Alex Saviuk Speaks

If you read a Spider-Man book back in the 1980s through to the mid 1990s then odds are that you've seen and are familiar with the work and art of Alex Saviuk. Alex did his first work on Amazing Spider-Man in 1987, just prior to the McFarlane explosion (indeed Alex was the artist who preceded McFarlane on that book) and then worked steadily through until this day, where he draws the Sunday Spider-Man newspaper strip. Along the way Alex enjoyed the longest run by a single artist on the title Web Of Spider-Man (now defunct) by drawing 73 issues starting with issue #35 and finishing with issue #116, missing only a couple of issues in-between. From there he moved to the children's book, Spider-Man Adventures, and finished up after fourteen issues on that title. For nearly a decade Alex was Mr. Spider-Man.

Originally starting with DC Comics, Alex moved over to Marvel and Spider-Man and is now busy with his work on the syndicated strip and also his occasional forays into the world of The Phantom. Alex has a rich knowledge, and history, when it comes to comic books and it was a delight to spend a few hours on the phone speaking to him about that history.

DANIEL BEST: Lets go back right to the start. How did you break into comics? You started at DC working on Green Lantern and the Flash.
ALEX SAVIUK: Let me just backtrack a little bit and say that I went to School of Visual Art in New York City, here in the USA and I studied illustration and cartooning and my teacher/mentor was Will Eisner who created The Spirit. He was, and still is a very, very generous man. I've been very fortunate to meet a lot of generous people throughout my career, but as a teacher and as a friend his teachings were invaluable. I could say that I was fortunate enough to be on the right track enough times in class that he didn't spend as much time with me as he did with some of the other students, but then he was very, very generous by having me come up to his office and spend 2-3 hours with me later. Then I would bring my work in and I would literally just pick his mind to help bring my artwork to the next level.

Just to backtrack again, at the School of Visual Arts, we had to do a class project for Will Eisner writing, drawing and lettering our own story. He gave us up to 4 pages to do that would be published collectively in a school magazine called GALLERY. After I got out of art school I decided to put my own little comic book together, a fanzine, if you will. I created my own character, called the Sorcerer, which I had copyrighted; it was a 13 or 14 pages, and I took the 4 page story that I had published at School of Visual Arts and I put it together in a little digest-sized magazine called FREEDOM with an initial print run of 300 copies.

I had to go to a second printing and put because I got bought out by a big east-coast distributor at the time in the late 70's named Phil Sueling. I sent him a copy of my fanzine and he ordered 500 copies from me to bring to conventions and hopefully try to promote me in that sense.

In April 1977, Phil Sueling had a big comic book convention in New York City. I recall passing by his table, saying hello and saw that my magazine was on his table. I asked him about it and he said that it was doing pretty well, that many people seemed to be pretty interested. I proceeded to walk the floors and within about a half-hour, I heard my name on the public address system, being paged to come over to Phil Sueling's table. There, looking through my magazine was the then-president of DC comics, Sol Harrison. Phil introduced me to him we shook hands and then he said "Would you like to work for DC Comics?" And that was really how I got in.

That Monday I called up Vince Colletta, the art director and made an appointment. I walked out of there with a 1-page mystery story which was sort of a professional training ground, if you will. DC Comics in those days, used to have a couple of mystery books like 'House of Secrets', 'House of Mystery', some of the war comics like 'Unknown Soldier', which would consist of short stories anywhere from 1 to 7 pages in length. So actually my first 4 assignments were doing these little back-up type stories. One science fiction, two mysteries, and another one was a war story.

After I turned in the 4th short story, which was a mystery for editor Murray Boltinoff, Vince Colletta called me into his office and asked me if I was interested in drawing Green Lantern. My jaw dropped-- that would have been the fulfilment of one of my lifelong dreams because I was a big Green Lantern and Gil Kane fan. Of course I said yes and he brought me into editor Julie Schwartz's office, introduced me, and Julie, in his own inimitable way, just looked at me and said "So, what makes you think you can draw Green Lantern?" I had to go tell him, that I was a big Gil Kane fan, loved the character, loved science fiction, superheroes etc... and he said "OK, draw me a couple of samples, I want to see how you draw the character".

