Partners For Life - The Interviews: Sal Buscema
Sal Buscema started at Marvel comics in 1969, inking his brother John on Silver Surfer. From there he became one of the most dependable artists of the 1970s and 1980s, always on time and with solid results. Be it pencilling or inking (although he prefers inking), Sal remains one of the finest talents to emerge from the Marvel stable during the Bronze Age.
In recent times Sal moved from being exclusive at Marvel to freelance status, resulting in him working on the big two at DC: Superman and Batman. Although semi-retired Sal shows no signs of slowing down.
This interview was conducted via phone in March 2005.
DANIEL BEST: You worked fairly closely with Mike at Marvel.
SAL BUSCEMA: Mike inked a lot of my work. To say that we worked fairly closely is not a hundred percent accurate. A lot of the people that worked for Marvel were spread all over the place. Mike was based in New York and I live in Virginia. Consequently, I may have had one or two conversations with Mike on trips to New York, but I don’t ever recall talking to him on the phone. So when you say ‘worked closely together’, physically that’s not the case at all. Mike did ink a lot of my work, especially in the earlier years.
DB: How did you find Mike as an inker?
SB: I think Mike is a good inker. Honestly, and I want to be very candid about this, I was not thrilled about the way he inked my penciling. For some reason, and this is kind of unexplainable, there weren’t too many guys who inked me to my satisfaction, which is one of the reasons why I always lobbied to ink my own pencils. He was a good inker and he did a very, very good job on Ross. I was just not thrilled with what he did on my work, but that was a personal thing with me.
I can’t be anything but candid. I have to answer honestly; I’m not going to gloss over things. I’m going to tell it like it is, as the saying goes.
DB: Mike inked your run of Spectacular Spider-Man at the very start, and then he returned to the title in the late 1980s. Jim Salicrup apparently told Mike to “noodle up” the inks and make them look rough and scratchy.
SB: Maybe that was one of the problems. If you’ve seen any of the pencils that I’ve inked myself you’d see that I have a rather commercial, slick style. A lot of my early commercial art experience was as an illustrator for advertising and graphics and I think that carried over into my comic book illustrations and I think this maybe have been one of the reasons why I wasn’t crazy about what Mike did on my pencils.
DB: In the 1970s it was almost like you and Mike were an art team.
SB: I suppose you could say that. We pencilers are a very jealous lot in that we want the inkers to be very faithful to our pencils. For the most part Mike was (faithful) but perhaps it was a question of styles. It was just a personal thing.
Let me give you an analogy. I’m a great fan of classical music but I’m not a big fan of Bach because Bach is a baroque composer. My personal tastes do not appreciate baroque music. A lot of musicians and people who love classical music will probably think I’m crazy to say this, but I find it boring. However, there’s no question about the fact that Bach was one of the greatest composers who ever lived. It’s just a personal thing with me, but I’m not a big fan of his music. That analogy might explain how I felt about Mike Esposito.
It wasn’t only Mike; there were a lot of other inkers who I did not appreciate on my pencils. I’ve heard it said that I was one of the most cursed pencilers in the industry in that I’ve had a lot of guys inking my work who did not do it how I felt it should have been done. And when I did ink my own work it had a completely different look, yet it looked the way I thought it should look.
DB: Do you think that because you’ve always seen yourself as an inker that you’re more critical towards other inkers?
SB: It’s possible, because I have some very definite ideas about how inking should be done. My personal philosophy and maybe this is because I’ve also been a penciler, is that the inker should be very, very true to the penciler. He should try to put some of himself into the work, but still be as true to the penciler as possible, but there are exceptions. Inking someone like my brother, whose drawing was brilliant, was very, very difficult to follow. That was because his drawing was so excellent. There were inkers who would lose his drawing. It’s difficult to explain because there are so many subtleties to the drawing, especially when you were a master draftsman like John was, to maintain that beautiful drawing in the inking is a very difficult thing to do. There are guys, who could do that, and do it well. Another reason why my brother John always wanted to ink his own work was because he was very jealous of his pencils. He wanted the inker to be very true to them. I don’t agree with the inkers who believe that they have to noodle up, or just change the style of the penciler, unless they are specifically asked to do that by the people who are producing the book.
For instance, I’m doing a book with Ron Frenz who is a brilliant draftsman and just a tremendous talent. I think he’s one of the top five or ten guys in the industry and there is no way I would ever be presumptuous enough to change anything he does, unless he asked me to do so. Otherwise, I follow him quite closely, with the style that I have. I have an inking style and I will follow that penciller right out the window.
DB: You also inked one job with Ross.
SB: Yes and I really struggled with it at first. He wasn’t an easy guy to ink. He was a terrific penciler, a very talented guy. The first three pages I really struggled to find the right way to ink it. Once I got past those pages it seemed to come a little bit better. I was a big fan of Ross Andru. He was a great, great storyteller.
DB: When did you first become aware of Ross and Mike?
SB: I first became aware of Mike when he started inking my work. Before Marvel started sending comic books to the artists I would go out and buy a lot of them just to see what was being done in the industry. In the case of Ross, I was not familiar with his early work; I became familiar with his work when he started penciling Amazing Spider-Man.
Sal Buscema inked the following book over Ross Andru's pencils:
Mike Esposito worked on the following books with Sal Buscema:
#28 (Cover Art)
#40 (Cover Art and interiors)
Marvel Team-Up Annual
Marvel Two-In One
Master Of Kung Fu
#11 (Cover Art)
Skull the Slayer
#26 (Cover Art and interiors)
#27 (Cover Art and interiors)
#28 (Cover Art and interiors)
#29 (Cover Art and interiors)
#30 (Cover Art and interiors)