Sunday, October 13, 2013

In Their Own Words: Gully Foyle: The Best Sci-Fi Comic You've Never Seen

In the just over fifty years since the idea was hatched and began, Gully Foyle remains one of the finest examples of comic book art that has been produced in Australia, bar none, yet very few people have ever seen it in its entirety.  Adapted from a story by Alfred Bester by Reg and Stan Pitt, the artwork is nothing short of exquisite. Drawn in a highly detailed style that both references and improves on the likes of Alex Raymond, Gully Foyle remains the high point of Stanley Pitts long and illustrious career.  Those who have seen the art still rave over it, over fifty years later; however it has never been properly printed, nor is it likely that it ever will.

So, what exactly happened back in the 1960s to prevent Gully Foyle from seeing print?  There have been a few explanations and theories, but the actual reason can be traced back to one person.  Until now, the entire saga hasn’t been revealed, nor has the extensive involvement of John Ryan and legendary American artist Al Williamson been covered in true depth and detail.  While Reg and Stan Pitt always gave Ryan his due credit, letters and documents in the Australian National Library show not only the true extent of  Ryan’s position, but also that of Williamson.  Ryan was, effectively, the point man for the Pitts in Australia and Williamson was serving as a de-facto agent for Stan Pitt in America; indeed Williamson and Ryan’s correspondence reveals that it was Williamson who approached Dick Giordano which resulted in Stan Pitt being the first Australian comic book artist to have his work appear in DC Comics and Williamson had also approached Roy Thomas at Marvel to give Pitt work.  Pitt eventually ghosted for Williamson on his Secret Agent Corrigan newspaper strip twice, in 1969 and 1972.  Even though both Marvel and DC, along with Gold Key, chased Pitt with offers of work, he turned them down with very few exceptions.

Stanley Pitt sold his first comic book to Consolidated Press, in 1942, and his best known for his own creation, Silver Starr, which he started in 1948 for Associated Newspapers.  He then followed Silver Starr with Captain Power for the Sun-Herald.  In the world of comic books his art appeared in several titles, but it is the book Yarmak, published by Young's Merchandising in the early 1950s, that is highly sought after.  Once he finished Yarmak he worked freelance until he joined Cleveland Press in the early 1950s where he revived Silver Starr for comic books.  Towards the end of the ‘50s and into the ‘60s Pitt busied himself by painting covers for pulps and paperbacks.

John Ryan has often been referred to as the Father of Comic Fandom in Australia.  He became active in the early ‘60s and corresponded with almost ever Australian artist, along with a host of other fans and professionals worldwide.  His writings on Australian comic books are still essential today, as he uncovered facts first hand that are still largely unknown, even today. He was able to speak and interact with those who were there at the birth of the Australian comic book scene, and his 1979 book, Panel By Panel, deserves to be in every comic book fan’s library, if you can find it.  Sadly Ryan passed away, far too early, at the end of 1979.  His massive collection of comic books, correspondence, notes and other documents are now being held in the Australian National Library.

Gully Foyle did eventually see print, albeit in a very limited edition book published by Richard Rae in 2001, the cover to which is shown on the right.  It's not an easy book to find and copies now fetch anywhere up to $100 a shot, an expensive proposition for a mere fourteen pages of art.  No matter the price, the cost is well worth it, if you can find it as the book was shot from the original art and is as good as we're ever likely to see.

The story of Gully Foyle has been told, in parts, elsewhere.  Kevin Patrick, the heir apparent to John Ryan (and I mean that in the most genuine possible way - what Kevin doesn't know about Australian comics isn't worth knowing), covered it in depth back in 2008 when he managed to speak with Reg Pitt.  John Ryan jotted down his memories in the early ‘70s for Bill Schelly’s Sense of Wonder fanzine and nobody could interview  Stan Pitt without asking him about the project.  Pitt generally covered the same ground each time, but two interviews stand out; a 1973 interview conducted by John Snowden and Ros Bowden's 1993 interview in which Pitt revealed an apathy for working for American publishers.  For the first time all of the available quotes about Gully Foyle have been gathered, from those people who were there, and, for the most part, in a sense of ‘real time’, as the bulk of the comments are from correspondence that was going back and forth, from January 1966 through to the end of 1969.  Stan and Reg Pitt, along with John Ryan and Al Williamson, devoted a good portion of those years, and beyond, to Gully Foyle, now it’s time to peek behind the scenes, so to speak, and see the heroes…and villain.