I went home and put together 2 pages of just character drawings and brought them in a couple of days later. He was pleased with the look, and gave me a script for Green Lantern number 100, which was a double-sized issue. I got to draw the lead feature which was Green Lantern and Green Arrow and introduced, or re-introduced a character called Airwave. The second story in the book was done by Mike Grell, who was a regular artist on the book but at the time could not draw the entire thing because he was working on a Legion of Superheroes tabloid book. DC used to come out with these big tabloids back in the late 70’s, early 80’s. At any rate, after I did that first one, number 100, I walked in, turned it in, and Julie said “How would you like to do another one?” Of course I said yes, and had a second one to do and turned that in and had a third and a fourth, and a fifth, and it just seemed like, well, I kept asking, well, is Mike Grell coming back…..well he’ll come back sooner or later. OK.

Then as it turned out, the book changed editors and went to Jack C Harris. Jack came up to me and said “Listen, you’re gonna be the regular guy on Green Lantern along with Mike Grell, you guys are gonna basically share the duties”. I believe that was how he put it. It just seemed like Mike could only do about another three issues, or so, and then he was getting backed-up on his Warlord comic and some other special project, so I basically inherited the mantle of doing Green Lantern.

Somewhere in my second year of doing the book, they also came up and offered me The Flash. So, here I was, I was just in the business for about a year or so, and I’ve got two of the top books on my drawing table, Flash and Green Lantern. It was a daunting task, to say the least, even though the stories were only 17 pages in length. To be able to have to draw 34 pages every single month and know that you put in the amount of time, quality and energy needed was pretty difficult and after about….well, I guess I only did 6 issues of The Flash because I was starting to fall a little bit behind. After about 3 or 4 issues of The Flash they told me that they were going to take one of the books away and they wanted to give Green Lantern to Joe Staton. So that’s what they did and I stayed on The Flash, with Ross Andru, for another three months.

Then I actually got pulled away from the comic book business for, about 6 months, because I had some advertising projects that were pretty lucrative which were the direction that I really thought I was going to end up going in completely. Advertising, financially speaking in those days, that was really the way to go. Advertising definitely paid, ten times what comic books would pay and the lure of money is always very strong, even though you miss doing your comics. As time went on, I just realised how much I missed doing comics so I went back to DC and said, listen, I can’t do a monthly book, but do you have anything that I could do, fill-ins or anything like that and I went back to Julie Schwartz and started working on his Superman Family books. Stories like Superboy, Jimmy Olson, Lois Lane and he kept me busy there for quite a while. The advertising business was good but there were highs and lows, so at some particular points he would say “Well, do you want to take something longer on, like a Superman, DC Presents story?” I would of course say yes, because now I would have the chance to do Superman.

I won’t say the advertising market dried up, but I just got to be so busy in comic books again that I would just occasionally do some ad work throughout those middle 80’s. I was with DC for about 9 years and because I was working on one of the Superman books the ‘higher-ups’ wanted to take, all the people involved in drawing and writing Superman to a luncheon because they wanted to discuss the future of Superman. So, we went to this particular luncheon, and when I say ‘we’, it was myself and Curt Swan, Cary Bates, Kurt Schaffenberger, Eliot Maggin, Dick Giordano and Jennette Kahn. Basically what they told us was that Superman was really doing poorly in sales and not because of our efforts, but probably just because of the market but still they wanted to jump start the line. This was around 1985, or 86 when they told us this and that’s when they brought along John Byrne, Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway to come in and basically re-do Superman. So they told us that we were going to have a lot of work left with the company and not to worry and so we had our lunch and were pretty happy.

In February of 1986 that I turned in a Superman story for Action Comics and Julie Schwartz and he said that he only had one more Superman story to do and that he was going to give that one to Curt Swan, which he just felt he had to do, and basically that I’d need to go and see the freelance co-ordinator to get my next assignment. There was nothing to be had at that particular time so since I was already a family man, I had a wife and a child, I knew I couldn’t be without work so I walked across town and called up John Romita Sr, who was the art director at Marvel.

