Partners For Life - The Interviews: Martin Thall
Martin Rosenthall began in comics in the late 1940s at the age of 18. Amongst his first jobs was Wally Woods’s comic book debut, inking Rosenthall’s pencils at Fox. Using the names Marty Thall and Emrose, Martin Rosenthall did comics during the late 1940s and 1950s for Orbit (crime), Timely (sports, weird), Ace (horror) and Prize (romance - mainly reprints of his work with Mike and Ross).
Martin Rosenthall left comics in the mid 1950s after the collapse of MikeRoss Publications and perused a lucrative career in film and television. In 2005 he spoke to Mike Esposito for the first time in nearly fifty years and decided to break his silence. These days he prefers to be known as Martin Thall.
This interview was conducted via phone in March 2005.
MARTIN THALL: Mike, Ross and I were friends as well as partners. We became friends in around 1948. I was always the guy who got all the girls. I got them dates. Ross was a great illustrator. He had a great touch and was always a great artist.
DANIEL BEST: How did you break into comic books?
MT: I broke in the same way that Ross and Mike broke in. We all attended the same school; the Cartoonists and Illustrators, which later became the School of Visual Arts. I went in before they did, I went in 1945 and they joined us a year afterwards. They were all veterans of World War II and had the GI Bill. I met them at around that time, in 1947, ’48, something like that. They were both single at the time and Ross was starting to ghost for Burne Hogarth at the time. He was penciling the Tarzan strip. I’m not sure why he stopped drawing it. Burne was a great teacher but he was very difficult to get along with. He wanted things done a certain way. Once he came over to me and wanted me to draw a certain way. We were called then a special class. If you were a professional cartoonist then you brought your work to school, like Mike and Ross did, and the story you were illustrating was your school project as well and he’d help you with. He had a terrible habit of digging his pencil into your work, re-drawing it and erasing it. I didn’t want it to look like Burne Hogarths work; I wanted it to look like mine. He saw things in a singular way and if you didn’t agree with him, then you were wrong, but he was a good teacher.
Ross was one of the most outstanding students there at the time and he and Mike teamed up at around that time. They started getting work right away. That was in about 1949.
We shared two apartments together at 130 West 47th Street in New York, which Daymon Runyon called ‘Dream Street’ in his day. The block we’re talking about was right off Broadway, near the Palace Theatre there. It was a five story building, a small building by New York standards, quaint and we had a one room apartment on the first floor and a three roomed apartment on the second floor. Six of us chipped in and we all worked out of there. I was working on my own; Mike and Ross had teamed up already, Mo Marcus, Phil Amaldo, Jack Abel and I can’t remember who else was there. We called ourselves Top Flight Cartoonists. We had a sign outside, but that was just for decoration. We were getting plenty of work in those days. Work was plentiful and if you didn’t make any money then it was because you got lazy and didn’t want to work.
DB: What were Mike and Ross like back in those days?
MT: They both were kind of a little loose. Mike was a bad gambler.
DB: He loved the horses.
MT: He practically lived with them. He smelt of them.
He scared me once. I remember the date, April the 1st, 1951 the old Jamaica track in Belmont. The races would open on April Fools day, which is very appropriate. It was the first race I ever went to and Mike, Ross and I went there. The odds boards were very old fashioned and they weren’t electronic, they’d have cards that’d slap down like an old baseball game. There was a horse there name Tangier. We bet on combinations, like the daily double and all those kind of things and we used to invest something like fifteen dollars and we won the daily double and each of us took home around five hundred dollars on a long shot. Before the day was out Mike had to blow it. He bet on a horse named Tangier. I’ll never forget. Tangier was a hundred to one shot and Mike said “Look, all the smart money is going on” and the odds kept dropping down rapidly. When it got to around twenty five to one Mike was saying “Bet on it! Bet on it!” Mike bet on it and I won’t say it finished last, it finished a day later. The horse was so slow, how smart money went on that thing I’ll never know.
The three of us used to have a lot of fun and we spent a lot of time together. In retrospect you could say we were close. The last time I saw them both was in 1957. They were sharing space with Bernie Sachs and another gentleman whose name I don’t recall. I got out of comics at that stage and broke into film. I did a lot of TV commercials and I made a lot of money in those days. The ‘60s and ‘70s were very good to me.
