had already drawn over a thousand comic book pages and tens of thousands of figures. That is pretty amazing, considering how close to a "realistic" look some comics artists (me included) could get without ever drawing from models or photographs. It was still cartooning but in terms of "realism" and detail it was far more sophisticated than almost anything from the generation before.

The "realistic" look prior to that had always been more common with newspaper "adventure" strip artists (and they generally did it better than comic book artists). To be fair, though, comics artists by and large didn't have the resources that the newspaper strip artists did anyway, so it is somewhat of an anomaly that this direction in comic books even ever happened.

For me, and most comics artists before me, there was no hiring of models to draw from (who could afford it?), and very little if any sketching from life. So comics artists, in general, tended to always draw figures using a style or technique that they learned by practical problem solving, studying photographs, and for most of them looking mostly at comics drawn by other comics artists. I am no exception -- when I started out that is exactly what I did.

Another frequently used way comics artists would generate figures would be to build up a drawing from shapes and forms -- a very geometric approach (Gil Kane's very dimensional figure work is a good example) -- or artists might work up finished versions of "gesture drawings" (sort of like "doodling", where you just let the pencil fly at first and get a more or less spontaneous action figure).

But for me, most of the time it came down to observation from life, memory and guesswork and sort of "making it up from scratch" and most of it (in my early years)was drawn directly on the original comics page. Whatever looked "realistic" was, for the most part, a "best guess." My work improved greatly when I started using photo reference for buildings, cars, etc. (you know, all the stuff that's not really fun to draw but has to be there to depict the world your characters live in).

After my first few years as a working professional I started doing detailed layouts on separate paper at a smaller size, which is how Neal Adams works, and I still do this to this day.

In terms of getting consistent artistic results, the common and limited approach to figure drawing for comic book artists could be both good and bad. The bad part was that most comics artists would tend to draw the same things the same way, over and over, and never develop or take things to the next level (due mostly to not enough observations from life).

I recall that somebody at D.C. Comics, realizing this, actually set up some free "life drawing" sessions after business hours at the D.C. offices that were offered to their freelance artists. I seem to remember that it was Joe Kubert who initiated this, but I'm not sure. It seems like the kind of thing he would do.

Anyway, I thought that was a great idea. I was always interested in pursuing ways to develop "realism" in my drawing -- particularly with the human figure. D.C. was footing the bill for an opportunity to draw utilizing nude models (both male and female), and the price was right -- no charge! But, while it was a worthwhile and forward-thinking project, it wasn't too successful.

I remember that when I got there I saw that only four or five other artists had showed up, besides me, and I thought "Wow, this is a very poor turnout. I wonder why?" Probably, now that I think about it, this wasn't due to laziness or lack of interest -- more likely it was because of the crunching deadlines!

Among those who did attend, none of the participating artists seemed to really know what they were doing -- with the exception of me, Joe Rubinstein (who was always really good) and Joe Kubert. But I think Joe Kubert was just there to spur things along.

So we were all drawing away for an hour or two and at one point I got curious and checked out what some of the other artists were drawing. Mostly they were getting poor results and falling back on cartooning tricks, and I saw that they were making the mistake of looking too much at their drawings and not enough at the model in front of them. I had learned early on, from portrait drawing that you have to study the subject and spend more time and effort observing your subject than doing the actual drawing.

It brought back memories of my high school days when I had first learned how to properly draw from models (and they weren't entirely unclothed then) -- but my drawing results back then had been crude and awkward. The models we had at D.C. did an excellent job and were very professional.

What we needed, though -- and didn't have -- was a good teacher to guide us along. Okay, this was only practice -- but it is possible to waste a lot of time practicing the wrong way (that is where a good teacher comes in, to correct you if you veer off in a wrong direction or get snagged and are just struggling along).

Well, I couldn't help noticing that my drawing efforts and Joe Rubinstein's looked nothing like comic book cartooning -- which was how it was supposed to be -- and we were both totally into it. But Joe and I were a little surprised that Kubert's drawing wasn't all that much different from his comic book cartooning. In hindsight, I think he was just rushing through it and was there mostly for show and to oversee the project (and I don't think Kubert really was in need of the practice anyway).