I had known John personally because I had gone to secondary school with both of his sons. John Romita Jr is four years younger than I am to the day, we both have the same birthday on August the 17th, and his older brother, Victor, was a year younger than myself but we were in a couple of after school curricular activities together. So I got to meet the Romita family, I got to go over to John Romita’s house. I saw him working, at that particular time period was when Jack Kirby had left the Fantastic Four and John was drawing his first Fantastic Four issue. Those pages were on his drawing table and he was also inking Spider-Man over Gil Kane. So, as a 17 year old boy I got to see him working on all this incredible, eye popping stuff, and at the time expressing my interest in drawing comics and the like. At any rate we had maintained a friendship throughout the years and there were times when he’d say if things ever got too slow at DC give us a call at Marvel. You never know, we always need someone doing fill-in work, or there might be an opening or whatever. So I took him up on that offer and that’s how I got to Marvel.

I dropped some samples off and by the end of the week I got a phone call from one of the editors and they wanted to know if I could do a fill-in on an Iron Man book. It was Iron Man #211, which is the only one I ever did, but it was still a highpoint for me as Iron Man was one of my favourite characters and at least I got to draw him once, so to speak. After that I was doing a number of fill-ins on some of the Marvel New Universe books for Jim Shooter. Star Brand, Nightmask and I was doing a handful of covers for some of their books, like the West Coast Avengers Annual #15, and some Spider-Man team-up covers. I got to do a Fantastic Four Index cover, which was one of the few times I got to draw the Fantastic Four. Then they offered me the Defenders Of The Earth, which was very enticing because it had the Phantom, Flash Gordon and Mandrake the Magician all thrown into one comic book, and I couldn’t pass that up. I got to do that for five issues. Four were published and the fifth one was pencilled and co-plotted by me with the writer and I think the first six pages were inked by Fred Fredricks, but it never saw print. I don’t have the original artwork for that. I’ve called them up over the years and they’d say “Well it must be buried in one of our closets and sooner or later we’ll run an inventory check and get it out to you”, so I’m still hoping to see that artwork at some particular point.

Right after that I got to another licensed property called Chuck Norris and his Karate Commandos . Following three issues of Steve Ditko artwork, I got to do two issues. Again one saw print and the second one never saw print but it was completed, lettered, inked, coloured even, but it never went to press and that was the better of the two stories that I worked on. While I was working on either Defenders Of The Earth or Chuck Norris I got a call from Jim Salicrup who was editing Spider-Man at that time. He wanted to know if I would be interested in doing a couple of fill-in issues on Amazing Spider-Man on the recommendation of Howard Mackie who was the writer of Chuck Norris. Jim called me up and asked me about it and at the time I said “Sure I’ll do it, I just have to finish up this story and then I’ll be there”. I got to work on Amazing Spider-Man #292 which was the issue where on the final panel of the story Mary Jane agrees to marry Peter Parker. That was a key issue. Then I filled in on a couple of more Amazings, a two part Doctor Octopus story and then from that I did two issues of another licensed character called Sledgehammer. It was a comedy police series back in the late ‘80s with David Raschie as this magnum .44 bumbling detective. Jim Salicrup was the writer on it so he asked me if I’d be interested in working on it with him. Since he was also the editor of Spider-Man at the time, I figured, hey its work and this stuff looked pretty funny. Right after that he asked me if I’d be interested in doing some fill in issues on Web Of Spider-Man and theoretically after doing four fill-in issues, I ended up getting the regular assignment, which was mine to have then for almost eight years.

My tenure of Web was over in 1994 when they asked me if I’d be interested in launching a new Spider-Man book called Spider-Man Adventures, which was based on the animated television project. Again it seemed to be a financially sound move because comics were selling so well in the early ‘90s that if any kind of a book came out, particularly a Spider-Man or an X-Man book that was a number one, they usually did very well in sales. So I figured that was definitely a step in the right direction, because it would be a financial boost to us. As it turned out, it made some money but this was in about 1995 and comics were starting to go into a spiral downwards in terms of sales.

