Looking Back With Alan Kupperberg: Thor
In its heyday Thor was a strong seller and one of the flagships of the Marvel Comic group. At the time Alan came on board as yet another in a long line of semi-regular pencilers sales had dropped and the title had all but bottomed out into cancellation. It managed to hang on long enough for Walt Simonson to come on board and re-establish the book to its rightful place in the Marvel Universe. However the issues that came before the Simonson relaunch are often overlooked as being pedestrian at best. This is unfair as it dismisses some quality work from some very quality creators. To avoid those issues that came before Simonson is to avoid two very good runs, the first being the longest run by artist Keith Pollard and the second being Alan Kupperberg’s issues.
Kupperberg’s issues do have flaws, but then Simonson isn’t everyone’s cup of tea either, and the same could easily apply to the later Ron Frenz issues, which gave the title a very Kirbyesque look (and people say Rich Buckler ‘swiped’ Kirby!). Working with writer Doug Moench and paired with inkers of the calibre of Jim Mooney, Chic Stone and even Vinnie Colletta, Kupperberg was able to create some of the more interesting art of his career. From the main title through to the Tales Of Asgaard back-ups (which were resolved in their own full issue), Moench, Kupperberg and Mooney (who inked more of Kupperberg’s run than anyone else) offered up solid stories and, away from prying eyes, managed to weave some interesting little cameos and concepts into the books. Rather than scan and show all of them I’ve deliberately left images out of this interview. Why? Because you can pick these books up fairly cheaply and really, they deserve to be read and enjoyed. And when you’re done pop on over to Alan’s web-site and have him draw you a lovely Thor.
ALAN KUPPERBERG: I always forget about the first issue of Thor that I did in 1978.
DANIEL BEST: Which was #279.
DB: Why do you forget that one?
AK: It’s kind of early in my Marvel career. I never remember that I did it an issue of Thor outside of my run on the book. I recall it when I see it. I’m guessing that this must have been while I was drawing the Invaders. Roy would have seen my Thor in the Invaders.
DB: Would’ve been at the same time, yeah.
AK: Yeah, so Roy Thomas was still the Editor.
DB: Inked by Pablo Marcos.
AK: Yes. This is not the worst ink job Pablo ever did on me. It’s actually not terrible. There are things in the job that he did that are not great, but -- . Back in those days Pablo was inking me a lot. And the main problem I had with Pablo Marcos’s inks, was that he was supposed to be tightening up my layouts and then inking them. And he didn’t do the tightening. He just inked my layouts and then he’d ink a little noodle-doodle around, adding all kinds of meaningless rendering, a lot of hay, in ink.
DB: How did it feel to be drawing the classic Kirby character?
AK: Well, that part of it, the history of the character was very exciting. But I was never satisfied with my Thor. I think I made him too slender at the hips. And the way I drew his helmet looks more like beanie than a Norse helmet. The helmet should come down lower on his brow. I didn’t really get Thor’s helmet right until recently. And by then, it was way too late.
DB: When you look back on this one, what speaks to you?
AK: I haven’t really gone over it recently. Paging through it now, the layouts are interesting enough. This was before Shooter got his hooks into the company, so I was still doing what I wanted to do. Which were more Kirby-like panels. For instance, the panel with Ulik in it, on the bottom of page fifteen.
That’s a nice Kirby-like panel. Kirby would’ve had more power in it, but whatever power there is, it turned out well. I get the feeling when I look at Ulik’s kneecaps, that maybe I swiped it from Kirby. I had been looking at some character reference, because off the top of my head, I don’t know what Ulik looks like.
When I was a kid at Meyer Levin Junior High School in Brooklyn, I would crack up my friends, Michael Shada and Jimmy Henry. Because Ulik sounds like, ‘you lick,’ dig? So I was chucking to myself when I was drawing this story, thinking back on my old pals.
On the next page, I like the panel where Ulik is ripping the wall out and throwing it. That’s okay. That page has some nice layouts. I think that’s what Roy Thomas meant when he said that I “always told a good story.” There are different things going on the page. Different sized figures, panels inter-reacting.
See Thor in the close up in the first panel?
AK: I think I swiped the two middle panels from Buscema.
DB: You know it certainly is one on the left looks it.
AK: Well, when you look at Ulik’s face in the next panel, especially, I would say that is a Buscema swipe. It works well, but I have no idea where this came from.
DB: I guess you might be forgiven for not remembering after 30 years.
AK: It is almost 30 years. Going on thirty years. I was talking to Tom Zuico the other day and I sent Tom a scan of the cover of SUPERMAN # 208. Which Neal Adams was working on the first time I ever saw Neal at National. It was a 1968 book, so that means I’ve known Neal 40 years.
Back to Thor 279. This part of the book looks good. With this rocky, underground setting there’s not too much that can go wrong with it. You know, there’s no perspective or cityscapes to worry about. It’s all rock, so that’s kind of fun to do. I feel that these are fine Marvel pages of their day.
DB: I remember you once saying that you never really cared that much for the mystical god characters.
AK: No, Gods are okay. I specifically no not care for magic or mystical stories. I do not care for magicians or magic acts as entertainment either. Well, I suppose I like to deal with the real, 3-D world. As I said when we were speaking about Frenchy of National Lampoon’s Evil Clown Comics. I do not consider superheroes or magic as being of the real world. I generally prefer the real world, as regards my drawings, so when we’re in Asgard, I’m less happy than when we’re on Earth. But I don’t dislike Thor as a character. I love Thor. I particularly loved what Stan and Jack did with Thor.
DB: John Buscema preferred drawing things like Asgard and Conan as opposed to like drawing the real world.
AK: Well, actually, I think Buscema kind of feels the same way about it as I do. It’s not that Buscema didn’t want to draw the real world, he didn’t want to draw superheroes. Because Conan, magical elements aside, mostly occurs in the real, albeit ancient, world. Plus, you don’t have to worry about drawing modern cities or cars. I think that had a bit to do with what Buscema really felt. This is my opinion. Others will interpret Buscema’s statements their own way, but I think that’s what it was. I don’t think Buscema minded drawing real people in any situation. But superheroes never interested him. For myself, it’s not as interesting to draw Thor as it is to draw Ulik. You can work hard on Thor and draw him real well. But you can’t go crazy on Thor because he’s the hero. Ulik you can go nuts on. You can draw Ulik foaming at the mouth, biting people’s arms off, you know? You can go nuts.
DB: You only filled in for the one issue in 1978.
AK: Who was regularly doing Thor at that point?
DB: I’m not sure, I think, I imagine it could’ve been someone like Keith Pollard or John Buscema.
AK: Yeah, that sounds right; I just supposed they couldn’t make the deadline, that they were late with that issue.
DB: You then went on to do five issue run of the book down the track.
AK: The next Thor I did was Thor 307. Frank Giacoia inked my cover on that issue. And it looks like the cover lettering is by Gaspar Saladino.
DB: And you’re inked on this one by Chic Stone.
AK: Yes I was. I think that this job is the best inking job Chic Stone ever did on me.
DB: It’s a good splash page. I think we spoke about this one once before.
AK: Yeah, I worked hard on this one. I really wanted to get this one to turn out nicely. I wanted to get some real architecture in there. That’s supposed to be Odin carved on the top of the building. There are lots of carvings on older buildings in New York. I was noticing a bunch of them just last week. I think this one might have even been called for in the plot.
DB: You’re right. Chic does a good job on this one.
AK: Yeah, very nice, very nice. Chic’s ink’s are not as thick and clumsy looking as it is usually, it’s more delicate than he generally was. I put a lot of work into this job. All those damn buildings. This is not Chicago, is it?
DB: You’ve got your Kirby transformation on page five.
AK: My Don Blake isn’t frail enough. On page six, I think that first panel is mostly a swipe from Frank Miller. All those buildings are Frank Miller swipes.
DB: That’s ironic, because Frank Miller mainly swiped Will Eisner for his buildings.
AK: Well, wherever Frank got them from, I remember I swiped it from him. Frank was doing those vertical panels a lot.
AK: I don’t think this Hispanic character on page seven is based on anybody in particular. He’s just a guy with a uni-brow. These battle scenes are just awful. Thor is much too small in all these panels. If you are going to do some action, I would prefer bigger panels, or bigger figures in the panels.
The colouring is very muddy on this book. And it didn’t print very well either. It’s all mud, and all these damn buildings are lost. I was knocking myself out drawing all these buildings. And all the backgrounds are covered with mud. Can’t even see them.
DB: Page fourteen; I was trying to place that guy, the white haired doctor.
AK: Spencer Tracy.
DB: That’s it! Thank you very much. It was on the tip of my tongue.
AK: Yes, he is Doctor Tongue Tip.
DB: No, I’ve got it now. I was looking at it thinking I know who it is, it’s a bit beefier than what I remembered Spencer Tracy being, but now I can see it.
AK: It’s supposed to be near the end of Tracy’s life. The “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” Spencer Tracy. Tracy died six days after shooting wrapped on that picture.
AK: And of course the doctor with the orange hair is porno star Johnny …
DB: John Holmes.
AK: Johnny Holmes, yeah.
DB: You and your porn stars.
AK: I cast porn stars sometimes.
DB: Yeah, I spotted that one a mile away. But still, it’s good to have it confirmed. Where do you get the reference for John Holmes? Ah, I don’t want to know.
AK: Well, where do you think?
DB: Yeah [laughing].
AK: The nightmare sequence is nothing. It doesn’t work. There’s no impact.
DB: Yeah, it doesn’t move me or do as much as it should.
AK: Page sixteen is terrible. There is nothing there but miniscule, little figures. This is what Shooter’s various dicta led to. I call pages like these, “doll comics.” Little poseable dolls. By the way, page sixteen, panel two, I don’t know where Marvel got that panel from, but I didn’t draw it.