This was a great experience, but unfortunately the classes were discontinued shortly after that.

A good practice for me, prior to breaking into the comics professionally, was drawing all of the basic geometric shapes without the use of templates or straight edge. After doing this a few hundred times it gets memorized and then becomes second nature. Nothing in life is flat. Everything has dimension, weight, volume and texture -- so should the drawing. This also helped to get "beyond line work". What I mean by that is that the actual drawing obviously requires using lines, but the lines are not everything! -- The conceptual part really requires visualizing the shapes and forms first.

For me, there were always other influences besides comics. Some had a direct impact upon my work, and some were more subtle. Movies, of course, had a huge impact and they still do. Of course, illustration and even advertising art and fine art, but also cartoon and film animation (love those Ray Harryhausen movies!).

Another source of inspiration for me has always been Surrealism. I have used a sort of "alchemical" process to generate ideas (reconciliation of opposites) for drawing, writing and painting -- and alchemy and Surrealism have a lot in common (exploring the sub-conscious mind, dreams, psychedelia, etc). Over the years, Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, Andre Masson and Max Ernst have been my favorites.

Many fans see a "psychedelic" influence in my run on the original Deathlok series in Astonishing Tales and in some of my cover work, and they're right in a way -- but the source was not drugs, but rather surrealism. I can't speak for Doug Moench (who is very surreal in his writing), my writing partner and co-creator, but I never ingested anything mind-altering, ever. My imagination was always more than enough!

Another big influence on me that can't be discounted is music. During the creation of Deathlok, particularly, I was immersed in rock music, mostly from the late sixties/early seventies -- and, well, I guess that was "mind altering" to some extent. The use of those colorful story titles in Astonishing Tales from The Doors and David Bowie were allusions to the artistic influence of my favorite bands of that time. More recently, for painting, classical music would always just "take me there."

Also, let's not forget the "fine artists" -- the so-called masters. I've studied hundreds of art books on the "masters," visited many a museum (and later in life, museums all over Europe, Russia and Israel) -- studying paintings and sculptures. Other important influences (which I have rarely, if ever, mentioned) on my work are lifelong studies in mythology and comparative religion, and most of Carl Jung's studies on alchemy, symbolism and dreams, and numerous works by Jung and Sufi authors dealing with spiritual self-development.

While I worked mostly for D.C. Comics and Marvel over the years, once in a while opportunities would arise from other related fields. That was the case when, some time in 1977 at D.C.'s offices, I found out through letterer Ben Oda that the newspaper strip writer/artist Dan Barry was looking for an art assistant or ghost penciler for Flash Gordon.

Bear with me please while I make a few comments about letterers, while I am on the subject. Besides Ben, I knew a lot of the letterers for the comics: Gaspar Saladino, John Workman, Todd Klein (love those logos!) and John Costanza at D.C., as well as Marvel Comics letterers Tom Orzechowski (hey, another guy from Detroit!), Annette Kawecki, Linda Lessman, Jim Novak, Joe Rosen, and Irv Watanabe.

I always felt that letterers (calligraphers, really) were the unsung heroes of the collaborative art of comic books (along with colorists). Nowadays, unfortunately, their job is done by computer (I prefer the hand crafted stuff). My own personal favorites were Todd Klein, Annette Kawecki and Tom Orzechowski. A good letterer was essential. Though vastly under appreciated, the best letterers always helped make an artist's work sing!

Ben Oda was one of the very best, and his lettering graced many of my earliest works. He was a legendary letterer for comic books and also did lettering for many of the big name newspaper strip artists (including Dan's Flash Gordon, Sy Barry's The Phantom and Leonard Starr's On Stage). Ben was always gracious and fun to talk to. He gave me Dan's contact information and urged me to give him a call. I couldn't resist trying out for this.

I remember meeting up with Dan Barry at an Upper East Side Irish bar in Manhattan. You couldn't picture a more unlikely pair. We're sitting at the bar, with me looking like an out of work rock musician or maybe a starving young actor, drinking a Coca Cola and Dan looking more like a regular customer nursing a scotch on the rocks.