In the early ‘90s the market got over saturated with the holographic covers, the mini-series, the number ones and for some reason or another someone decided, and I don’t know who, that comics were going to be the next best investment to Microsoft stock. So you had all these people going out and buying 50 copies, 100 copies of a number one title, and comic shops were in their glory. Amazing Spider-Man would be selling 500,000 copies a month. Web was selling 200 to 250,000 copies a month. They had those Jim Lee X-Men’s with four different covers coming out four weeks in a row for X-Men number one and you had four million copies in sales. Todd McFarlane was selling a couple of million copies of his Spider-Man number one comic. All of that was going on and eventually the market got saturated with too many books and things started going downhill from there.

By 1996, after I had done close to about two dozen of the animated Spider-Man series, the book got cancelled and I ended up having to leave Marvel and go freelance again. I got to work with Jim Salicrup again at Topps Comics, where they produce the X-Files. For the last twelve issues of the X-Files book I was the penciller and Rick Majyar was the inker, and John Rozen was the writer. I think John is still in Hollywood, plying his craft and getting involved with the motion picture industry and Rick went on to become the assistant art director at CrossGen Comics, which, as we all know, doesn’t exist anymore, but he had a good four years over there.

After the X-Files was over, 10-13 who did the television show had script and art approval over everything we did, in 1998 when the X-Files movie came out they decided not to renew the contract on the comic book. They said that with the movie being so successful they were thinking about franchising the movie and they really didn’t have the time to set up a new department where they would be going over scripts, and art and approvals and so they weren’t going to renew the contract at that time, but they would eventually get to it. That basically meant that they weren’t interested.

Prior to that in 1997 I was offered the Spider-Man Sunday newspaper strip. I was to do the pencilling on it, with Stan Lee writing and Joe Sinnott inking, and since it was only one page a week I was happy to have my hand in doing Spider-Man and feel like I’m still doing comics. That’s my main staple now as far as the mainstream comic book industry goes since 1997. I still pencil the Spider-Man Sunday strip and I inherited the inking chores on the daily strip almost a year ago now. John Tartaglione, who was the regular inker, passed away. I had filled in for him once when he was in hospital with an illness, and they had liked the inking that I had done so on my urging when I said to them, ”Well if you ever need another fill-in inker feel free to please call me” They said I’d be the first one they’d call and when they asked and I took the assignment.

At that particular time my mainstream comic book career was over. I tried to go to DC, I tried to go back to Marvel and see about getting some work from those two companies, even Dark Horse, but I wasn’t successful at all in getting any work from them. I had to go back to my advertising roots and start doing storyboards for the ad agencies.

Just recently in addition to the advertising work I got in touch with Ulf Granberg in December of 2003 and sent him some samples. He saw the samples and in within a day he got back to me and was very interested in working with me in doing an Egmont story. So that’s how my first assignment for the Phantom came on. They have scheduling seminars once or twice a year at Egmont and I know that I’m slated to work on one, if not two stories for 2005. I’ve also been approached by Moonstone Comics to do a Phantom story for them. I have a script here which I’ve done the initial layouts for, so I guess there’ll be a Moonstone Phantom of mine coming out in spring or summer.

I’ve just met so many nice people throughout my lifetime, with comics and just recently with the Phantom. So many people, I didn’t realise how many people were still involved with the Phantom, especially Australia and Europe and we have a select amount of people, I guess, that are still fans here in America. Or maybe there are more than we actually think but considering we just have it in the newspaper strip, and there aren’t really, except for Moonstone right now which is publishing a comic but their schedule seems to have, instead of coming out bi-monthly I think as they’d hoped, I think they more or less come out on a quarterly basis, or maybe even a little bit less than that depending upon how the artistic schedules and the printing schedules go.

DB: How did it feel coming back to the Phantom after doing Defenders Of The Earth way back when?
AS: When I first got to do the Defenders of course I was excited because, as I said, the Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon. The Phantom basically had the same look that I grew up with. I grew up looking at the Sy Barry newspaper strips when I was a kid living in New York. When I saw the Defenders Of The Earth Phantom and saw that he didn’t have his guns and he didn’t have his striped trunks, they said “Well it’s a futuristic version and because the Phantom now has this so called ‘power of ten tigers’ at his command he doesn’t really need guns, because he gets the strength of ten tigers, and the stealth and speed to fight his enemies,” which wasn’t exactly my idea of the Phantom but still, visually speaking, he had the purple costume, the belt, the mask, the skull cave, so there was still enough there for me to enjoy working on it. Regrettably the book came to a close so quickly having only done the four issues. I’d always had a love for the Phantom over the years. I’ve collected the comics, all the Gold Key issues. I’m missing just a few of the King Comics and a few of the Charltons. I’ve got all of the DC’s and all the other versions that have come out since and now that I’ve been working on the Egmont series, they sent me four years worth of Phantomen, so over the course of about a week and a half I had about 100 comics coming to me in the mail. Unfortunately I couldn’t read any of them, but it was great looking at the artwork because they do have some really fine people working for them. Just the thought of working on the Phantom again got me excited, especially since I had spoken to Dick Giordano over a year ago also and he told me he was doing some work for them and that I should possibly get in touch to see if they needed any other artists. The rest is history as far as that goes.