AK: I don’t remember what was in there originally, but that’s not drawn by me. Probably some kid in the Bullpen.
DB: One of the “Romita’s Raiders.”
AK: Possibly. Because it’s not by John Romita or Marie Severin. I don’t know who it could have been. Page eighteen looks a bit better because the figures are a bit bigger.
DB: Yeah, you’ve got some good flying on page nineteen.
AK: Yeah, the page is almost saved by the semi-close up in the first panel. Otherwise it would be another one of those “doll” pages. If you can get one good close up on a page, it often redeems the page. The same goes for page twenty-one. The shot of Johnny Wadd, yeah. But all-in-all, it’s kind of a disappointing job to me. I think I put a lot into it. And a lot of that hard work does not register.
DB: Hmm, it’s a bit of a shame.
AK: Yep. I think Vinnie Colletta would have done much better on this job.
DB: Because it starts off so well and just, you know, it sort of starts to peter out a bit towards the end.
AK: Yeah, the choices I made in pulling so far back on the action now strike me as a fatal mistake, Shooter not withstanding. I feel that anytime I see a close up, or some large design element on a page, it helps. In other words, nothing should be all tiny figures or all close ups. You have to mix it up and it becomes more interesting. Not in an arbitrary manner, mind you. But there are particular shots that accommodate particular situations. I was minding Shooter at this point. I pulled very far back on the action. I would not do it the same way again today.
DB: See, that’s a good cover on 321.
AK: Well, the Thor figure is okay. But when you think about what really could have been going on --. That snake man slithering around Thor could’ve been swell.
DB: I think you’re underselling yourself there a bit.
AK: Oh, it’s not that I -- you know, I have pictures in my mind. And we are looking at pictures on the page. And when the pictures don’t match up, I tell you about where I failed. I KNOW what I wanted to achieve, and it is not on the page.
I’m not saying that I did not give Marvel their monies worth. For what they were paying, this is gold. I’m talking about what I wanted to achieve. It was magical in my mind but came out merely adequate on the page. Adequately inked and colored. And what do you wind up with? Answer: an adequate comic book. What a thrill.
DB: I’m looking at the picture on the page and I’m looking that it’s a very effective cover.
AK: It’s alright. Tom Zuico would’ve done a better color job on this cover. On the inside, who’s the inker … oh, Chic Stone again.
DB: “Chic Stone and friends.” So who else could’ve inked it with him?
AK: I don’t know, off-hand. But when I recognize anyone along the way, I’ll let you know. Yeah, that’s the kind of flabby splash page. That could’ve been a much more interesting, dynamic splash page. The story opens really boringly. It’s people standing around and talking for three pages. That could have been more dynamic.
DB: I was going to say how interesting can you make a splash page where it’s got you know five people sitting there talking?
AK: Oh, I should’ve found a way. Jack Kirby would’ve done it without even thinking about it. The snake guy is a failure. I really didn’t really achieve him slithering around the way I was going for. Kirby used to get that thing going with the villain, the Cobra, remember? You know, the colouring is kind of weak on this issue.
DB: It’s washed-out.
AK: Well, take page two. There are no strong colours to hold the background.
DB: The background is white.
AK: Too much white. There’s nothing wrong with white when properly used. But I don’t think that that’s the case here.
DB: Who is that down at the bottom of page two?
AK: Oh, that’s just a guy. It’s nobody in particular. See how I tried to push in real close on the horses in panel one, page four? That’s so I didn’t have to draw their legs. I think I almost pulled it off there. This page was inked by Chic Stone, as was the next page.
DB: The perspective in the top panel is quite good, looking down on the buildings. You’ve got the Rainbow Bridge in the last panel.
AK: I wonder. I should take a ruler to it to see if I really got the perspective right. It looks fine, but that’s a very simple shot, after all. One-point perspective.
Panel three is okay. I drew Thor’s helmet a little bit better in this issue. The Rainbow Bridge is okay. Yeah, this looks like kind of a scaled-down Asgard, when you think of it. Compared to what Kirby might’ve done, this is kind of a punk Asgard.
DB: Page seven gets a bit interesting, the Thor in the first panel.
DB: I don’t know, I mean it looks different than the others. Which makes you wonder whether that was Chic Stone or not.
AK: It looks like Chic Stone inked this page. Again, my layouts are kind of static. Everyone is just standing there. Though they’re in action, they’re not moving. My sense of action seems to have failed me so far in this issue. As I say, I’m coming across this stuff for the first time in years. I’m fresh now, talking to you about it. I usually go over the material before we speak, and digest it a little bit. So today, these are my first reactions. On page eight, panel three, that’s a decent shot of Loki.
DB: And you’ve got the horse going on?
AK: The horse with six legs. Or eight legs.
DB: Yeah you’re right, eight legged horse.
AK: That would be Odin’s steed, Sleipnir. Now you know why the Norsemen didn’t conquer the world. With eight legged horses, they couldn’t make horseshoes fast enough.
DB: Yeah, how much of the layouts are, I mean I look at your panel layouts and you’re right compared to the issue we looked at before they are very, what’s the word I’m looking for, routine.
AK: Boring. I don’t mind routine if I’m not bored. But this stuff is boring. The layouts start getting a little bit more interesting on page ten. Or not. There is something weird going on, but I didn’t take advantage of it. I didn’t do a very interesting job in weaving those serpents together. I really could’ve, should’ve made that mass of snakes more of a slithery, seething tangle. It could’ve been much more interesting.
DB: The Thor heads are quite good. I went through it, and page twelve, up in the top panel there.
AK: That page -- ah! I would say that these next two pages were inked by Marie Severin. That’s would I would say.
DB: Why would you say that?
AK: Because it looks like her work (laugh).
DB: Don’t shoot the messenger (laugh).
AK: I’m trying to find something that doesn’t say “Marie,” something that says “someone else” to me. Look at the cop on page thirteen. I don’t know how deeply you analyze this stuff, but that looks like a Marie Severin figure to me. Yeah, this looks like Marie’s stuff. And it looks like she might have inked it with a Rapidograph, or something like that. And the next page, page fourteen, that’s Marie’s stuff too. The rendering she does on the fur and the trees tells me so.
DB: It’s an interesting combination; I mean how often did you work with her?
AK: Not very often. Marie didn’t like me at all; she hated me. She was quite rude to me for a long time, until Sol Brodsky told her to knock it off. Did I tell you that story?
DB: Not that story, I know that she wasn’t into you, but I didn’t realise Sol Brodsky got into it.
AK: I got him in to it. Sol Brodsky was running the Special Projects Division at that time. This is about 1980 and Marvel was at 575 Madison Avenue. Marie, Dan Adkins, Paty and one or two other people shared a mini-Bullpen that mostly serviced Sol’s special projects. For some reason I was in that room, I think I was talking with Dan Adkins. And Marie dropped some nasty comment or another on me. And on that particular day it really pissed me off. I was doing a lot of work for Marvel Comics. And doing a lot of work for the Special Projects Division too. So I got my neck all out of joint. I stormed into the hall and Sol Brodsky was in the hall. I said to Sol, “I want to see you in your office!” So I march into his office, he followed me in and I closed the door. And I started ranting about Marie’s attitude. “I never did anything to her! You know, I don’t make any trouble! I meet my deadlines! I do all this work for this company. Why do I have to listen to nasty cracks from Marie all the time? It’s aggravating the hell out of me. And if she doesn’t stop I’m going to get so aggravated that I’m going to drop dead on your carpet!” (extreme agitation, feigned)
DB: (laugh) That’s a bit dramatic isn’t it?
AK: You think? Sol looked at me like he’d heard it a million times from some over-sensitive artist, complaining about something or other. He said, “Alright, calm down. I’ll talk to her.” You know, sort of, ‘stop being an asshole, I’ll talk to her.’ This is the guy who had to accept Steve Ditko’s resignation and take it in to Stan. Now, here’s this little pisher threatening to drop dead on his carpet.
DB: (laugh) I think it’s just a bit overly dramatic.
AK: Yeah, right. But she did stop.
DB: Why didn’t she like you, I mean I’ve seen that letter you sent me.
AK: I’m not saying Marie didn’t have legitimate reasons -- a decade earlier. But those same reasons should have applied to Sol Brodsky, John Verpoorton, Roy Thomas, Stan Lee and John Romita. They would all have had the same reasons to dislike me that Marie had. But they didn’t dislike me. They seemed to have put my bad behaviour behind them.
Because I had been a real bad kid. I did stuff that, if a kid today pulled the stuff that I pulled, they’d call the cops. Really, I’m not kidding. So I was very lucky to have survived that, survived my own bad behaviour and bad judgment.
But Marie didn’t let go of it. Everyone else accepted me for what I was doing that day. At that point, the bad stuff would’ve been ten years past. But she held it against me. I remember that I once asked her, I think it was about 1975 or ‘76, what her problem was with me? And Marie said, “I love this company; I’m trying to protect Marvel from you. I think you are evil.” And then, a decade later, I believe that this loyal woman walked out of the back door of Marvel with half the classic original artwork in the office. Nice going. That’s really looking out for Marvel. And your fellow artists. Nice, hypocritical behavior, if it’s true.
DB: But why would she, I suppose you don’t know why she would do that?
AK: Well, she took dislikes to various people for her own reasons. She held a grudge against Roy Thomas for years. You know, I do the same thing. I can hold a grudge as well as anyone else. But I never said or did anything to Marie. She just didn’t like my general behavior when I was a teenager.
DB: What about John Severin, did you ever have anything to do with him?
AK: I don’t think I’ve ever laid eyes on him, let alone met him.