Cast: (in order of appearance)

Alfred Bester – author of The Star My Destination, the source material of Gully Foyle

Reg Pitt – writer of Gully Foyle. Brother of Stan Pitt

Stan Pitt – artist of Gully Foyle. Considered one of the finest artists to emerge from the Golden Age of Australian comics.  Heavily influenced by Alex Raymond (in particular Flash Gordon), Pitt’s artwork was distinguished by its clean lines and heavy attention to detail.  

John Ryan – Australian comic art scholar and writer, the most prominent Australian based fan of the 1960s and 1970s. Project Co-ordinator, Stanley Pitt & Associates.

Fred Patten - prominent fan of science fiction and comic books whose writing often promoted comic art produced in Europe and other countries outside the United States. (from Founders of Comic Fandom by Bill Schelly)

Rosalind Wolf – Secretary and contact person for the Pitts at New American Library Inc. Helped shop Gully Foyle around to various syndicates.

Robert Molyneaux –Newspaper Enterprise Association, part of United Features. Syndicated strips to over 100 newspapers in the USA.

Ed Grade – Los Angeles Times

Al Williamson – legendary American comic book artist. Worked for E.C., Marvel, DC Comics and many more. Also worked on syndicated newspaper strips. Admirer of Stan Pitts art, helped promote Gully Foyle in the USA, served as point person for the Pitts in America and also as Stan Pitts agent for his dealings with DC Comics.

Roy Thomas – Legendary comic book writer. Former Editor-In-Chief for Marvel Comics in the ‘70s. Wrote the definitive Conan the Barbarian comics, along with X-Men, Avengers, Batman and more

Plus, in absentia:

John Higgins – President, Ledger Syndicate
Robert Mills – agent for Alfred Bester


ALFRED BESTER:  I’d been toying with the notion of using The Count of Monte Cristo pattern for a story. The reason is simple – I’d always preferred the anti-hero and I’d always found high drama in compulsive types.  [The story] remained a notion until I found a pile of old National Geographics.  I came across a piece about [a sailor] who lasted four months on an open raft. He’d been sighted several times by passing ships, which refused to change course to rescue him, because it was a Nazi submarine trick to put out decoys like this.[a]

REG PITT:  The book made an indelible impression on me for so many years –even though it would be 10 years before we finally got the chance to do it. It became an obsession with me over all that time.  It became an absolute necessity for us to do something with it.[b]

STAN PITT[c]:  Reg is an s-f buff from way back and he discovered this story about 15 years ago. He loved science fiction and he found this book, The Stars My Destination, on the bookstall at Town Hall one day, bought it - he would buy anything, of course, he loved science fiction so much - but he bought this and he read it, and it was like gospel to him and right from the first time he read it he said, "This thing is great, it's a natural for your art…what you've been looking for, waiting for. This is the greatest science fiction I have ever read. It has got to be the greatest vehicle for a comic strip artist in the world today, a comic strip artist that can draw science fiction stuff, technical things." And I said, "What are you aiming at Reg?"

He said, "I'm hinting at the fact that it's your job, you’ve got to do it." And I said, "I can't do it now, I'm a married man, I've got responsibilities. I can't do that." And he said, "Just a moment, you can think of me as your publisher, I'll pay you this time."

REG PITT:  Stan drew illustrations of all the main characters, and depicted situations in which they would find themselves in the comic strip. I recall one of those images specifically showing the ‘burning man’ who appeared throughout the book.

The writing [for comics] was something I’d been doing all my life, working on comics with Stan since I was 10 years-old. Stan and I would have brainstorm sessions about the characters and ideas.  For instance, we changed Gully Foyle’s helmet from our original, Ned Kelly-styled helmet, to a more modernised design.

I’d do the backgrounds on Gully Foyle.  When it came to designs that would entail buildings or structures, I’d do those, as Stan would much rather draw [human] figures.[d]

STAN PITT:  Reg had had a car accident, got a big pay-off and was loaded, so he said, "I'll pay you every week you work until we get 12 pages of this for samples to send over to America.  I’m going to have them all photographed and printed so that I've got sets of books that I'm going to make and I'm going to send them to all the big syndicates in New York." And he did, and he sent one to Alfred Bester, but Bester did not pick his up.