DB: You did Web Of Spider-Man for around eight years – that’s an incredible run, especially when you consider that artists leave books after a short time, or are removed from them.
AS: I have to agree with you on that. It just seems that in the old days, when you look back on the different artists that came up in the Silver Age, people got an assignment and they stuck with it. I’m not saying that they didn’t enjoy their work, because if you don’t enjoy doing comics you couldn’t stay in it because of the money. As long as you’re working with a steady job and have the ability to stay home and draw for a living instead of having to go out and do something else, then at least you can draw.

With Spider-Man people asked me throughout the years, “How do you stay on Spider-Man for so long?” I just said to them that the stories were written well enough for me and I enjoyed the characters. The whole thing about Spider-Man was that it wasn’t just Spider-Man, it was the entire supporting cast of characters he had around him. It was Mary Jane, J. Jonah Jameson, Robbie Robertson, Flash Thompson, Gwen Stacey, Betty Brandt, all those characters were always an integral part of the make-up. With Spider-Man you had to draw a lot of action but there was always intriguing plot lines going on around the main action. So that’s what really kept me going on it, the fact that the stories were well conceived and I just enjoyed working on them. If it wasn’t for the fact that my books got cancelled in 1996, I think if I were still on a Spider-Man title then I’d still be doing it to this day.

I still enjoy doing the Sunday strip and when it comes down to it I’ve been drawing Spider-Man professionally since 1987. Considering that I left Marvel in 1996 and still drew some Spider-Man stories then and picked up the Sunday strip in 1997 and have done it to this day, I’ve been affiliated with the character for eighteen years. So each year for eighteen years I’ve been working on Spider-Man, so that continues my run so to speak.

DB: When you came into Marvel and started on Spider-Man it was just before Todd McFarlane worked on it – in fact you did the two issues immediately prior to McFarlane’s first Amazing Spider-Man’s.
AS: You’re right. I did Amazing Spider-Man #296 and #297 and then he came in with #298 so I was the last guy to draw Spider-Man before Todd on that title. I wish I had Todd’s success but I really can’t complain, other than the fact that I wish I was working back in mainstream comics in some shape or form.

I would say that working for Egmont and doing the Phantom, and even the Moonstone Phantom, well you never know what the future might bring. There’s always next time around where another convention shows up and depending on how my work is received on the Phantom stories, particularly Moonstone as that’ll be published here in America, it might be a stepping stone for me to get back into mainstream comics. So we’ll have to see what happens.

DB: You worked with Ross Andru as an editor during your time at DC. How did you find him as a person?
AS: I had the pleasure of working with Ross Andru when I just started to work for DC Comics. He had left Marvel and had become an editor at DC. After all those years of just pencilling they offered him a position to become an editor and I guess he figured ‘Wow, something different, something I’ve always wanted to do, be in control’ in this case a series of books. It wasn’t for lack of being able to draw because at the time I think he’d still draw about ten covers a month in addition to being an editor.

When I was working on the Flash for about six or seven issues, he was my editor and in that six months or so I learnt so much from him. Things that when I draw stories today I still utilise some of those devices.