It was dark, noisy and the place smelled to me like somebody or some creature had died there, so I wasn't exactly comfortable in those surroundings (for me there was no such thing as a "friendly bar"). Somehow I was strangely calm and confident. It was another surreal moment that I would never forget.

Here I was being interviewed by a legendary newspaper cartoonist and comic book artist, and my only experience with newspaper strips was the one week of dailies I drew for Al Williamson on Secret Agent Corrigan. I guess that took some brass.

What made me think I was actually qualified for this I have no clue. But my luck was running because Ben's recommendation apparently had carried a lot of weight and as it turned out Dan had checked out my comic book work and was satisfied with my drawing skills and ability to meet deadlines. We got along fine from the start -- so he hired me.

What he had in mind was to get ahead a few months on the Flash Gordon strip to decently push back the deadline. The work would be temporary, it was understood -- though I ended up drawing daily strips for him for almost six months.

At first I worked from Dan's rough layouts (which were very rough sketches, almost diagrams). I advanced to just pencilling the entire strip on pre-lettered templates on Bristol with the panel borders already inked in, which were accompanied by written instructions. No layouts. This was scary and very intimidating at first. But I quickly got into the swing of things. Initially I had thought there would be a whole lot more to it in terms of drawing and getting things right for that medium -- but hey, what did I know? In newspaper strip art, "less is more" is the rule of thumb.

Once again I was expected to know what I was doing (otherwise I would not have been hired) -- but this time, more or less, I did -- at least in terms of knowing Flash Gordon and knowing how to tell a story in pictures. I didn't always know what Dan actually wanted and he didn't tell me either -- he was a man of few words. He just gave me a handful of proofs of previous dailies he had drawn, so I based some of what I did on that and the rest was pure guess work.

At times I got carried away and exaggerated a little more than Dan cared for. I was to learn by trial and error that comic book illustration and newspaper cartooning were two entirely different disciplines. Also, I had a tendency to draw more detail than was needed. In newspaper strips it was necessary to tell the story in a much simpler and more direct manner than comic books.

I would always try to liven things up a bit by adding dramatic gestures and body movements and I would move my "camera" around a lot. I did this quite a bit on Flash Gordon, but every now and then Dan would have to reign me in a bit.

As the work went along, Dan would take the artwork I gave him and ink what I drew at his home studio (I did my part of it at my home). Often he would make changes to the faces and sometimes refine some of the figures (the ones that he felt were too "comic book-like"), but overall he was pleased with the result.

I would learn later that some of the work I was pencilling was passed on to assistant Bob Fugitani, an excellent artist who could do a pretty fair version of Dan's inking style on some of the strips. I'm guessing here, but probably as far as Bob knew, my pencil work probably looked to him like something Dan was experimenting with -- I don't know, really, because I never met any of the other people Dan worked with besides Ben Oda.

Well, as you can imagine, I was having the time of my life! I was drawing FLASH GORDON!!! That was another thing to write home about! And I was learning, little by little, the art of cartooning for newspaper strips from a master of the art.

Did I envision a burgeoning career for me as a newspaper cartoonist on the horizon? Not really. I have to admit, though, that there were occasional moments when I had entertained the thought. But comic books were always my first love. The experience I had gained was priceless.

When we did finally succeed in getting far enough ahead, it turned out that Dan thought highly enough of me and my work to recommend me to his brother Seymour Barry. I could not believe my luck.

So, after making a trek to Long Island where Sy Barry lived, he interviewed me and I got the gig to "ghost pencil" The Phantom (also one of my all-time favorites!). This was also meant to be temporary, but after I passed a short probationary period it went on to last a little over a year, somewhere between 1978 and 1979.

Working for Sy, though, turned out to be different and much more demanding than working for his brother Dan, both time-wise and drawing-wise. It was a bit of a tug-of-war at times, too, with Sy. He knew exactly what he wanted -- and didn't want -- and my "comic book chops" would sometimes not be welcomed at all. I got clobbered more than once. But I was a quick study and overall things went smoothly.

The Phantom strip was also one more job where my skill and knowledge of animal drawing was a definite advantage -- actually it was essential! -- but all the jungle and animal stuff required putting in more time and research than I was used to (and Sy was a stickler for accuracy and "realism").