JOHN RYAN: According to Reg Pitt, the idea of the Gully Foyle Sunday Page was triggered by my mention of Stan's work in my fanzine called Down Under (#1, Nov. 1964).Encouraged by my presentation, Reg decided that Alfred Bester's novel, The Stars My Destination, would make an excellent showcase for his brother's talents. After contacting Bester and getting his permission to proceed with the strip, the Pitts busied themselves on completing a 14 week sequence. Mounted bromides were elaborately packaged and sent to the U.S.[e]

REG PITT:  We put these pages together in a presentation folder, which we put inside this graphically designed box, using coloured paper inside and out. I made all the stuff to go with it – we had to make it so appealing that he [Bester] couldn’t resist it. There was a period of months where nothing happened.  Then we got this telegram from Alfred Bester and it was obvious he was really annoyed.  The impression we got was that US Customs had told him that the parcel we sent him had insufficient postage and that he’d have to pay for it, if he wanted to get it.  It turned out to be some puny amount, less than US$30 – but our package of artwork was worth hundreds of dollars and I thought ‘what a bloody hide you’ve got’![f]

JOHN RYAN: Problems that were to plague the project made their presence felt at the very beginning. Difficulties were encountered with the mail and correspondence and, seeing the project bogging down, I offered to act as "business manager" until such times as the project got off the ground. In April, 1967, I talked the Pitts into a different method of presentation…and one that would, virtually, pay for itself. With the help of Al Kuhfeld, of Minneapolis, we had 15 pages (14 pages of comic plus a cover) printed-up 17" x 11" and stapled into booklets.[g]

FRED PATTEN: I’ll be looking forward to seeing happens with Gully Foyle. Robert P Mills is quite well known in the s-f field, but I have no idea what contacts he may have in the comic-strip syndicate line.[h]

STAN PITT:  We've been holding out until some word came from Hall or Bester or both. Hall has been unaccountably, exasperatingly silent for five months. Couple of weeks ago, we got Bester’s package back. We sent it C/-HOLIDAY and it never reached him.  We’re waiting now on replies to enquiries in New York concerning his home address. Once we get this info, we’ll have another crack at reaching him.[i]

REG PITT:  Alfred Bester was a strange guy.  He used to send us these pages from notepads, with little notes scribbled on them. They reminded me of that line from [Australian author] A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson – ‘like a thumbnail dipped in tar’ – these strange notes scribbled in thick pen.  He seemed all the time to be preoccupied and these [notes] looked like afterthoughts.  From what we could glean, he gave us carte blanche to do what we wanted. He said ‘you obviously know what you’re doing’ – he didn’t even make any monetary demands.[j]

STAN PITT:  Reg did most of the planning.  We have a great empathy; he seems to know just how much space is needed and an uncommonly ability to perceive what I will do with it. On some pages I really only drew three out of the 5-6 panels. The drawing of Gully Foyle in the light pattern is the negative of the original that you see.  This was pasted onto the photograph and some work was done on it, mainly with white ink, to get the effect a little more strongly than we had it originally and also the second picture was done in the same way.  The space ships were drawn on separate paper, trimmed and pasted down and a little more work was done to make it appear more natural. But you've got to have this mechanical type finish for an SF strip.

Reg was convinced, but it took a long time, about 5 or 6 years, to get into it. We never lost interest. I think we did about 15 original pages before we tried anything.  We wanted to get this much ahead in case we had any good fortune.  It cost Reg quite a bit of money, somewhere around $3000 to get established. We had to have an office/studio for us all to work and there were all sorts of hidden expenses, not to mention the cost of postings to Syndicates all over the world. It was quite a thing to get blown out in the end. All the first postings we made to the Syndicates were of expensive bromides mounted on heavy board, designed and made by Reg to accommodate all 15 pages. He was determined to give Gully Foyle the finest possible presentation possible. The postage and insurance for these cost around $80 per box. Reg and I are great believers in quality. We didn't want success for nothing, we wanted to earn it.

Originally we had 100 sets made. Reg and I had 25 sets apiece and John Ryan kept the rest for fans and in case something came up and somebody showed interest overseas.   Reg and I squandered ours by giving them to people with only a random interest in comics. I remember one night particularly when I was talking about Gully Foyle to the taxi cab driver on the way home from Cleveland. He seemed interested so I presented him with a set – he probably threw it out of the cab before he got halfway down the street.  Incidentally we only paid $80 for the whole 100 sets.

John Ryan decided to send it overseas to a place where he thought would be a good venue for it. We had no luck there so we tried 5-6 others and one of them, Ledger Syndicate, was very interested.