Ross was a very personable man, very giving. As an editor he would sometimes (being an artist) read a script and, since I was a neophyte artist, he would take it upon himself to do little thumbnail sketches of a page or a sequence and then I would come in and he’d say “Listen, if you don’t mind, I just had this thought on this sequence. If you want to look it over and maybe take something from it, or if you want to discard it completely and use your own thing, then that’s fine, go ahead and do it, but I just felt so excited about this scene I just wanted to lay down a couple of things here”. I’d say “Ok, let’s take a look” and I’d look at it and go “Wow! This is great, can I use this?” and he’d go “Would you?” and I’d say “Yeah” and he’d reply “Oh that would be great. Yeah, sure” So without really telling me “Listen, I want you to use this” he left it open and I was always one of those particular professionals that was always open to suggestion, was always open to learning.

I was the consummate team player. If I worked for one particular company then I stayed loyal to that company for as long as they were loyal to me, or as loyal as any company can be to an employee. As long as they provided me with work I was fine with it and I just stayed there. I didn’t necessarily go out of my way to say “Well let me go across town to Marvel and try to work for them too” and then see I could get DC to give me a raise.

Each company at the time that I was working for them kept me busy enough. Quite frankly I was never that fast, like John Buscema. Although they kept him under contract at Marvel, I was never that fast that I would try to juggle two books a month from two different companies. Ideally you’d like to think, “Yeah I could draw two books in a month, I could pencil two books in one month”, at the time it was 17 or twenty pages. That’s not a problem as long as I have the script; I can sit down and draw ten pages a week. That was nothing out of the norm to be able to sit down and draw two pages in a day, or draw a page and a half a day over six days and then sit down and finish up a little bit more on a Saturday, or on one day do two pages, so you got your ten pages done. But even when you were working for the same company sometimes as soon as you’ve finished that one script the next script wasn’t necessarily ready for you. You might have to wait two, three or four days and you’re thinking “Oh my gosh, the other one is waiting for me and I’m going to have to really burn the midnight oil to get this thing done.

Juggling two books was a tough thing for me. There are some people out there who used to do it religiously and somehow they always got it done. Guys like George Perez who was very fast. Even Paul Ryan when he worked at Marvel he was doing two team books a month with the Fantastic Four and the Avengers and I could never understand how somebody could be able to juggle two detailed books like that. Then again it also depends on what your work ethic is, how many hours a day you enjoy – and I’ll use that word enjoy – at the drawing table.

Drawing is fun, the only time that I ever feel that it’s work is when you’re faced with that particular deadline where you just know, Oh gosh, in this next week I have to work ‘till 3 o’clock every morning and sleep about 4 or 5 hours at best just so that I have enough to get me going the following day and do it all over again for another 16 hours. This was literally the case for me when I was doing that first Phantom story for Egmont I found myself in the last week or so having about 20 pages to ink, and that was nobody’s fault but my own. At any rate, I just sat down and started working with the help of my wife who was actually a production artist at DC Comics and in certain advertising agencies at some point in her career. Since she was a production artist, she was able to help me with backgrounds, ruling borders, straight lines, filling in blacks which when you think in terms of 32 pages, if she saved me an hour a page by doing that, that’s 32 hours, which, quite frankly, breaks down to at least 3 days worth of work. Her efforts were invaluable to me at the time. I would say she already said “Well, when you get to do the next one, am I going to help you?” and I said “Of course!” Sure, well, why not? So, she had a great time doing it, also she had her headphones on, she was listening to music, singing along and just ruling out borders and straight lines and whatever and everything came out looking really good. So, I was very, very pleased.

DB: How much do you think the industry has changed since you first broke in?
AS: Nowadays it’s completely different. In the last two years I’ve started attending some of the major conventions here in America and usually in San Diego and some of those other big shows they usually have portfolio sessions where the editors and other professional artists will do portfolio reviews. There will be a screening process where they look at your work beforehand to see if you’re even worthy enough to go to the next level to be critiqued by some of the editors to see if your work is professional enough in quality. I do believe that people send in submissions if they can’t get to a convention, but the submission route is very, very difficult at best. As far as I know, the desks of the editors are really piled high with all kinds of material and there’s probably a section somewhere in the office where they just pile up the submissions. If and when they get to it, then they get to it. The best way to get to know them and see them is to meet them first hand at a convention and show them your work.