I was pencilling dailies and Sunday pages for the Phantom and commuting to Long Island once a week to Sy's home to pick up and deliver work -- plus I was still drawing my comic book assignments (whew!) -- but to me all the extra work was worth it. It was amazing that I could handle all the stress!

If not for being willing to work anonymously I would never have gotten a chance otherwise to draw either Flash Gordon or the Phantom -- which were two iconic heroes that I had loved since I was a child. Plus I learned a great deal working with two absolute masters of the comics medium. That definitely made both experiences worthwhile!

I would return again to newspaper strip work in 1979 with the Incredible Hulk for Marvel, which came by way of Stan Lee's brother Larry Lieber (and I will get to that experience a little farther along).

I guess this would be a good time to mention that, for the record, I was never one of the members of "Crusty Bunkers" (a collective pseudonym for a group of artists who did a lot of uncredited inking and art chores for Neal Adams at Continuity). I wouldn't be ashamed to have been one -- I just wasn't.

I knew most of the "ghost artists" involved in the Crusty Bunkers -- they were all young guns like me, many of them were my friends, and we all looked up to Neal. I first heard about this "drawing and inking factory" from Alan Weiss, and besides himself it consisted of Howard Chaykin, Jim Starlin, Bob McLeod, Sal Amendola, Joe Rubinstein, Mike Nasser, Larry Hama, Frank Brunner, Ralph Reese, Berni Wrightson, Mike Kaluta and -- well, actually there were so many we don't have room here to list them all.

Anyhow, I was more of a "lone gun for hire" and always too busy with my own assignments to participate. At this point I was working as a full-time professional, ten to twelve hours a day. I didn't "hang out" much at all, and I did most of my networking with other professionals I worked with (writers, artists and letterers) by phone or during office visits to the companies. I wasn't being snobby or anything like that -- with being married and raising two kids I just never got around to "hanging out" with anybody very much.

My work for various publishers would overlap in terms of time (because I was a freelancer, and I skipped around a lot). So there were a few years while I was at D.C. where I did a lot of commercial comic art for Dick Giordano too -- and, as I recall, this was around the time Dick had left Continuity Associates and formed his own company, Dik-Art.

There had been a few stories I had pencilled for Dick in his earlier days at Continuity (back in 1975), and I continued to do jobs for him years later when I would commute to his art studio in Stamford, Connecticut.

The bulk of the work I did for Dick was comics and covers for Power Records and Peter Pan Records (which were actually the same outfit). I even designed their main logo, which was used at one point in the upper left corner of all of their products.

Roy Thomas & Dick Giordano at a 1970s Covention
Dick had requested from me a style that had a Neal Adams look to it, which he knew I was capable of doing (even though by that time I was honing my drawing skills and fleshing out what would become my "D.C. style" and my "Marvel style"). So, I thought, okay. I'm a big-time fan of Neal Adams, so why not?

This decision about style for the record album art was for commercial reasons, I assumed -- but maybe it was because it was what Dick was used to inking or what he actually preferred to work on -- I don't know, because I didn't bother to ask. But in working this way, was it really, as some might assert, an "easy way out"?

Here is my take on that. Anybody who has the notion that drawing comics is easy is surely mistaken. It is difficult enough drawing in your own style. Drawing in a style that is not your own has its own set of problems and is at least twice as difficult.

Any artist who draws comics for a living knows that being a professional comics artist requires drawing on demand, for a periodical, within a deadline. The industry just did not tolerate "prima donnas", mavericks or "innovators" then (with very few exceptions). Even if you were allowed to experiment a bit, there was usually very little "wiggle room."

There are no two ways about it, really -- this is a highly skilled and very demanding profession. Most artists outside of the profession can't even do it! Besides, my guess is most of them, even if they were capable of comic book cartooning, wouldn't even go anywhere near a profession where the pay was so low and the deadlines so demanding.

To give you an idea of the kind of pay an artist could expect back then -- I remember that my first assignment for King Features (a back-up story in Flash Gordon), for a pencilled, inked and lettered page, was $18.00! The Warren stories paid $25-$35 per page, as did most of my early 70's non-super-hero work for D.C. and Marvel.