DB: I’m just curious as to whether or not there might have been something there with them.
AK: I admire both their work immensely. Now, you originally asked me if I worked together with Marie much. And the answer to that is; in the Special Projects, yes I did have quite a bit to do with Marie, after Sol got her to lay off me. Marie would often give me layouts or corrections. And they were almost always tremendously helpful. It was always a learning experience. Although she was not the greatest artist in the world, she knew what she needed to know. Within that context, she was actually an excellent artist, especially when she got the proper inking. Like John Severin. I’m not putting down her artwork. I’ll jump all over Marie as a human being, but not as an artist.
DB: Well, we know what it’s like, the work that they got over Herb Trimpe on the Hulk issues that they did.
AK: Trimpe and John Severin, right?
DB: Well, they alternated.
AK: I don’t think Marie ever inked Trimpe’s Hulk. I think you’re mistaken.
DB: I think Trimpe, I know John Severin and I’m pretty sure Trimpe inked her.
AK: Yes, Herb did ink Marie, but I don’t believe Marie inked Trimpe.
DB: No. But I mean it must have helped Trimpe, because let’s he was finding his feet and to have two artists like that working for you and showing you how to do it, certainly I see a lot of John Severin in Trimpe along with Jack Kirby.
AK: Well, in the Bullpen at 635 Madison Avenue, Marie and Herb had adjacent drawing boards. John Romita and Marie and Herb were in one room together, there was another desk or two in there at which someone else, other people, would rotate. There were times when I was visiting there and there were the people I mentioned, plus Tony Mortellaro. Or John Verpoorten. Sometimes Frank Giacoia would be in there and I’d glance across the hall and there was Bill Everett working away. And they were inking Kirby’s Fantastic Four and The Mighty Thor, respectively. So it was kind of a nice feeling, see? (laugh).
DB: You name dropper. I mean having said that, you know, hearing those names, it blows me away, because you think you know there’s history in the room. Bill Everett, there’s the creator of Sub-Mariner.
AK: This is what I’m saying. In spades. I remember Bill Everett fixing up Vinnie Colletta’s inking on Thor. Bill was sitting there, just tweaking it up a little bit. I could point out the panels and what Bill did.
Decades later, Marie Severin did paint a couple of jobs that I penciled for Marvel Books. Did you ever hear of Crystar?
AK: She painted a couple of Crystar children’s books I penciled. They were digest-sized. They were just beautiful, just beautiful. I’ll scan and send a couple pages to you. It’s very lovely stuff. She did a great job and made me look terrific.
DB: So back to Thor, can’t remember what page we’re up to what fifteen or sixteen?
AK: About page fifteen or sixteen.
DB: Okay we’ll go with sixteen.
AK: I think sixteen is the last page that looks like Marie had anything to do with it. Oh, I like that figure of Thor in panel one, page sixteen, that’s fine. Thor’s got a nice twist to his body. I think I started to warm up to the job at this point. There’s a lot of stuff going on and a lot of little panels, but at least to me, it is interesting stuff. It’s got movement to it. Yeah, that’s okay.
DB: Why would it take you that long to warm up to?
AK: Well, you know, the more you play the better you get. Sometimes, as you go along, suddenly something clicks in your head and you’re really into the story. And as I said before, much too often, it’s too late. Here I am on page seventeen, and I just get hot.
DB: So is this Chic Stone, that inking or -- ?
AK: I think so. Oh, now on page twenty-one, I can tell who it is. Can you tell who inked page twenty-one?
DB: That close up of Thor there looks damn familiar.
AK: When I first opened up to the page now, my first reaction was, “Oh my god, Neal Adams?”
DB: Yeah, that’s what I was kind of thinking there. The close up, certainly.
AK: Well, it’s the dwarf’s inking.
AK: You instantly knew whom I meant (laugh).
DB: (laugh) And I’ve never met him. Little joke.
AK: Yes, he is. But that’s a swell page.
DB: I had a sense it was, because obviously, you know, personal differences aside, he wasn’t a bad artist.
AK: No I never said he was. He’s not nearly as good as he thinks he is, but he’s not awful. I can have personal differences with people, but it doesn’t stop me from truly seeing their artwork. You know, there are people I love personally, whose artwork I don’t care for, and visa versa. On the last page, you can see who inked that, can’t you? Look at the Thor face -- who inked that? Let’s turn it to a guessing game.
DB: So it’s a guessing game?
AK: Yes, Daniel, this quetion is for the brand-new car, the refrigerator and the solid silver tableware from the Michael C. Fina Company, Chicago Illinois, 60660 …
DB: Yeah, I’m no good under pressure.
AK: Vinnie Colletta. Oh, that’s a Vinnie. Look at Thor’s face in the last panel.
DB: How much of it did he get right? (laugh)
AK: Well, he’s done as right as anyone else, if not righter. I much prefer Vinnie’s inking over Chic Stone, for instance. Any day of the week.
DB: I mean, it’s weird to see the difference between, you know, the close up of Thor’s face and the one on the page before it, you know what Vinnie did?
AK: Vinnie took my pencils and inked it Vinnie Colletta-style. But they’re still my pencils. On the other hand, the dwarf dug in. It’s not so much my pencils any more. Over all, once again, I’ll take Vinnie. I doubt if the dwarf penciled that stuff in before he inked it, but he put more into it than was there in my pencils. The dwarf added a lot of unnecessary hay in there. Like, on the close-up, under Thor’s nose. There are three little brush strokes there. That kind of stuff wasn’t in my work. The dwarf added all kinds of Neal Adams-esque doodle. And in so doing, he’s actually broken Thor’s nose. That’s my only real quibble with the panel. That he got so fancy, he didn’t realize he’d given Thor a broken nose.
Now, you take Gil Kane. Gil hated the dwarf’s inks on his pencils, he just he loathed it. You know, a lot of people don’t like what the dwarf did. I was okay with it when he inked my work. If you squint and look at it sideways, it almost looked like half-assed Neal Adams inking. Is bad, demi-Neal Adams better than good Vinnie Colletta? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
The point is, I have absolutely nothing against what Vinnie did. It’s very professional. In the first panel on the last page, inked by Vinnie -- I doubt that I would’ve drawn a panel with those lines in the bottom indicating the planks fading off into nothing. I think I would’ve either put a horizon line in there or something. Maybe spotted a black. I don’t know if Vinnie took something out or not.
DB: You think that’s what happened, you think Vinnie took something out, took the background out?
AK: There’s no way for me to know now. I used to have Xeroxes of all my pencils. And they really started piling up. And at some point, you know, a million years ago, I said to myself, “what the fuck do I need this stuff hanging around?” So I trashed it, and now I very much wish I hadn’t.
DB: A lot of artists I’ve spoken to have said the same thing. John Romita threw all his photocopied pencils out. Norm Breyfogle has been telling me how he binned all of these photocopies of his thumbnails that he did for Batman, all of that stuff has just gone.
AK: I used to save all the plots and scripts too.
DB: Yeah, well those sorts of things, it’s the sort of stuff that’s interesting to people now, I hear people say that, “why would you want a script?” You may never know why I want a script (laugh).
AK: To answer all the questions we’d be asking each other now.
DB: Yeah, you know was that in the script, was that issue late? It all goes to get the big picture that comes out of it.
AK: Now, the next issue, the splash panel, is basically the same splash as the issue before, but I find it more interesting.
DB: Yeah, different angle.
AK: There’s some nice figure work going on there. The figure of Thor is okay until you get above the shoulders and then the head is very poorly done. I think I would not have drawn the helmet wings like that. I think Jim Mooney probably shrank the wings down so as not to obscure the story title.
DB: Inks by “Mooney and friends.”
AK: As we go along, I’ll tell you if I notice whom his “friends” are.
DB: Well, certainly page two, that’s Mooney?
AK: Of course, all those Mooney eyes! Supergirl is all over that page.
DB: The eyes are there. But, I mean, he never denied it and he admitted it to me. I mean, I don’t think he was ever ashamed of it, that’s for sure. All the girls look like Linda Lee.
AK: See, now, I started warmer on this issue. When we get to page four, with the horse, that’s a more dynamic shot than last issue.
DB: It’s a better horse than the other one.
AK: Yeah, well I got a leg up, or four, on this one.
DB: It’s interesting how a lot of the shots you can identify back to previous issues.
AK: Yeah. Well, luckily I’m able to say they’re better in this issue. But I know every panel that a lot of guys did. Much more than I remember my own stuff.
DB: And page five, that doesn’t look like Mooney inked it, down on the bottom?
AK: Yeah. You’re right. I’d say that looks like it’s by Al Milgrom. Look at Thor’s face. That heavily inked, lower eyelid shadow. Yeah, I always thought Milgrom was kind of a heavy-handed inker. Heavier than I would’ve preferred. Now page six, I don’t know who that is inking me. That could’ve been a more exciting fight.
DB: Oh that’s good. “Whank”. Did you put your own sound effects in there?
AK: I don’t think I was still putting in sound effects. So I don’t think so. “Whank” or wank didn’t mean anything to Americans back then. No one noticed it or considered the implications. When I first started drawing the Invaders I would put in my own sound effects. Finally, Roy said, “please stop doing that. What if the writer doesn’t a want that sound effect there? If Don Glut is the writer, let him decide where and what the sound effects are.” So I reluctantly gave it up. But I liked to use them as a design element, see? Maybe the sound effect would be my right angle, or my perpendicular in a panel. But I gave it up on request. See, I never I felt that most writers knew how to properly place sound effects. F’rinstance, on page six, panel two, that “Frak.” I don’t know what’s underneath the sound effect. Oh, I guess I can see now. It’s the other guy’s arm. Of course the “Frak” should have been placed at a right-angle, over Thor’s arm, in my opinion. The writer would invariably put the sound effects in places that obscured the action or harmed the composition.