Self publication these days isn’t a bad way to get in either. If your work is good enough then at least it’ll be out there in print. People will get to see it. If you’re published it always does help for somebody to look at a finished product. However, as you know, there are people who do self-publishing and even though they might have a glitzy looking cover, and colour on the inside which is, well the computer is not discretionary, the computer will colour your work. Whether it’s good or bad the colours are still going to look fine but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the artwork underneath it is going to shine. I’ve seen some really good looking independent work, and I’ve seen some really bad looking independent work. I’m not trying to be overly critical when I say bad looking. People who are working in comics, or self-publishing, I tip my hat to them because I know they all have the desire to do comics, but basically its talent and practice. Talent and practicing your craft and being aware of the current styles and trends that are out there.

Right now there’s a particular phrase that editors, writers and artists like to bandy about that’s called ‘cutting edge’. It seems like everyone is always looking for something that’s ‘cutting edge’. Whether it’s a new way of inking, or making the backgrounds look realistic, or using photographs to make your characters look better, whatever it is, whatever it takes to make your artwork look that much sharper. The competitive level out there right now is so high that the standard, the bar has been raised so high all across the board. I think it’s harder to get in now than it ever has been in the past. Yet people still want to go ahead and do it.

DB: Before we close it out. You did one of the most under-used characters in the DCU – Airwave.
AS: You recall Airwave?
DB: I grew up with Airwave.
AS: Oh wow, that’s amazing! Every now and then, now that I’ve been attending these conventions in the past two years, I get older fans coming up to me and basically saying the same thing. Some people even come up to me and ask for a sketch of Airwave! I say, “Really??” It just amazes me that people would even remember that I did Airwave because quite frankly they were these back-up comics that I was doing for Action Comics and World’s Finest. In Action I did Airwave, the Atom and Aquaman. In World’s Finest I did Hawkman. I even did one instalment of Green Arrow in World’s Finest, but out of all the back-up characters that I did, they ask for Airwave. I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me to draw them an Aquaman. I can count on my hand the amount of times I’ve gotten to draw Hawkman or the Atom for somebody, just out of the blue, someone asking me for that particular sketch. But yeah, I’m pretty surprised that people remember Airwave.

DB: He was a very quirky character.
AS: Yeah, he was very quirky and it was kind of intriguing because he would always have these little thought balloons up there that’d say “Hmmmm what would Green Lantern say? How would he approach this?” and it would force him to more or less use his wits and come up with a solution instead of just plunging in and going off the cuff to try and solve a particular situation. They were amusing tales and as much as people remember Airwave, I still don’t always mention the fact that I drew him. Not because I’m embarrassed about drawing him, I just seem to think who have I drawn? Superman, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Aquaman, Flash; I always think of the adult superheroes.

I did Superboy for three issues once when Julie Schwartz called me up and told me that Kurt Schaffenberger had suffered a heart attack, but he was OK, he was recuperating in the hospital but he wouldn’t be able to pencil an issue of Superboy and would I be interested. Of course I jumped at the chance and then it turned out to be a three part story and just as I was finishing up the first part Julie told me that Kurt had recovered fully from his heart attack, he was home and he was going to ink the Superboy stories that I was pencilling. I said, “Really? Are you sure he doesn’t just want to come back and pick up the pencilling?” and he said “No, he doesn’t want to have to spend time in deep thought trying to do pencilling and stuff so the inking would keep him working and at the same time it wouldn’t be as strenuous”. So I got to work with Kurt Schaffenberger for three issues of Superboy which was a treat. Also the final issue of Action Comics that I drew, which was a Superman story with some Phantom Zone villains impersonating his parents, Jor-El and Lara and making Superman believe that they had come to Earth, that story was inked by Kurt Schaffenberger also. I think I also did a DC Presents with him with Superman, Elastic Lad, Plastic Man, (the first time I ever got to draw Plastic Man) and Elongated Man. It was kind of a quirky, funny story and I was very fortunate to be able to have worked with some of these giants in the industry. To be inked by Dick Giordano, Murphy Anderson, Kurt Schaffenberger, Tony DeZungia, Romeo Tanghal, Jim Mooney on a special project. John Romita Sr was probably one of the most prolific, we got to work on about four covers together and I can say that I still have all those covers here – I don’t want to part with them.