ROSALIND WOLF: Received both the 12 sets of Gully Foyle and your letter. You’re absolutely right about the U.S. Mail System and your next project might be a satirical Australian view of it; however, if it improves, the protest marchers would have nothing to look forward to except Viet Nam and that's getting tiresome.[k]

UNITED FEATURE SYNDICATE: The strip, of course, is beautifully drawn, but the continuity is rather confusing, with flashbacks, dreams, alter ego, etc. We feel that this would be better suited to the comic books where the reader gets more material for study and appreciation.[l]

ROSALIND WOLF: Thank you so much for your kind letter of the 16th. It certainly clarifies the situation. I will certainly be happy to send the Gully Foyle’s to the newspaper syndicates--haven't yet received the covering letters but I suppose I will any day now. They will indeed be sent with cardboard to protect them. Will also follow up by telephone to see reactions (hope they're all fantastic).[m]

ROBERT MOLYNEAUX:  In the samples you sent the artwork is downright arresting and the story is interesting, and I'd like to pursue this matter one step further. I gather that no daily strip is contemplated, is this correct?[n]

ED GRADE: Gully Foyle is very impressive. The art, especially, is superior. However, because of its unusual format, I believe it is unsuited for syndication in this country without a major overhaul, which would entail almost complete redrawing.[o]

REG PITT:  We were going after the Sunday papers, but we’d come into a lot of problems, with the [full-page] layout of the comic. The Americans wanted a [half-page] landscape format in Sunday strips, so we went through [preparing] several versions of the strip in landscape format.  We even had to put in two ‘drop-out’ panels, which could be taken out, without affecting the story, as well as reduce the size of the artwork.  There were two versions of [Gully Foyle] in the alternate landscape format that have never been published – they’ve never even been looked at.[p]

JOHN RYAN: King Features Syndicate saw the strip as being in the same general field as "Flash Gordon" and "Brick Bradford" - consequently, there was no room in their strip stable for a third feature of that nature.[q]

STAN PITT:  Alan Tompkins did a little fanzine--very beautiful production too. Tompkins was primarily a Burroughs fan but also an admirer of Al Williamson to whom he sent a copy of the ‘zine and this is how Al became aware of me.  I had become aware of him through his comic work but had had no personal contact with him and then one day--and you won't believe this, it was my birthday. The postman knocks, and gives me a book from America. I opened it and couldn't believe my eyes! Flash Gordon.  I hadn't seen some of those pages in 30 years! The covering letter arrived a few days later which went on to say that Al had seen my work and having had a hand in the Nostalgia Press Flash Gordon books, had sent it on over.

AL WILLIAMSON: I was delighted to receive the Gully Foyle promotional pages. I can't thank you enough. It would be great if it could be syndicated here in the US. Nothing like it has appeared since Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon.  Unfortunately Sunday color comics are not as big as they used to be, the newspapers claim they lose money on them and with so many big city newspapers folding, it will be very hard to sell Gully. It might have a much better chance as a daily strip, but then, I’ll keep my fingers crossed. [r]

ROSALIND WOLF: Just a note to say that your friend from Mad Magazine stopped in and I gave him a copy of Gully Foyle. He had a friend with him, bearded and very arty looking but of course to me with our crazy authors, this is normal. Jerry (I forget his last name) said it looked "quite ambitious" and that he would look it over.[s]

JOHN RYAN: I was about to follow-up with NEA when we heard from John Higgins of the Ledger Syndicate. While pointing out that there were many problems involved, Higgins recognized the potential of the strip.[t]

AL WILLIAMSON:  I'm most interested in seeing Stan's Gully Foyle syndicated here, and if there is anything I can do to help out, please let me know. I could go up to the Syndicate if you like.  By the way, who is going to color the pages? If you let the Syndicate take care of it, they’ll botch it up, I'm afraid.  If you like, my wife, Arlene, would do it gladly.  The only payment we ask is to get proof sheets of the strip.[u]

JOHN RYAN:  It seems fairly oblivious that Gully Foyle now belongs to the ages.  Because we haven’t heard from Ledger for just over a month, I can’t even tell you what the main stumbling block was. After sending the six acceptable pages to Ledger we ran into a lengthy spell of silence.  I sent a cable.  No response.  Waited another week or so and sent another cable.  Two weeks after I sent it, Ledger finally replied. The cable said that Ledgers attorneys feared that a snag on copyright and royalty payments could torpedo the whole project but that they were still hopeful of working something out and that they would let me have a detailed letter within 10 days. That was just over a month back, so it’s fairly obvious that things didn’t work out and that Gully won’t be going into orbit.