We just lost touch. Mike married and Ross married later. I never met Ross’ wife, I met Mike’s first wife. I remember she came up to our office at 55 West 42nd Street where MikeRoss Publications was located.
DB: You penciled one of the first jobs that Wally Wood inked.
MT: Woody and I teamed up in around 1948 when we were both straight out of the Cartoonists and Illustrators school for a brief time. Woody just outclassed me. He was so fast and such a workaholic that you couldn’t keep up with him. It could be that I penciled one of the first jobs that Woody inked, but I don’t know what it was. It probably would have been for the Fox Syndicate. Victor Fox always hired cartoonists and took a long time paying you. Guys were getting around $35 a page in those days for pencils and inks together and he was paying $23. I remember the editor there, Al Vergoda. They were a really sleepy outfit, but it was a start when you were a young cartoonist and you wanted to get published. A lot of publishers didn’t like to look at you if you weren’t published. At that time, in 1951, we were all still in those two apartments.
I then got drafted into the Marine Corp, of all things. When I was in the Marine Corp Ross and Mike formed MikeRoss Publishing. They asked me if I wanted to join them, so I invested my money, joined them and then the Kefauver Senate Investigations took place. That’s what finished us. We lasted about seven months and then we were out of business. As quick as it began it was all over.
(Marty Thall's work with Ross Andru and Mike Esposito includes a stunning cover image of Heart And Soul (issue #2) where he inked over Ross's pencils, as seen on the right)
DB: MikeRoss’ inventory was sold to Simon and Kirby’s Mainline.
MT: Yes. We sold all of our stuff. We even sold one or two stories that we’d finished for the last issue of Heart And Soul, issue three.
Kirby was my mentor. I saw him five days a week. When I was going to high school DC publishing was five blocks away. I was at 51st Street and Lexington and DC were at 48th Street and Lexington. Jack worked there, before Joe, and all the guys who worked at DC comics worked in the building. They all worked on staff, they didn’t work at home or from a studio. I went up there to meet him and he graciously greeted me as I used to be a regular. I would to go right by the reception without stopping and say hello to all the guys. I met Joe Schuster there, I met Bob Kane there. I met so many people; Joe Simon eventually came up there.
Jack and I used to go out for coffee. I went to high school and the Cartoonists and Illustrators school at the same time, day and night. Jack was very kind to me. He was a cigar smoker and one day for Christmas I got him a box of cigars. It was the cheapest cigar in the world, but he graciously accepted it and he took me out to the Waldorf Astoria for dinner. I had my first shrimp cocktail over there. He was a very great, gracious man. He gave everything and shared everything with you. He was a wonderful, wonderful guy. I hadn’t seen him for years because he moved over to the west coast and then passed away.
DB: Did you keep up with comic books on a reading level once you left the industry?
MT: I really fell away from it. I would glance through them and I’d see some people whom I’d worked with. Leonard Starr and I worked together on Mary Perkins On Stage. I ghosted for him a couple of times and did backgrounds for him when he had to go on vacation. That was in the late ‘60s. For two weeks I chipped in for him. Lennie Starr, Tom Sawyer, Tex Blaisdell and I shared studio space in the late ‘60s after I got out of the comic book business.
DB: You had no desire to return to comics?
MT: No. Stan Lee, who was a good friend of mine, well at least he was very good to me did ask me. Once when I was in the Marine Corp I was in special services and I had my own office. He sent me work and I remember doing one story for a horror comic, I penciled the story and sent it in to be edited and lettered and he sent it back to be inked. Just after I sent him the pencils I expected him to return the stuff to me. That weekend I had an accident on my way back to New York for a long weekend with my family and I was really laid out bad. I insisted when they took me on a gurney that they take me to a pay phone and I called up Stan. It was early morning hours but he was in, and I said, “Don’t send it because I can’t finish it”. He was very sorry and what he did was he had someone finish it and sign my name to it and paid me in full. That’s the kind of man Stan Lee is. A sweet man. I haven’t seen him in many years now.