I’ve worked on just about every major character, whether they be in a feature, a back-up feature or as a guest star in a book. Even Wonder Woman got to appear in a Flash story. I’ve gotten to draw Batman in a couple of guest spots, so I’ve really been lucky in terms of being able to draw some of my real favourites when I was growing up.

DB: How daunting was it to know that you were about to be inked by some of those people?
AS: Well with Jim Mooney, he inked just one illustration, a licensing thing that I did for Marvel with Spider-Man and some kids trick or treating for Halloween. I didn’t know he was going to ink it, so I’d have to say that I pretty much pencilled the same way for everybody, because I never knew who I was going to work with. The only person where I could say I had a steady minds eye knowing what the work would look like was when I started on Web Of Spider-Man.
Keith Williams, who is the current inker of the Phantom daily strip, worked with me on Web Of Spider-Man for just over four years, so pretty much I knew that he was going to ink the stories so I pencilled as tightly as I could, and there were times in the beginning where I would have a discussion with him and ask him if everything was there that he needed and he’d reply that it was fine, just keep doing what you’re doing. He said it was tight, but not super tight. Some guys like Brian Bolland, his pencils are as tight as his inks are. So if they could reproduce his pencils without going to the inks then his pencils are almost camera ready. My pencils, well the drawing is there and it’s solid, but I would say it’s maybe 85% or 90% of what Brian Bolland does in terms of giving an inker all the information that is necessary to go off and have some fun and not feel like he’s being completely handcuffed by having to take every feathered line that I drew.
I used to admire it when an inker would take something and put a little bit of his own personality into it, because that’s what I used to admire about inkers when I was growing up. Gil Kane would be inked by Joe Giella on Green Lantern, but at the same time he’d be inked by Murphy Anderson on the Atom. You could tell it was Gil Kane but both of them looked different because of the different inkers. At an early age I realised that each different inker brought something else to the table in terms of adding his stamp to the work and making it look good.

But aside from Keith Williams, I never knew who was going to ink my work, except for Vince Colletta. When I was working on Green Lantern, he did about four or five issues of it and I knew he would be inking it, so I went ahead and pencilled it as tightly as I could because I knew that he liked tight pencils. When it came to Murphy Anderson, again I didn’t know he was going to be working with me on the two covers that he got to ink and he put his little stamp on it. You could tell it was inked by Murphy, just little nuances that he put in there.

Dick Giordano has his own way of inking; he has that beautiful fluid, spontaneous brush line. Which, when he was inking me, I was looking for and basically he gave me, so I wasn’t disappointed.

Joe Sinnott as you know is a very influential artist/inker. When he inks someone there’s that definite stamp of looking at that solid, fluid, gorgeous brush line that just takes over the pencil and turns everyone’s work into gold. I had spoken to him at some point very early on and had asked him if I was giving him enough information or would he like it to be a little looser, because as an artist I know that he’d like to put his own personality in, and he said, “Hey, no, everything’s fine. You can even be a little bit looser if you want, so this way I don’t feel like I’m completely handcuffed and I can just go in there and do my thing”. So I know when I’m in good hands like that with an artist/inker like Joe Sinnott, or Dick Giordano, if you know you’re working with someone like that then you know that you don’t have to put in every single line of information in terms of feathering or line weights, because you know that these people are artists in their own right as well as being inkers and they know exactly what needs to be done to take a drawing and flesh it out and bring it to life.

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with some of these giants of the industry, who have just made me look good all the time.

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Previous articles/interviews can be accessed by clicking here
All images courtesy of Alex Saviuk. All images and artwork are © copyright 2006 Marvel Comics, © copyright 2006 DC Comics unless otherwise noted,
The Spirit © copyright 2006 The Estate Of Will Eisner.
The Phantom and Devil © copyright 2006 King Features.
All other artwork © copyright 2006 Alex Saviuk - used with the express permission of Alex Saviuk.
Content is © copyright 2004-2006 Alex Saviuk and Daniel Best and cannot be reproduced, reprinted, stored, transmitted (electronically or otherwise) without the express written permission of all relevant parties involved. Interview conducted via phone in October 2004.


Jimmy T said…
I met Alex in Baltimore and he had some incredible pages with him. A great guy. Nice Job Daniel.

Jimmy t

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