It is my guess that the problem was in the subsidiary areas, such as TV, films, merchandising etc.  Maybe Alfred Bester wanted more than Ledger were prepared to give.  I dunno, no one bothers to keep us informed or asks us.  After all we’re only the people who have done all the sweating, so why should we be considered?  If someone is being too greedy it’s a crying shame, as unless the thing is published no one gets anything! Not only that but a potentially great comic strip goes down the drain and the effects on Stan could be hard to calculate. It could well decide him never to tackle the comic field again. Of course this in itself would be a tragedy, not only for him but for those of us who appreciate quality work.  It's bad enough that the strip appears to have to grief in some area beyond the artists’ control, but the lack of consideration and common business courtesy shown by Ledger has only compounded the felony.  If they’d only write explaining the problems perhaps I could get Stan interested in an entirely new project that wouldn’t involve outsiders such as Bester.  After all, Ledger is completely sold on Stan’s artistic talents and it is quite feasible that they would entertain such a project.  But I’m afraid I have to admit that I feel pretty much like Stan about the whole matter.   The cable was just their way of letting us down gently, and we shall never hear another word from them.

So, Al, how about tying up the loose ends for us? How about phoning John Higgins at ledger and try to find out exactly how, when, where and why?[v]

AL WILLIAMSON:  I spoke with Mrs Scott at Ledger.  Mr Higgins is sick in the hospital. The cause of the delay is the third name in the copyright. She didn't say which one, but they don't want to get into any legal problems with international copyrights or something. I’m not too clear about this myself. Also the mail strike you had in Australia scared the heck out of them. You can see the problems that would arise if it should happen when you are actually mailing work across.

They are quite impressed with the artwork and are still interested in Gully Foyle.  Mrs Scott also mentioned she received a letter from your lawyer this morning and she will be writing to explain the situation to him. I'm sure he will do a much better job than I have clearing up the problem.

Rest assured that if for any reason Gully Foyle doesn't get syndicated, it's not because of the artwork, but rather the distance between you and the syndicate.

I want you to know that you have not been forgotten by Ledger. Mrs Scott also said she wrote you a letter about a month ago asking questions that you never answered so she assumed the letter had been lost in the mail . Most of the problem seems to be the difficulty of communication. So don’t give up.  We haven't begun to fight![w]

STAN PITT:  The only thing was that we had to redraw the pages because we had a format that was unsuitable for the modern newspaper breakdowns –so we went through it, again, redrawing everything. The President of Ledger Syndicate, John Higgins, finally sold it to 50 newspapers in America -- and then we got the news that we couldn't use it because Alfred Bester had sold the rights to Ashley Famous Agency in New York. John Ryan wrote to them and asked if it was possible to continue with the strip -- but the company didn't want to sell it this way. They thought it might ruin the chances of selling it as a film or TV property and that if it went into comics it might destroy the interest. So, that was the end of that! Anyway, they'll probably never make it into a film as, according to Reg, it'd cost them far too much to do it properly.

AL WILLIAMSON:  I hope that by the time you get this, things have straightened out with Ledger. Like you said, it is a possibility that this agency that contacted Stan is the third name on the copyright.  I should have asked Mrs Scott the name when she told me, but at the time I didn’t think of it.  Sometimes I'm a bit of a fathead. My only suggestion would be to get in touch with Bester, tell him the situation and if he wants to see the strip syndicated, he’ll do whatever he can.[x]

STAN PITT:  Then John Ryan said, "I think you boys should - before you get going too deep in this - you better get some agreement with Bester, otherwise you're going to get a tremendous shock one day, you know, he's going to say, 'You can't use me material', and you'll be in all sorts of bother." So I said, "I'll get Jack Atkins opinion" - publisher of the books I was working for then - so I had him come out to our studio in Burwood and have a look at them, and his production manager said, "Well, what do you think of it, Jack?  It’s beautiful work, isn’t it?" And he said, “I'm not interested in the work, I'm interested in the idea here. You know, what's this Bester, who's this Bester bloke?"

Well he said, "That's the bloke - the American writer who's written this thing - and Stan and Reg think it's a good idea to have a famous American writer to help them, you know. I mean, his accepted story and your art, you know, which is terrific and it should go very well, be a great success." But it was a lot more complicated than that. Anyway, eventually it was accepted though we could not get Bester’s signature on a contract.