Now this inking might be, what’s that guy’s name, Brett Breeding?
DB: Brett Breeding, yeah.
AK: Maybe this is his work, but I don’t know. It’s kind of slick. So slick that I find it boring. It’s the kind of slick done by someone who doesn’t know how to draw. They have a nice ink line but it’s often misapplied. That’s what my opinion is of this stuff, whomever did it.
DB: Any clues on page seven, because it looks like the same inker?
AK: Yeah, and page eight, look at the Thor face in panel four.
DB: Well, that’s funny because one of the things that stuck out for me when I was looking at it earlier, the Thor face on the bottom of page seven and page eight pretty much are identical, just different angles, even with the hand coming out.
DB: Other than the slight expression change?
AK: Well, that’s me using the same basic shot twice, without ever noticing that I’d done it. In other words, if you look at the dialogue in both panels, Thor is saying similar things, so Thor is making a similar gesture. This is the gesture that my actor makes in this situation. As in panel two on page eight. When Odin accuses people, you will very often see him pointing off panel, “Uncle Sam Wants YOU!” style. So, does that sound like a cop out?
DB: It did a bit (laugh).
AK: Did it?
DB: No (laugh).
AK: It wasn’t intended as one.
DB: No I’m only joking.
AK: You can tell me if you feel it’s a cop out. I’m telling you what probably happened at the time.
DB: He’s making a plea of some sort and that’s what he gets, you know the hand up. Yeah, I mean you’re right, with Odin accusing someone of course it’s with his hand up.
AK: But it wasn’t a short cut. I only have so many shots and this one comes up again. In other words, I didn’t see it as the same panel because it’s not cropped the same and the action is flopped. But, you’re right, it does look very similar. Too similar.
DB: On page ten, it looks like another inker, the Thor shot at the bottom. I can’t help but wonder who?
AK: I think this is the same inker.
DB: I can’t help but wonder what was going on that you had so many inkers on the two books?
AK: Well, I assume that there was no one inker available that could ink it in the time allotted. That’s the only reason there would ever be for multiple inkers. I guess the same inking keeps going on, through pages twelve and thirteen. Jim Mooney seems to be back on page fourteen.
DB: Yeah, well that’s Jim Mooney’s eyes.
AK: Oh, no, no, no. I’m wrong, it’s not Jim.
DB: Are you sure that Thor looks like Mooney’s eyes?
AK: Well, it could be, but I’m thinking that’s what threw me at first, but the girl doesn’t look like a Mooney. I don’t know.
I’ll tell you what makes me say it’s not Mooney. Those wolf guys in panel three.
DB: Well, the close up of Thor certainly looks like Mooney’s inking.
AK: No you’re right. Thor’s hair too, the kind of mushy stuff, when he’s kind of lost the form. He could do that sometimes.
DB: I don’t know if it’s him on the next page though?
AK: You know, it’s more fun to name the inker by guessing.
DB: “Guess the Inker.” (Laughter)
AK: After a closer look, I think these pages were inked by Jim Fern.
You know, you’ve got to admit that if Kirby had done this story, it would’ve been a rip-snorter. From the same shitty plot, it would’ve been a rip-snorter. And this stuff just -- you know, it just kind of fills up the pages. It’s okay, it’s not awful. It’s just kind of lays there.
DB: But you could say that about say John Buscema, if he’d done it. It could’ve been a rip-snorter as well, but you know, you weren’t Kirby, you weren’t John Buscema.
AK: I’ll say.
DB: And I can think of artists that probably wouldn’t have done any better.
AK: The point is, I got on the book and it kept going down. It was going down and it kept going down. And then Marvel put Walt Simonson in on it, it became a best seller.
DB: Well, it was slotted for cancellation at this stage I think.
DB: By about this stage.
AK: Well, why else did they give me the book (laugh)? Now, on page sixteen of this issue, on the bottom panel that’s nice Thor. The inking is nice, because it’s got some nice fine line-work where it’s appropriate; on Thor’s hair and the musculature of his arm. I think it’s Jim Fern again.
DB: Did you break the panel boarder with his hand?
AK: Yeah. Now the next page is by Jim Mooney.
DB: Wasn’t breaking the panel a no-no for Shooter?
AK: Well, I don’t recall. Not to this extent, at least. I think Shooter objected to an element from one panel intruding into another panel. And we get Jim Mooney back the next page.
DB: Yep. Now you and Mooney were a fairly compatible partnership there?
AK: Yeah, it was not unpleasant association, because he’s a thorough-going professional. Now, this next page is kind of throwing me, because I can tell who inked it but I can’t put a name to it. Who the hell is that?
DB: Well, the bull figures, one of the bull figures there almost looks Gil Kane-ish. The one in the foreground there, just the half face.
AK: Gil Kane-ish?
DB: Well it looks like Gil Kane.
AK: Gil Kane. I wish it looked like that.
DB: (laugh). Well, that’s how I see it.
AK: It kind of looks like, what the hell is his name, Dick Giordano’s brother-in-law. Oh, yeah, Sal Trapani. But the page after that, page nineteen, Jim Mooney’s back.
DB: Yeah. That’s okay.
AK: Jim Mooney seems to have finished the book. Is it by someone else? No, it’s Jim Mooney.
DB: No, it’s Jim Mooney, there’s his eyes there, down the bottom, yeah.
AK: I like the last page because it’s full of civilians (laugh).
DB: I’m starting to realise that’s your forte, drawing people in non action sequences.
AK: It’s funny, because I would not have said that back then. I would’ve said, “no, I want to draw super heroes! I want to draw what are, in essence, naked bodies fighting each other. You know, spray-painted naked bodies.” And, I see now, in retrospect, what shines through to me, what I was better at.
DB: You should’ve been doing romance book.
AK: Yeah, had there been any.
DB: Yeah true. Or Archie? No Archie? Okay (laugh).
AK: You know, Sal Amendola gave me a copy of a script, years ago, which he had written and drawn for Archie. So that I could do some Archie samples. And I could never bring myself to draw them. I broke down the script, I did the lettering on the boards, but I can’t bring myself to draw the samples. I should.
Anyhow, the next job the villain is Graviton.
DB: I’ve got two pages from that.
AK: Two original pages?
DB: Two original pages in total.
AK: I like the splash panel pretty well.
DB: Now, I’ve got to admit this is one of the first Thors that I bought off the newsstand when I was a young one, because we didn’t get, well certainly not where I grew up, we didn’t get Thor. The only Thors we got were the reprints, which were Kirby reprints. This would’ve been one of the first Thors I remember buying because it had a great cover which sucked me in. Yeah, the splash page I’ve always liked.
AK: Yeah, it’s a good figure.
DB: And it’s Mooney inks all the way through it.
AK: Yes. We can’t play the guessing game. I see the Wasp’s costume was incorrectly coloured. The colourist left her neck flesh coloured. I presume it was supposed to be white.
DB: No I don’t think it was incorrectly coloured.
AK: Well, there’s a line there to hold the colour, see. I don’t remember that costume at all; I don’t remember ever seeing it before.
DB: I do, I remember seeing in an issue of the Avengers at the time.
AK: I guess I didn’t really follow that stuff very carefully if I weren’t involved in it.
Now, on page two, panel six, that’s supposed to be Sol Harrison and his wife Gert, Gertrude. That’s a pretty good Sol Harrison. Maybe this is his first appearance in a Marvel comic.
DB: We’re coming up to the page, the first page I own which is page five, and of course you know the lettering is done directly onto the page itself, as opposed to it being paste-ups, like a lot of them were at that stage.
AK: Yes, it was.
DB: So do you put the balloons in?
AK: No, I didn’t. The writer indicates where he wants the balloons and the letterer letters it.
DB: So what happens to the art underneath the paste-ups?
AK: It’s covered up. Or erased.
DB: Oh, good god.
AK: Well, for instance, page five, you said? There’s not much artwork under the balloons. I left enough dead-space to accommodate the lettering. It never bothered me. I never thought, “oh, what a waste of time.” Because you leave an area that you know is going to be devoted to the lettering. I was not always happy with the balloon placement. But I never thought, “oh, all the work I wasted underneath those balloons.” I never thought about that. And we have Joe the Bartender on page six.
DB: Of course you put him in a few comic books.
AK: Yeah, sure. If I had to draw a bartender, chances were you were going to get Jackie Gleason. I like that bottom panel of the bad guy.
DB: Yeah with the glass? It’s almost two faces?
AK: Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. I think that Jim Mooney kind of put more of an angle on my distortion than I had, so it kind of makes it look even weirder. I just wanted it to be wavy and he made it kind of sharper. But it’s good.
DB: Could’ve been far worse.
AK: On page seven I used reference.
DB: I was going to ask about that, Bloomingdales?
AK: When I went to high school, every morning chances were that I’d come up out of the subway in Bloomingdales, out under that marquee awning on the extreme right hand side there. And there would be this fellow standing there. I guess he had some mental impairment. And he sold comic books. Brand new comic books. I never bought them from him because I already had the ones he was selling. And then I’d walk east one block to Third Avenue and maybe see Stan buying his morning newspapers at the corner new stand. So maybe that’s why I put some effort into these panels. Because it meant something to me. It was my neighbourhood, so to speak.
I’d say I put some work into page eight.
DB: Yeah see page eight is quite good, you know the three figures, especially the one front on, I mean, I’m sure you’ll find fault with it but I think it actually works quite well.
AK: I could, technically, but I won’t. Faults and all, it all happens to work here. You see, if I look at something and I accept it, I don’t criticize it. But when I see things that break my acceptance of the reality, these are the things I point out. To me a successful comic book panel, by anybody, is if I accept it and think it’s the real world instead of a drawing. In other words, you only really notice what’s wrong. The stuff that’s correct, you accept and you are just in the story.