Everything had really oppressive deadlines, there were the rigorous and long work hours where everything had to be drawn fast and drawn well (not just figures!), and you were competing creatively with other artists who were both older and seasoned and who were sometimes brilliant at it!

Think about it. Comics artists who broke in at this time actually had to "learn by doing" -- and that was it. There was a very narrow margin for making mistakes, but you had to always be competent -- and there was never an allowance for screwing up! I'm not saying a comic book artist has to be made of the stuff of genius, but I am pointing out how difficult and very highly specialized the work is.

So I'm wondering what part of it was ever easy? I never worked on any given project out of laziness or did things in a certain way because of a lack of drawing know how (never been lazy, and I'm always trying to figure out how). And believe me; drawing in another artist's style is never "taking the easy way out." On this work for Dick I sweated to get the look he wanted and he was very pleased with what I had turned out for him.

On that same subject of drawing in other artists' styles, I think comics fans for the most part don't really think that I was ever trying to pass off my work as a "second Neal Adams" (I wasn't -- one Neal Adams is enough, in my opinion -- and thank God we have that one!). The same goes for my "Kirbyesque" phase. And drawing like Neal was never meant to show off my "drawing chops" or that I thought I was as good as Neal -- or better (which I'm not). It was never like that. I just don't think in those terms.

The only artist that I ever considered competing against was myself! In fact throughout my entire career I would constantly monitor my own progress and be my own harshest critic -- If I wasn't constantly improving then I was definitely doing something wrong! But at the same time, I have a tremendous love of comics and I do like to have fun too.

In the comics back then there have been other artists besides me who were inspired by and could emulate Neal Adams' drawing style -- Bill Sienkiewicz, Michael Netzer and Tom Grindberg come to mind (three of my favorites, actually!) and each of those guys just rocked! Over the years some artists have gotten a "bad rap" for doing that kind of thing, while others managed to emerge unscathed. Each of those outstanding comics artists I just mentioned have managed to transcend their influences and come into their own.

Actually, there have been dozens of other artist besides those I just mentioned, and many of them went on to become fan favorites. Besides Neal's influence, which was considerable, there have been many other comics artists who have inspired me over the years.

If you go back to my earliest black & white horror/science-fiction work you will see unmistakable influences of Wally Wood, Al Williamson and Angelo Torres. Every time I imitated another artist I would try to assimilate something useful from the exercise, have some fun with it, and then I would move on. There are noticeably huge stylistic differences in my work of the 70's, 80's and 90's and 2000's. I never stayed with doing things a certain way for very long.

Anyway, in my formative years much of what I did was experimental for me. Those were exciting days when I was exploring all kinds of artistic pathways, and the challenge to draw more "realistically" and attempt to transcend the usual "cartoony" way of doing things was very appealing. I feel compelled to mention again that there was no school at that time where you could learn the craft of comics -- no Joe Kubert school, nothing! The closest thing to a school then was Neal Adams' Continuity. I loved the "realistic approach" and Neal Adams seemed to be showing everybody how that could be done.

I can't speak for Neal about how he felt about my artwork in terms of my being a student of his approach at that time. I never asked him about it, and he has never brought this up in conversation.

I can speak for myself, though, and state unequivocally that as an artist I still hold Neal Adams in very high regard. And besides that, back in the days, he was one of the first professional artists who believed in me and that I had talent and he is still a source of encouragement. Also, I know that every time I have ever gone to Neal for advice or help he has always been there for me.

So, back to Dik-Art -- I was on familiar ground with Wonder Woman and Superman, but I did find the classical literature-based properties I worked on with Dick a bit more challenging than the super-hero material. That work involved a lot of research and a different treatment than the exaggerations I usually used for super-heroes. I illustrated "Robin Hood," "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea", "Davy Crockett," and "Huckleberry Finn" (and some of this work has been mistakenly attributed to Neal on the internet).

Fortunately I had already read in book form "Treasure Island", "Last Of The Mohicans", "Mutiny On The Bounty", "Robinson Crusoe" -- virtually all of the classic literature books in my high school years (most of the ones I read were on the Peter Pan/Power Records production list) and so I was already familiar with most of the material. You might say that the characters were already "alive" in my imagination -- I just had to dial them up as needed.