JOHN RYAN:  Gully Foyle appears to be going nowhere...and fast.  A recent letter from Ledger appears to indicate that the mysterious 3rd name in the copyright is Alfred Bester, and that the Pitts should go ahead and tie things up with Bester so that Ledger deals only with the Pitts on a 50% basis. I’m told that the 50-50 split is a standard arrangement with the Syndicates, is that correct? Here we could run into a snag as it is my impression that Bester's agent is, only talking about a deal for comic-strip rights and that such subsidiary areas as TV, Films and Merchandising rights would be retained by Bester. Ledger, of course, wants 50% of these, as well. In other words, there's a considerable amount of haggling still to be done. While I don't blame Bester's people for wanting to make the best possible deal, they have to realise that subsidiary areas aren't likely to become a reality unless the strip gets underway. As long as GF remains a relatively unknown s-f work, it's a little pointless getting all academic about the subsidiary rights.  We'll be contacting Bester to see what can be worked out.[y]

STAN PITT:  So we got a team of solicitors in Sydney to try and make contact with him or his solicitors and get this done, and they did so, and it finally came out that he had sold the rights to this early science fiction effort of his - Gully Foyle, The Star Is My Destination - he had sold it to a famous New York company of agents dealing with authors for movie contracts, called Ashley Famous Syndicate, because Bester wanted to see the thing made into a film. And Reg said to me - my brother - he said, "Well Stan, if Bester sees the stuff I've sent over to him that you've done, he'll realise that this is the greatest thing in the world for him. You know, if this gets into the papers in America, then they'll clamour to see a movie of Gully Foyle. It will be such wonderful publicity."

Eventually Bester finally did pick the thing up, sent back a - he lived in a brownstone in Brooklyn, cold water, could not afford a decent flat. See, he explained this as the reason he had to sell the thing, you know, the rights to Ashley Famous Syndicate. He said, "But I told them that anything you do with it is part of the original. Apparently there's a loophole in the contract and you can go ahead with the work, but they will want a percentage." And John Ryan said that he didn't feel that a percentage would be any good because, you know, the best we got out of it was an offer for 25 newspapers, you know, and it was not big enough.

JOHN RYAN:  About 10 days back, I received a letter from our solicitor enclosing a letter from Ledger which started, "Gentlemen: Your letter of June 27thon the above subject (Gully Foyle) has for some unimaginable reason just been delivered to us. It is correctly addressed, so we cannot think of any reason why it was delayed.” As if we don't have enough troubles, we have to get a letter that decides to go walkabout for three months!  I couldn't begin to guess the reason behind such a delay. Anyway, the letter also says, "We are ready and anxious to get going on Gully Foyle and have been for some time, as quickly as we can reach an agreement with your clients.” It then goes into some details about the agreement and Bester's part in same. Our solicitor says, in his letter, that he's pursuing the lines laid out by Ledger, so I guess there's a fair bit of waiting around still to be done until we get things tied-up with Bester, then go through the same thing with Ledger.[z]

STAN PITT:  Reg got all the panels and cut the pages apart and put them together a different way, and did a lot of revision on the story, you know? Because Jack Atkins saw it and he said, "What's this Bester?  Never mind about that, Stan Pitt's doing the job. We don't want Bester, his brother's writing it." He said, "Why didn't you just lift the story? Everybody else does."

He said, "What do you think these blokes I employ do writing stories? You don't think they make these things up, do you? They pinch other people - they read other people, I've seen them down in the second-hand book stalls buying books, and they're always the same, westerns they are. They take them home; they read them, they say, "Geez, I'll use that again. I'll just change the chapters, put chapter 1, chapter 9, and etcetera." And the production manager said, "Well, there was that Bill Lynch down in North Sydney, he brought a story in one day that was a famous 1950 war story. He made a war story into a western."  And then one of the authors that I knew there from Brisbane, he said, "Well, I've done better than that, I've made Romeo and Juliet into a western, and I'm working on Hamlet." 

So Reg tried to do that, reorganise it with a different name, but it is hard to come up with a great natural name like Gully Foyle. Wonderful.

JOHN RYAN: By November 1968 the Pitts were well on the way to completing the "buffer stock" of 26 pages required by Ledger. During this period, I had been working out percentages, etc. with Robert Mills, Alfred Bester's agent, when the Ledger Syndicate cabled for copies of our contracts, late in November 1968, I wrote to Bob Mills about the urgency of the situation. His reply sounded the death knell to Gully Foyle.[aa]

ALFRED BESTER:  That was that Australian crowd. Yeah, they sent me some tremendous samples and asked permission to do it. I forget whether I said yes or no. It doesn't make any difference they were working in Australia; they could have done what they damn pleased. I don't know what happened. I guess the whole thing fell apart.[bb]