DB: The next page the Thor figure is flying up. Again that works.
AK: Oh, that’s kind of nice too. Had they done the Superman Versus Spiderman book yet? Yeah, sure they had.
DB: Oh yeah, well and truly.
AK: I think that was kind of inspired by one of Ross’ figures, I think. That’s the feeling I get from it.
DB: It looks familiar to me.
AK: I’m not saying I swiped it, because I didn’t. If I’d swiped it I think I would’ve done a better job. I seem to do a better Thor when he’s in the air than when he’s standing on the ground. Of course, Thor just standing on the ground and talking is not the best usage of the character.
DB: Well, it’s not Thor is it?
AK: The writers call for these boring, static expository sequences because they’re not thinking about what the practical result will be. When Kirby was plotting out his Marvel stuff by himself, he didn’t do boring stuff because, being the generator of the story he could do it whatever way he wanted. And Stan would accommodate the drawing. That’s one of the advantages of having one person generate the stuff spontaneously. You don’t have to try to make someone else’s ill thought out ideas work. You can just do what works best for the story and the visual on the page, as you get to it.
DB: Now I did like, you know, Thor/Don Blake falling out of the building and coming down through the air.
AK: I seriously question if the hammer was out of his hand for a full minute, but okay.
DB: I think it probably wasn’t, but a quick minute.
AK: And how can he reach it, you know?
DB: Simple physics. (laughter)
AK: Well, that’s impossible.
DB: Yeah, I know that.
AK: See that building in panel four on page thirteen? That building was across the street from Marvel at 575 Madison Avenue. They constructed it while Marvel was at 575 and it was designed by Philip Johnson. Oh, I see the background is continuous across those four panels. It doesn’t quite come across. I don’t know why.
DB: It’s subtle.
AK: Partly because of the colouring.
DB: It looks like each figure is smaller than the last.
AK: Well, yeah, yeah.
DB: Again, it works.
DB: It could’ve been worse (laugh).
AK: That’s encouraging.
DB: (laugh) And then Thor jabs him in the rear with a needle on page fifteen. I know that’s not what he does but by gosh that what it looks like and that’s what I always thought it was.
AK: Oh, I didn’t even notice the hypodermic there, yeah. I didn’t remember that was a part of the story, yeah. If I’ve ever read the story, it was just once when it was published and I bought a copy.
DB: Why did you buy a copy, weren’t you given one?
AK: Oh, I never counted on receiving anything from Marvel. If I wanted something, I went out and bought it. I couldn’t depend on Marvel and then be stuck without something at some point and then bitch about it. I used to buy ten copies of everything I did. Eventually, I lugged most of them down to the comic book shop and sold them or traded them in.
I don’t think I was ever on the list for what they called, “the bundle.” Not at Marvel, not at DC. The bundle was all of the Marvel and DC books of the week or a couple of weeks. Every yabbo in the world was on that list, except me.
DB: Now, I have to laugh, because on the next page, page sixteen there’s an error in the comic itself, that’s the other page I’ve got the original art for.
DB: Yeah. And the error that’s on the original art was to be corrected, or at least the notation was made to correct it, wasn’t corrected.
AK: Thor’s helmet?
DB: No, no it’s in the lettering. If you have a look in the second to last panel a bit of ‘that’ says ‘hat’.
AK: Oh, “hat.”
DB: Now on the original art it’s actually got ‘that’ with a circle in the border and I can’t make out what word has been, someone whited out the word and I can’t make it out.
AK: I thought you were saying “hat” because his helmet looks so stupid in that panel. Why doesn’t Thor just medicate his helmet point and then head butt the villain?
DB: Yeah true, but his face looks good.
AK: But why is Thor’s hair suddenly coming out from under his helmet?
DB: Where should it be coming out from?
AK: The front. Why has he suddenly got bangs? What is going on? I mean, there’s the same thing on the next page, also. Oh well, I don’t know. Thor has got this Hershey’s Kisses™ helmet as well. I didn’t draw it that way.
DB: Yeah, the first, on that last page, that first panel, I’m sure. Yeah, I’m sure I’ve seen that before.
AK: It’s not a swipe at all, but it does look familiar. Kirby would sometimes do things that didn’t make sense to me, and that kind of hammer-swirl is one of them. How exactly is Thor doing that? Is he twirling around or is his hammer going all around his body, like an eggbeater or something? What exactly is going on?
DB: And then he just leaves him in there to die a lonely death.
AK: If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime, son. And then on the next page we have the return of the Tales of Asgard.
DB: Asgard, yeah, which Mooney also inked.
AK: I think I drew a grander looking Asgard this time around. I thought I got some nice feeling on Loki on page two. But the colour is kind of washed out. The blue plate is almost non-existent.
DB: It’s yellow in my scan.
AK: The blue plate is very washed out. That should only be my worst problem. Page three is kind of nice too, except that I wish Mooney had gone a bit lighter on some of that background texture. It’s too heavy. Or if the colourist had done something to drop it out or make it recede. In other words, why I am looking at all the fancy line work on those pillars instead of paying attention to Odin?
DB: On the next page, what do you think of your Loki figure?
AK: I think it looks bad.
DB: Why? I knew you were going to say that. (laugh)
AK: I don’t know if it’s my fault, Jim’s fault or both or our faults. I think this looks like a case of it being both our faults. I think I drew something not so well and I think he made it worse. Those feet look like the kind of feet that Jim Mooney draws when he’s not really paying attention.
DB: It’s a short story, it’s only five pages long.
AK: Yeah. I got to draw a lot of characters that I’d never drawn before like Carnilla.
DB: You did a fairly good job on that one.
AK: Yeah, I liked my Loki. I guess I was trying to get some of what Neal got with Loki. Without exactly copying what Neal did.
Now, the next issue is 325. I inked that splash panel.
DB: Now, that is a damn good.
AK: Yeah, I inked it. See, I penciled it on Craftint Duotone ™ board. Do you know what that is? So that’s why I inked it. Yeah, that’s fine, that’s alright. I wonder if I swiped it? I may have, because there’s too much good stuff in there to not have been swiped.
DB: Yeah, but who did you swipe it from, who was drawing Mephisto other than John Buscema?
AK: Well, Neal did a swell Mephisto when he drew Thor.
DB: Neal and John is there anyone else?
AK: John Buscema created the visual in the Silver Surfer #4, didn’t he?
DB: Yeah, that iconic figure, shot of him sitting on his throne with his hands.
AK: So I can do good spooky stuff too. And then, on the next page I did some nice civilian stuff. See, again, on Mephisto, I can go wild. Whether I do or not, the opportunity exists. Yeah, that civilian stuff is decent. In the first two panels on page three, you can see where I left plenty of room for the dialogue, especially in the second panel. The writer didn’t actually use it all. And some poor balloon placement accentuates the problem. A decent Don Blake. He looks too good for Don Blake, actually. Too robust, he doesn’t look frail enough.
DB: And then you come back to the stuff on the next page.
AK: You know, I could quibble with things, but overall it’s fine. The figures have some nice movement to them. I got to do the Buscema throne-shtick. Except mine looks like Mephisto is doing his chicken impression (chicken noises). Flapping his wings.
DB: I like that because it’s certainly not swiped from anywhere.
AK: Yeah, this is fairly decent stuff; the bad guy’s origin is drawn okay.
DB: Now, do you think that, I don’t suppose no one was really paying attention to it at the time, if they’re getting ready to cancel it who cares, do you think that helped you know free you up art wise?
AK: Well, no, if they were going to cancel the book I wouldn’t treat it any different than any other book. Jim Shooter wouldn’t say, “well, this is last issue we’re printing, who the fuck cares what goes into it,” he wouldn’t have allowed that. So, no, you can’t do anything that you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Not on a mainstream character like Thor.
If I were drawing, say, Deadman, I would probably do a better job on it because of my feelings for the character and the original artist that -- .
Sorry, I got distracted. I just glanced out my window and I noticed trucks unloading movie equipment. Which didn’t surprise me because the street was roped off to prevent people from parking their cars on it all last night. I presume they’re shooting the “Sex and the City” over there.
DB: Your friend Andy is not in it?
AK: No, he’s still in London now. He was in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. Now, I think he’s probably trapped, penniless in London. I don’t think he would say he was trapped, but I don’t know what he’s going to do to get the money back to get over here. Or even if he’s in a hurry to get back over here. Whatever I know I learn because I’ve been following his blog. And I often find his blog so repulsive that I’m kind of turned off to him now.
DB: You’ll have to send me through the link, I’ve not seen it.
AK: I’ll send you the link. (http://blogs.chortle.co.uk/andrewjlederer) His blog is what prompted to me to make my comments, in the Evil Clown interview, about me being the freak show or not. I’m not saying he has any thoughts or feelings that I don’t have, but I don’t know why he wants to put them in a blog and have people stare at them and consider them, because it’s not attractive in my opinion. Now, I understand his life is his work of art, so to speak. His commentary on his life is kind of his shtick, grist for his act on stage. Of course, he doesn’t tell jokes per se, he’s an observational conversationalist, so his life is his work. But I don’t find all of it attractive. He’s often penniless. He’ll blog about how he stinks. How his feet stink, you see (laugh)? I mean there are entry upon entry about how his feet smell and how he’s wearing ill fitting shoes so he’s got to grip the bottom of his shoes with his toes so they don’t fall off, and how that hurts and warps his posture and how THAT hurts. You know, I don’t want to hear about this stuff. I mean, maybe it’s okay if you’re sitting here talking to me about it, but to think that he’s proud to expose this to the world about how he’s not getting out of bed for days and this shit. It turns me off.