Working for Dick was like studying with one of the best teachers of the comics field! It was really an intense learning experience for me (seems like I'm always in school!). I saw each job I did for him as a challenge -- and I always seemed to hit the nail on the head, so to speak, because Dick never once handed me back a single art page for correction or revision.

How was it working for Dick? As a person he was always easy to get along with -- articulate and very instructive, and always respectful. He was outspoken, knowledgeable and always had a positive take on things (and, refreshingly, he was not shy about giving a compliment!). I listened closely whenever he offered suggestions; always taking care to be on the good side of his hearing (Dick was deaf in one ear).

Even though we were in age difference almost a generation apart, we were both very comfortable with each other's drawing styles and I think we made a great creative team.

So I worked on this material pretty regularly right up to the time Dick accepted D.C.'s offer to edit the Batman titles and eventually to become Executive Editor. I remember when he told me the news during one of my Connecticut visits.

Dick loved drawing and we talked about this subject a few times. He seemed to me to be wrestling with himself as he was weighing the pros and cons of getting back into the editorial side of things (which he did well and also loved).

Finally he confided in me one day: "Jenette Kahn has offered me a position in editorial at D.C. I'm not sure yet, but I'm seriously considering it," which I took then to mean that he had finally decided.

Well, so much for Dik-Art, I thought. It had been good while it lasted.

I wasn't through with newspaper strips though. Not by a long shot. At Marvel along came the offer to draw the Hulk newspaper strip. This was the last of my uncredited work. Later, due to Larry Lieber championing me, I took over all of the drawing chores and that led to a credit line on the strip of "By Stan Lee & Rich Buckler" (that always looks good on a resume).

So I finally got to work on something by Stan Lee, right? Only, no, that wasn't exactly so. What I learned was that Stan had lost interest in the strip and by this time was only plotting the stories and Larry was "ghost writing" the scripts for him.

When I came on to the strip the production was right up against the deadline (not unusual for Marvel at the time) so part of the job was to get ahead a bit if possible (which I did succeed in doing). I mostly dealt with Larry the whole time, though Sol Brodsky would oversee the art production (lettering, paste-up and preparation for printing), and it was Larry who was really the one in charge and who had hired me in the first place.

When it came to drawing, Larry often had a hard time keeping up with deadlines -- so at his invitation I started out with him by pitching in and helping him with the pencil art. Then at his request I started drawing the whole strip from Larry's scripts.

Larry was always a pure pleasure to work with. That work then progressed to "ghost pencilling" for him for a while. Larry continued the "ghost writing" for Stan -- while Frank Giacoia provided most of the "ghost" inking (with another "ghost" inker, Joe Sinnott, pitching in now and then). Now that I think about it, there were many times when Mike Esposito was Frank Giacoia's "ghost collaborator." That's a whole lot of ghosts on one single project!

With my name on the credits eventually I began to ink my own pencils on the strip -- and I had a pretty decent run right and a really good time working on this strip right up to the time when something unfortunate occurred that made me decide to leave.

Larry was able to hire the versatile and very capable Alan Kupperberg to take over when I finally quit the strip (so I wasn't leaving Larry in the lurch). The reason I left was, believe it or not, due to a sort of falling out with Stan Lee (something I found very unpleasant, but Stan would probably not even remember it to this day). As I mentioned earlier, I don't take crap from anybody. As Stan would say, 'Nuff said!

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

Rich Buckler's web-site can be found here. Rich is available 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!


Andrew Wahl said...

This has been an amazing series of articles. Is there going to be a book collection of this material? I'm finding it too much to read on the computer screen and long to curl up in my chair with a print edition. I'd pick one up in an instant.

Thanks to both Rich and 20th Century Danny Boy for sharing this.


diceciper said...

Thanks for doing these. Been a fun read.

Marcus Kelligrew said...

Thanks a fascinating series! In the 90s I had a story published by Flashback Comics, an 8 pager. The publisher hired rich Buckler & Joe Sinnott to draw the cover featuring my characters! Link here:
It was quite a thrill. My comics partner and I got to spend an evening in Mr. Buckler's studio, as well.