JOHN RYAN: We switched solicitors on the Gully Foyle project and the new man had draft contracts on their way to Bester & Co within three days of the change.  We'd been trying to get the old crowd to do something like this for over 18 months! However, once again, we’re being hamstrung by Ledger.   I wrote to them on the 18th December and sent another five pages of bromides and while we had a X-Mas card/acknowledgement late December saying that Higgins would be writing after the holidays, we still haven’t heard anything. It drives you ‘round the bend at times.  I feel like telling Stan and Reg to pull up stakes and tell Ledger to forget.[cc]

STAN PITT: I was still developing, and I had not finished developing, there were still places I was aiming to get to in the accomplishment of my art. And I reached that by the time I was doing Gully Foyle because I had had a lot of experience, when I did cover work for years, as I did, I always commenced the job the same way with a pencil drawing. And I would draw it meticulously carefully to make it right. This is where it all begins, if you have got a good pencil drawing you are bound to have a good picture when it is finished in ink. So it is unfortunate.

JOHN RYAN:  We received a letter from Bester’s agent, Bob Mills, telling us that Bester had disposed of the film rights (and not through Mills) to ‘The Stars My Destination’ and that the movie contract calls for the control of the comic strip.  How’s that for a nice, swift kick in the guts?  To add insult to injury I gather this move took place about April-May last year (1968).  If Bester wanted to make a private deal so he wouldn’t have to pay his agent a commission, that’s his business, although I must say I’m rather startled at his lack of ethics, but we feel he was morally obligated to put us in the picture as he knew what we were trying to do.  Even if we could still get the comic-strip rights, Ledger wouldn’t touch it with a forty foot pole, which is understandable, and it would appear this is the kiss of death on the Gully Foyle project.  Nursed along lovingly these last three years, seems doomed to float in space forever.

Our solicitor has written to Ashley Famous Agency Inc., who hold the film rights, to get the exact picture, but we don’t hold out much hope in this direction. If the reply is as crushing and final as we expect it to be, we’ll arrange a conference with our solicitor on the feasibility of a damages suit against Bester to try and recover, at least, the money invested in the project. After all we have two letters from Bester giving his full permission to proceed with the project and guaranteeing us a fair deal on the money side.  Naturally without an assurance of this nature we would never have invested so much time and money in the project. Of course we could try to get some dough to make up for all the heartbreak and ulcers that came with this little enterprise. What a way for Gully Foyle to go out. Not with a BANG but a whimper, quietly strangled by his old master.[dd]

AL WILLIAMSON: I’m sorry to hear of the double dealings with Gully Foyle and if you don’t mind my saying it, I think it’s a waste of time to do anymore on the project. Stan will never be paid what he should for all that beautiful work. I think Stan would be better off not getting involved in something so many people have their mitts in. But all is not lost. How about putting all that art work into a book?[ee]

STAN PITT:  There is quite a lot of difficultly in working with editors at long distance.  The trouble is particularly with manuscripts.  The editors may think they are good, but the artist may have alternative ideas and since they don't approve with tampering, one must press on with the job.  What I would like to do is get some regular paperback cover work from America and in the short space of a year we could pull up our ties and get over there and then I could really become involved in comics. Also the exchange rate works against you when you receive a check from America, $US100 becomes approx. $A67. It would be great to meet Al and Arlene Williamson.  They are two of the best people I know. I must tell you a little story. Two, three years ago Al sent an eight page SF comic script for me to do for some publisher in New York, Berni Wrightson. I finished the work in a month or so and parcelled it back. Al's personal check for $400 arrived a fortnight later. In the following months I asked Al many times for a publication date but his letter never conveyed an answer. It must have been a year later that he finally admitted that the publisher had gone out of business and that he had paid for the comic out of his own pocket rather than disappoint me.  I was not to worry because he was glad to have the comic himself.

ROY THOMAS:  Dear Mr Pitt: Don't know if this will reach you in time or not, but I just got your address from Al Williamson, who's been bugging me for some time to use you on something for Marvel anyway, and thought I'd best contact you.

I'm no longer Marvel's sole editor-in-chief (there isn't one, since I resigned a few weeks ago), but am editor as well as whole or partial writer of a number of regular comics and two regular black-and-white magazines, The Savage Sword Of Conan and a newie, Unknown Worlds Of Science Fiction, which will debut here in the States in a couple of weeks.

Our second issue of SF, as we call it for short, to everyone's total confusion featured an interview with Alfred Bester in which he mentioned your Gully Foyle adaptation in passing (though he fails to remember, in the brief mention, whether he gave you permission to adapt it or not, since he says it didn't matter-- you could've done it anyway). It occurred to me that it would be great to be able to run an illo or two from that piece in the issue if you wished it and if it could be sent as quickly as possible. We wouldn't need the original art necessarily, just terribly good stats.