DB: I mean, some of the stuff I’ve written, I’ve written some really weird shit, I’ve certainly not put anything about my feet stinking (laugh), it’s just a bit off.
AK: You know, he’s blogged about having to take a dump. And he knocks on somebody’s door and says, “can I come into your home and take a dump,” or something like that. Maybe he didn’t literally say that, but he said things to that effect. And on top of that, he’s passing judgment about everyone around him as well. Well, you know, doesn’t everyone have the right to be just as cruddy as you?
DB: Well, what’s he doing in London?
AK: London was his next stop after Edinburgh. I don’t know, I think he gigs when he wants to. He may be a big star of sorts at the Festival. You know, he knows a lot of people and a lot of people know him. He blogs about people that you would probably know about, but I have no idea who the fuck he’s blogging about most of the time. These people are faceless to me. I don’t live in the real world any more (laugh). I’m “The Man From The Past,” more than ever. I don’t follow the new local comedians, let alone British or Canadian or Scottish comedians.
DB: I’ll have a look at it and see what I can get out of it.
AK: Someone ripped off his laptop computer the other night, so he can’t even blog regularly any more until he replaces it. But you’ve got his whole archive there to go through. This guy, anything he touches is destroyed, you know. He’s blogged the story about visiting his father’s home in Arizona. And he straightened a picture hanging on the wall. And of course, it falls off the wall along with the little nail on which it had hung. He can’t find the nail. Now he’s got to find a nail. You know, knowing him, the whole wall is going to be destroyed before he’s finished. Because he tries to cover it up. “Oh my god, if my father sees what happened he’ll yell ‘You’re a shmuck! You fuck everything up, and you fucked this up too!’ So he tries to fix it and invariably makes it worse. Oh, that’s right, the dump he took clogged up his father’s toilet. That was another disaster in Arizona. (laughter) He had to try and fix the toilet before his father got home. I don’t remember whether or not he made it worse or not. You know, Jesus -- just, you know, stop where you are. Don’t make it worse. Back away. Put your hands up and back away slowly.
DB: “Stand away from the toilet.” “Stand back from the toilet sir, stand back.” Oh, god. Oh, well. Yeah, back to Thor on that note (laugh).
AK: Back to hell.
DB: Back to hell. From one hell to another.
AK: As Dorothy Parker, the famous writer of the ‘30s and ‘40s etc, would say when her phone rang, “Oh, what fresh hell is this?” And that’s my life, when the phone rings, “oh, what fresh hell is this?”
DB: Oh, thank you very much (laugh).
AK: No , no, no, not you, not you. When the phone just rings. I actually provoked your call. I said, “I’m ready, I’m here.”
But anyhow, back on page eight, I like those shots. Those are nice shots. Again, when I look at panel three, I think I might’ve swiped that from somewhere. But, maybe not. Sometimes when something looks good, I think I might not have drawn it from scratch. I think the cab driver on the next page was supposed to be Archie Bunker but the colourist and Jim Mooney didn’t get it.
DB: Does that often frustrate you that you know you were going for something which they didn’t get?
AK: It doesn’t frustrate that me that these people didn’t get it, because if I’d done it well enough, they would have gotten it. That’s what I think, so I don’t hold it against them, no. I could have made a margin note, too.
DB: But the hands on page ten, panel two?
AK: You mean Mephisto’s hands?
AK: What about it?
DB: The big hands.
AK: Yeah, that’s okay. Jim Mooney did a good job on it. Do you like them?
DB: Yeah, yes.
AK: Yeah, nice Jim Mooney. I don’t know if Jim Mooney improved them, or if I really drew well, but they’re okay.
DB: Well that’s what I was trying to lead you know to the fact that you and Mooney made a good, certainly a compatible art team.
AK: Yeah fairly. Again, I wish there was more crispness in his inking. I always considered Jim Mooney a kind of a soft inker. Not the softest, by any means; not as soft as Chic Stone or some other people. If you know what I mean. Even Mike Esposito could get some nice crispness sometimes. All it takes is a little bit of a sharp, right angle when you don’t expect it. Sometimes something counter-intuitive can really bring out the form. I like, on page twelve, some of the inking on Mephisto in panel two. This is what I’m talking about. There are some sharp little angles on Thor’s face too. Like on the right hand nostril there, if you get it sharp sometimes it brings things out.
I noticed when Jim Mooney does that kind of stuff, like on page thirteen, it works.
DB: Yeah page thirteen it’s an impressive splash but Thor’s right hand -- .
AK: I think his hand is awkward.
DB: Yeah his hand looks very awkward.
AK: Is it on backwards?
DB: That’s unusual, you’d think that Mooney would’ve picked it up.
AK: You know what I say about that? Let’s turn the page! (laugh)
And I say the next page is a good page because everyone’s hand is around the right way. But even Kirby did it once in a while. There’s a famous flash page of the Fantastic Four where Reed Richards is stretching his hand out to coochey-coo the baby or something like that and it’s on backward.
DB: Wasn’t there that one where he drew two hands and on the foot was a hand as well, as Reed Richards was falling, he’d been stretching out and he had one of his feet is a hand, or the two left hands or something?
AK: Hmm, I sort of remember that one. I saw the Fantastic Four II yesterday for the first time.
DB: What did you think?
AK: Well, just before I’d seen it I read somewhere someone saying that it was the best superhero movie ever made. I didn’t think that was the case, but it was okay.
DB: I liked the Silver Surfer.
AK: Oh, the Surfer was terrific, the Surfer was terrific. I liked the bits with Stan recreating that business from the original story. And I noticed when they threw that bundle of newspapers out before the wedding. It was the same headline, the same layout that Stan and Jack had put in the original splash panel of that story. You know, “The Big Day.” That gave me goose pimples about an inch high. Yeah, the Silver Surfer was very well done. The characterisations are not exactly what I would like. Some of the actor’s looks are too far off to me. I don’t buy Jessica Alba at all.
DB: You’re not the only one that says that. Why is that?
AK: She looks ethnic to me. And there’s nothing wrong with an ethnic Sue Storm if she had been an ethnic, but she’s not. As far as I could tell, Sue Storm was white bread. And if she’s ethnic, why isn’t Johnny?
DB: I don’t know if you know what John Byrne’s famous comments were about Jessica Alba which was, “if you put blonde hair on a Latino lady she looks like a hooker.”
AK: Oh, yeah, that’s true. That wasn’t the exact thought I had looking at her but it comes down to the same thing. Yeah, I thought that the blond hair made Jessica Alba look cheap.
DB: I liked it, I thought she looked fine.
AK: You’re allowed to. And Johnny Storm was a little bit too old for me. And he doesn’t have an attractive personality.
DB: No, well, that I can’t get past that. I just think that’s not Johnny Storm.
AK: You know, there are ways to do that, the same things this guy’s doing, but he’s so over-the-top. You can just be a naïve kid presenting the same attitude, and I don’t think it would be as offensive. He’s like an un-socialised adult rather than a teenager.
DB: The character to me just comes across as being you know an obnoxious, spoilt brat.
AK: Okay, same thing. In other words he’s old enough to know better. He doesn’t seem to be a hero that is attractive. If you’ve got these great powers, you’ve got really great responsibility.
DB: “With great talent comes great lunch.”
AK: Well, “On-location shooting comes with great lunch.”
AK: Luckily when I was working on the animated “Thumbelina,” for Sullivan-Bluth Studios, in Dublin, Ireland, they had us in a warehouse, which actually qualified it as location. So the craft services had to deliver us a free lunch buffet every day. The people over in the main studio building had a lunchroom where they could pay these exorbitant prices for their lunch. But we were on location in the warehouse, where Don Bluth used to shoot his live action stuff to rotoscope.
So anyhow, Thor’s bad guy gets fried. Oh, that guy’s just a troll on page sixteen. I like the shot of him getting crisped. I like all the panels on the page, except panel three.
DB: What’s wrong with panel three?
AK: The Mephisto is lame but everything else is okay. Yeah, the last page is nice too. Ah, yes, followed by my favourite Tales of Asgard.
DB: Why is that?
AK: Well, because my good pal Jack Abel inked it.
DB: I mean, the Loki figure on the splash, it’s pretty good.
AK: Yeah, I wish he’d leaned a little bit heavier on the brush. I love Jack’s work. He could’ve been bolder. But you know, back then I did not very often indicate line weights in my pencils. I just assumed when an inker would ink something, he know what to juice up. But too often they didn’t juice it up enough or at all. My only complaints about this job are, for instance, on the right hand side of page two, that the tree bark doesn’t have enough differentiation. The line weight is all the same and there are no blacks. I can’t imagine that I put stuff in that Jack left out so, it’s probably my fault.
DB: It’s a mystical tree.
AK: Yeah, maybe that’s it. You know, if you study this tree and then look back at Mike Esposito’s inks over Curt Swan on Superman circa 1970 -- .
AK: If you look at the backgrounds you will see these trees and this kind of rendering. And the rocks on the ground, as well. You will often see this rendering on the backgrounds, because Jack Abel did a lot of the backgrounds for Mike on Superman. In case you wanted to know.
DB: Oh, there’s all sorts of things I want to know (laugh).
AK: Do you know Beanie and Cecil?
DB: Beanie and Cecil?
AK: Bob Clampett’s Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent?
AK: Well, Cecil makes an appearance on page three.
DB: Page three, I was going to say that looks really familiar too.
AK: Well, it’s not exactly Cecil, but -- .
DB: Was that the last Tales of Asgard that you did?
On the page four of Asgard I got a bit more grandeur into it. See, that’s an excellent panel by Jack because the background is properly inked; it doesn’t distract from the figures in it. That’s very nice job by Jack and not a bad job by me. And the last page is okay, too.