If you've stats of the entire job (which I recall seeing some years ago), perhaps it wouldn't hurt for me to take a look at them. After all, in our first few issues we're already adapting Bester's "Adam and No Eve" (probably), "Repent Harlequin said the Ticktockman," "Behold the Man," Day of the Triffids, "Light of Other Days," "Not Long before the End," and other SF greats.

At any rate, for the Foyle illo (depending on how much I can use), I can pay you, a token sum if it's been copyrighted in your name, or whatever.

Incidentally, Al has also said he'll send me a SF story you drew which he owns. Always interested in receiving that and other samples.

At any rate, I hope a Gully Foyle piece in some way. As I said, the exposure might be Bester would be pleased, as would I. I should have to receive it right away, however, as the issue leaves Marvel in a few weeks. What say?[ff]

STAN PITT: Little bitsy pieces of it have been published in a hundred fanzines over the years, but the whole of it has never been published. There is a lot of people would not mind having just the twelve pages that have been done.

I'm very interested in doing Gully Foyle again, but this time it will be for my own satisfaction, just for a private hobby.  I don't think I'd ever get the money for it (and) for that reason I wouldn’t have any motive in doing it commercially.
The cover to the original 1967 presentation that John Ryan mailed out

[a] Hell’s Cartographers: Some Personal Histories of Science Fiction Writers; Brian W. Aldiss and Harry Harrison (Eds.); London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson
[b] “Gully Foyle: The Best Science-Fiction Comic You’ll Never Read” by Kevin Patrick (
[c] Unless otherwise stated, all Stan Pitt comments have been taken from two interviews. The first was conducted by John Snowden on October 23, 1973 and the second was conducted by Ros Bowden on November 2, 1995 (courtesy of the National Library of Australia, Oral History Section).
[d]“Gully Foyle: The Best Science-Fiction Comic You’ll Never Read” by Kevin Patrick (
[e]  ‘Stan Pitt and Gully Foyle’ by John Ryan, Sense of Wonder #12
[f]“Gully Foyle: The Best Science-Fiction Comic You’ll Never Read” by Kevin Patrick (
[g] ‘Stan Pitt and Gully Foyle’ by John Ryan, Sense of Wonder #12
[h] Fred Patten to John Ryan, January 3, 1966
[i] Stan Pitt to Derrill Rothermich, May 17, 1966
[j]“Gully Foyle: The Best Science-Fiction Comic You’ll Never Read” by Kevin Patrick (
[k] Rosalind Wolf to John Ryan, April 4, 1967
[l]‘Stan Pitt and Gully Foyle’ by John Ryan, Sense of Wonder #12
[m] Rosalind Wolf to John Ryan, April 20, 1967
[n] ‘Stan Pitt and Gully Foyle’ by John Ryan, Sense of Wonder #12
[o]‘Stan Pitt and Gully Foyle’ by John Ryan, Sense of Wonder #12
[p]“Gully Foyle: The Best Science-Fiction Comic You’ll Never Read” by Kevin Patrick (
[q]‘Stan Pitt and Gully Foyle’ by John Ryan, Sense of Wonder #12
[r] Al Williamson to John Ryan, October 28, 1967
[s] Rosalind Wolf to John Ryan, August 31, 1967
[t]‘Stan Pitt and Gully Foyle’ by John Ryan, Sense of Wonder #12
[u] Al Williamson to John Ryan, February 14, 1968
[v] John Ryan to Al Williamson, March 25, 1968
[w] Al Williamson to John Ryan, April 1, 1968
[x] Al Williamson to John Ryan, April 23, 1968
[y] John Ryan to Al Williamson, June 2nd, 1968
[z] John Ryan to Al Williamson, October 14, 1968
[aa]‘Stan Pitt and Gully Foyle’ by John Ryan, Sense of Wonder #12
[bb] There Are No Yesterdays, interview with Alfred Bester, Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #2 (Marvel Comics)
[cc] John Ryan to Al Williamson, January 27, 1969
[dd] John Ryan to Al Williamson, February 8, 1969
[ee] Al Williamson to John Ryan, February 28, 1969
[ff] Roy Thomas to Stanley Pitt, October 13, 1974

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Depressing as I really want to see more Stanley Pitt. Here in the USA it's only been through a few fanzines and collectors who own some of his paintings.