Okay, the next job, the Scarab. John DeAgostino, I think this is one of the inkers who we couldn’t figure out in the last, ‘And Friends’ job.
DB: 326, which has a very nice Ed Hangingan cover, which clearly you haven’t got.
AK: No I haven’t got that. Anyhow it’s a very decent splash page. The Thor figure works out pretty well, although Thor looks like he’s about to be kneed in the groin. [Laughter]
DB: By this stage you were having a fairly good run on Thor.
AK: Yeah, I was well into it. This one looks like I was having fun. I’m not usually into jeeps and guns, but I seem to have put a little bit more work into this. These first few pages look well. I remember not liking the inks originally. But as usual, in retrospect the inks are not as bad as I remembered. The pencils weren’t as good as I would image them to be either. But this is okay. This works today.
DB: Who the person is down the bottom there on page four.
AK: I don’t know if that is based on anyone in real life. I don’t think I was trying to draw anyone in particular there. But that’s a real long shot the first panel on that page. Pulling back, that’s a cast of thousands there. Oh, that’s supposed to be Chicago. Yeah, I forgot that they moved Thor to Chicago. I don’t know why. I tried to find books on Chicago for reference and they were very hard to come by. There are millions of photo books on New York but not many on Chicago. At least, not available in New York. So I guess that was a real, referenced shot.
DB: Now, had you ever been to Chicago at that point?
AK: I’d been there several times. Once, for a convention. Do you know an actor named Keith Szarabajka? He co-stared on the Equaliser.
DB: I’ve seen the Equaliser.
AK: Keith was the young blonde guy who was Edward Woodward’s assistant or something. He’s a friend of mine. He was in “Warp.” You know about the Neal Adams /Warp connection, right? Keith and I actually hitchhiked from New York to Chicago once. I like Chicago, it’s a very nice city. Howard Chaykin and I were in Chicago, I guess it was for a convention. And the two of us were walking down the street and people were staring at us. And we couldn’t figure out why they were staring at us at first. Finally, it occurred to us that we were charging down the street like New Yorkers. You know, at full tilt, warp six. And everyone else there was kind of mid-western and taking it easy. They saw these two guys almost running down the street, compared to them.
DB: No, I only ask that because the of the amount of times you see comic books where the artist will draw a city, say London or something, they’ve never been there and the looks nothing like it. I remember Keith Giffen drawing Melbourne in the Invasion series and I was looking at the cityscape that he drew and I thought well that’s nice but that’s not the Melbourne I know.
AK: Well, you know 99.9% of the New York City you see in comic books is not the New York City I know. I mean, it tends to get generic.
DB: But I expect to see all these things when I come to New York. I want to see Dr Strange’s house.
AK: I can show you the address where Dr Strange’s home is supposed to be, just three or four blocks away from me. But a bit further east, on The Bowery at Houston Street there is a building that actually looks just like Strange’s home.
DB: Oh, cool.
AK: Yeah, the Bleecker Street address is just another apartment building with street level shops that Roy Thomas had lived in. The civilian stuff here is nice, as usual and I am very happy looking at these Thor figures, they work for me. I’ve finally gotten the right proportions on his head, the helmet sits properly on his head, so I’m happy.
DB: You get a splash page in on page eight.
AK: Yeah, that’s not bad. I like the professor character a lot. I can see in that the first shot of him on page six, the inker paid a lot of attention to him. Actually, the inker paid a lot of attention to that character, which is interesting. All the Egyptian stuff is decent. I was always into ancient Egyptian material when I was a kid. The Brooklyn Museum has a very excellent Egyptian collection covering an entire floor. I grew up around that stuff, and I’ve always liked it. Now, moving on -- . Gee, not a bad job at all.
DB: No, it’s quite good. Whatever did happen to John D’Agostino? I’ve not even heard his name before.
AK: Maybe he is an Archie Comics guy?
DB: Could possibly be.
AK: I think he may an Archie inker because this stuff is very round-ish. It doesn’t have any sharp edges to it, no snap. Which is kind of what bothered me back then. It’s kind of mushy, at least to my eyes.
DB: Yeah, but it does work well.
AK: Oh, yeah, as I say, I’m a lot happier with it now than I was 25 years ago, or whenever it was, yeah.
DB: And you managed to sneak the Invaders in, they appear on page thirteen.
AK: Oh, there they are! “How do you like America?” as my late Aunt Nettie used to say! All these big panels with the two of them fighting, they start getting boring because the figures are all the same size. It’s repetitive. I’d have preferred more variation. I’m just being picky.
DB: Nit picking, yeah I know you are picking nits. I quite like it. I mean I was looking at it earlier this evening and out of all the ones that are done I quite like this one, probably even more so than the Graviton one.
AK: Yeah, you’re right, it’s very nice. “It don’t bother me at all,” as one might say in Brooklyn. Yeah, again on page fifteen, panel five, you see the two of them, too close in size. See, panel four seems more interesting to me than panel five, because of the variation in the size of the figures. And let’s see. On page fifteen I see, I was getting a little bit playful. There’s a copy of Crazy magazine on page sixteen, with Obnoxio The Clown on the cover.
DB: There is?
AK: Yeah, in the lower right hand corner of the first panel on page sixteen.
DB: Oh, yep, I’ve got it there. [Laughing]
AK: And in the second panel there, that’s a Jack Kirby-type reaction shot. Not a swipe. Just an exaggerated reaction from the Kirby-type, craven hoodlum there.
DB: Now, that might be the only nit I pick, Thor’s hammer is very small.
AK: Well, the hammer’s supposed to be farther away than it looks. The handle should have been larger, in perspective. So you’re right, it was badly drawn. Speaking of perspective, notice that every panel on my page has some element of perspective in it. Which I feel tends to draw the reader into the picture. Oh, I like that next page fine. If it had a nice strong background colour in the last panel it would have been an even better page.
DB: It’s funny, only a short issue. I mean, you’ve got the Tales of Asgard follow up, but, yeah it was only an eighteen page story, which was a bit unusual at the time.
AK: What was unusual?
DB: Just having the eighteen pages.
AK: I don’t know why they made the decision, really.
DB: But, I mean, your Tales of Asgard, inked by John Tartaglione, which would have been one of the, probably about the only time that he ever inks you wasn’t it?
AK: Ah, probably. I cannot think of another instance. This may well be the only time Tartag inked me. I’m not very happy with it. Although, once again, it’s not as dead as I remembered. I would say that the big head on page two, panel two, that’s looks like a John Romita fix there, on the guy’s mouth.
DB: Yeah, I was going to say some of the book is good and some of it doesn’t look so good.
AK: Yeah. Tartag worked up in the office, so I knew him. He was on staff in those days. We were friendly, but it’s the only time he inked me. I like the last page of that story but the colouring on this page stinks. Too orange.
DB: This next issue would’ve been one of the few covers that you did that Alan Weiss inked.
AK: The only time he ever inked me, I think. Yes, Alan Weiss inked this cover, number 327. Yeah, I finally got him to ink something of mine. Not that he wouldn’t have before, but the time and the place and the piece were right and it just worked out. It was signed ‘Alans’.
DB: Kupperberg and Weiss.
AK: Yep, yeah nice. The black plate printed a bit heavy. But this cover certainly shows what can be brought out in my artwork by someone who has the wherewithal and the desire to do so. I don’t know if my drawing reads properly as the earth being within the jaws of the Serpent of Midgard. So what? The rest of it works.
Yeah, I think I made a breakthrough of sorts on this issue. Although I didn’t really pull off what I was going for in the splash panel. Oh god, I see what the problem is. I couldn’t have drawn it that way. I would not have drawn a two foot tall nurse standing next to the desk. I never would have drawn it that way.
DB: It looks very much out of perspective.
AK: You bet your ass. Someone monkeyed with the desk and maybe with Blake’s feet. I know what perspective is. I would never have drawn a two foot tall woman coming through a foot and a half high doorway, no. Somebody monkeyed with that, I don’t know who or why or when. Maybe I did something wrong to begin with and they tried to fix it and screwed it up worse. I wouldn’t even begin to guess who that would’ve been. It could’ve been anywhere along the line.
DB: Mooney inked it. I’m wondering whether Mooney might have fixed it.
AK: I can’t tell. Whoever did it didn’t know what he was doing.
DB: Yeah, well, that’s it, I mean Mooney knows what he’s doing so I imagine it couldn’t have been him.
AK: Sometimes I can look at a fix and know that John Romita did that fix. Or I can tell if Marie Severin did a fix. But all I see is Mooney here. For instance, on the next page, everyone is standing on the same plane. But they’re not. That floor works as though there is a hill in the room. But it doesn’t look wrong. I sort of got the effect I wanted. Even though Thor is kind of squashed in, because of the way I choose to do it. Oh, well.
DB: That’s a nice serpent on page four.
AK: It’s a decent page. Ah, on page five, “Tony Stark, makes me feel, he’s a cool Exec with a heart of steel.” Now, the Stark figure in panel four, that does not say “me” to me.
DB: That doesn’t look like your faces on Tony Stark.
AK: It looks like Al Milgrom might have had something to do with it. I don’t know. It just doesn’t look like I did it. Yeah, the whole thing with these Norse Gods eating mess in an Air Force hanger is kind of silly. That’s a nice Volstagg.
DB: Actually, yeah, that’s nice. Big and fat.
AK: When I get a lot of blacks on my pages, they always looked better. I think that’s one of the things that appeal to me.
DB: But on Page 7, bang, there you go.
AK: Yeah, again some nice blacks on page seven and eight. Yeah, like Odin in panel two on page eight. It’s got a nice weight there, some nice juicy blacks.
DB: That’s an unusual page for, you know, that whole Shooter era?
AK: Yes, but an epic was called for so I didn’t pull back. No, if the writer indicates, “I want to have a big two thirds of a page panel here,” Shooter is not going to yell at the artist. But if the artist just reads the plot and decides to consolidate all the multi-panel action into just one big panel on the page, Shooter may take his head off. And even then, if you were Shooter’s pet or if you knocked Shooter’s socks off, you might get away with it. I think I finally got the hang of Odin in this issue.
DB: It looks like you well and truly got the hang of Loki as well, page nine, the bottom panels of page nine, especially the last panel.
AK: Had anyone ever drawn that kind of oval-shaped head on Loki before? I don’t know.
DB: Not that I’m aware of, not the really long face with the accent on the chin.
AK: Maybe Neal did that. The big fight panel on page eleven could’ve been a lot stronger. Moving so far back on the action there, on all those fights, it loses focus. There should’ve been some larger forms mixed into those panels. For instance, on page thirteen, those fight scenes are more interesting to me because we’re concentrating on one set of actions. A mass fight scene is okay in one panel, to establish the setting. But to me, it is boring to view, panel after panel. You have to move in on one thing and stay with it. On page fifteen, that’s not a bad shot of Thor hefting the bull on his shoulder. I wouldn’t have expected myself to have pulled that one off that well. This page has got nice stuff on it.
DB: Well, I tell you what I like is the boat sailing in panel three.
AK: Yeah that’s okay. In my head it’s much better, much better. I like the flood panel on page sixteen. God, it keeps going on. Page after page of this crap. I can’t believe it. Oh, the Golden Apples. Oh this is the story we started in Tales of Asgard, isn’t it?
AK: I see. That’s why we were running Tales Of Asgard. Setting up an unrelated sub-plot that suddenly comes to fruition in the main feature.
DB: Now, I’m wondering whether or not they did that to, I’m pretty sure by this stage the book was virtually cancelled, whether or not they were doing it just to tie up the loose ends?
AK: No, I don’t think so. It was never really cancelled.
DB: No, no it was never cancelled but it was certainly talked about being cancelled.
AK: As I say, I don’t think that’s why they did this. I think just was a neat way to start a B story going. Stan and Jack did that with the Ragnorrock Saga, no? I think they just saw an opportunity to do something quote, unquote, cool. At least that’s the way I read the situation.
You’ve got another big boring fight scene on page twenty.
DB: Yeah, but it’s odd because the Loki figure is quite powerful and yet the Sif figure is weak.
DB: How to sort of reconcile them (laugh).
AK: At least Sif gets a Golden Apple at the end of the story.
DB: Indeed, she does and it’s a lovely little last panel there.
AK: And then, my last issue 328. Vinnie Colletta finally inks my Thor.
DB: Vinnie Colletta, yeah. Now, thanks to you, I can spot Vinnie Colletta a mile away.
AK: Why thanks to me?
DB: Oh, because you’ve pointed out the various Vinnie things which I think I’ve taken for granted over the years.
AK: Yeah, like what?
DB: The women’s faces for a start.
AK: Oh. Well, I mean you never noticed that every women he inks tends to look the same?
DB: Not as blatantly as I do now.
AK: Well, you know, it’s no more or less than what Jim Mooney or Sinnott or Wally Wood did in terms of influencing the work. Almost any inker.
AK: I like the cover of this issue a lot. The only thing wrong with the cover, Sif’s neck is much too short. But Vin did a nice job, especially on the villain. I couldn’t complain about anything he did there.
DB: And of course with Vinnie inking you on Thor, it looks like Thor.
AK: Yeah, it doesn’t look like Kirby but it looks like Thor. On the splash page, everyone looks like they are supposed to. [chuckles] Thanks, Vince.
DB: I do like the Thor figure on page three, in panel three, the big …
AK: I didn’t draw those bushy eyebrows, believe me. But I like page two.
AK: I tried some different things in this issue. Yeah, I did a lot of vignettes, floating panels. Shooter didn’t like that kind of stuff. I’m kind of surprised he let it go through.
DB: Actually, this is one of the more adventurous issues you ever did.
AK: I wonder if I knew it in advance that Vinnie was going to ink it? On page three, panel two, I like the Thor.
DB: Did you know at this stage that this was going to be the last issue you did?
AK: I believe I knew it. I think I so.
DB: Would that have contributed to the fact that you went a bit further with it than you normally would?
AK: I don’t know. It might have.
DB: Page four is good; in fact page four is pretty damn good.
AK: That’s a Neal Adams swipe from the cover of Superman #243.
DB: Ah yes, yeah, I hadn’t noticed that before.
AK: I think everyone noticed it in New York. Everyone called me on that one. Vinnie and I did not improve the shot either, I must add. But Vinnie knew how to draw that helmet. The helmet is big enough now. Why, only on my last issue, is the helmet big enough? I noticed that on page five that I finally got Don Blake nice and frail.
DB: It’s almost like everything falls into place, I mean you’re not doing it again.
AK: Waaaaahhhh! [Laughter]
DB: It’s like you get it right and suddenly, “nah, that’s it, you’re gone.” Page six, now that’s the one that really got me.
AK: Oh yes, yes, I really liked doing that panel, yeah. I don’t know if it worked, or would have worked without the arrows. I can’t imagine Shooter being happy about that panel. He must have been very unhappy. I remember getting specific critique from him on pages of this issue, but I don’t remember him talking to me about this. He figured a lot of young kids cannot figure out what was going on if you set up pages like this. But, in my opinion, it was a good way to get in a big establishing shot and focus in on the little action as well. I like the next page as well. Again, I don’t know why Vinnie started getting all fancy on me, with the eyebrows.
DB: It’s almost like he didn’t do a Vinnie Colletta, if that makes sense. Instead of erasing things and not inking them, he actually, it’s almost like he went all out to do a really, really good job.
AK: Yeah. Maybe he was sick that week. “Vinnie’s not feeling well and he’s doing a good job.” The patient Dr. Blake is treating on page seven is Perry White.
AK: Although the colourist colured in his white temples.
DB: White hair, yeah.
AK: That’s a nice little page, page eight. It moves around. I was really proud of that first panel on page nine. Then, after Vinnie inked it, I really noticed how bad my drawing had been. Vin didn’t hurt it, but I thought I was drawing a really sexy figure there. But she looks like a dumpy old middle aged woman.
DB: Now, page nine, now that looks like more like you’d expect from Vinnie because it doesn’t look inked all that well.
AK: Well, may I suggest that it may not have been penciled all that well. Now, I’m not saying for sure. But no, it’s not the best work from either Vinnie or me, let’s put it that way. But he didn’t hurt anything, no.
DB: Now did you design the costume on the villain?
AK: I guess so. I don’t know who else would have. Drawing all those circuit boards was not fun. Vinnie put all that texture on the curtains.
DB: Yeah, which makes me wonder, did Vinnie ink it or did Vinnie and assistant?
AK: Well, if it is his assistant, his assistant really has got his style down; it looks like Vinnie’s stuff. I don’t know -- personally know anyone who was Vinnie’s assistant, by the way. You can meet dozens of guys in the business who’ve said they’ve done stuff for Mike Esposito or Murphy Anderson, etc. But I can’t think of anyone who worked for Vinnie. There must have been people, of course, but they weren’t people who hung around me.
DB: But I thought Vinnie had a little stable or a core group of people that he used to call upon when he had pressing jobs that he couldn’t do.
AK: Yeah, sure, no doubt.
DB: Like backgrounds and things.
AK: Yeah, well I’m sure he must have. I just don’t know who they were.
DB: I know Mike had a whole pile of people that he would use from time to time.
AK: Steve Mitchell comes to mind, as well as the aforementioned Jack Abel who worked for Espo. Jack did backgrounds for Murphy Anderson, too. Page twelve is kind of nice. Sort of like that, “Journey To The Centre of The Vision,” by Ant Man in the Avengers.
DB: Of course, yeah.
AK: I don’t know if I looked at that Avengers story. But this panel evokes that feeling. Oh, I remember page thirteen. Sif is very affronted that the salesman touching her bodice.
DB: Well, they are Gods.
AK: The salesman is clearly gay. He’s not even interested in her. I don’t know if that comes across. Then she beats up a bunch of construction workers. Which is always fun to do.
DB: Hmm, what beating up construction workers?
AK: Oh, I do it all the time.
DB: Oh sure [laughing]. Now, this is the only thing that dates it, the video game. On page fifteen.
AK: The giant computers.
AK: In those days they were still trying to make computers bigger. They didn’t really get the fact that people wanted miniaturization.
DB: Oh no, I can, I remember the computers I started out on, they were huge bloody monsters.
AK: Yeah, this is more like the Batman story with the giant typewriter.
DB: Yeah, of course, like a Bill Finger story.
AK: The whole story is kind of a take-off on the Disney movie, “Tron.”
DB: Yeah. Very similar. Of course, Sif is the one that saves the day. Thor doesn’t pop back up until page eighteen.
AK: Yeah, page eighteen. The action is nice. A nice, frail looking Don Blake. Those action shots look really nice when Vinnie takes care with them. It really looks like Thor. [Laughter] I keep saying it. But that’s the thing that strikes me when I look at it. This is really Thor by Vinnie Colletta. Especially on the top of page twenty. This is the panel where Shooter said to me, “You know, if these figures were not the same size, it would have been a wonderful page.” I took that to heart and I tried not to do that anymore.
DB: I don’t know, I quite like it. I think it …
AK: It’s all right, but this is Shooter’s particular prejudice. But he does have --
DB: Yeah there is merit in what he says.
AK: A picture is inherently less interesting with two equal sized objects in it. Balance is not as interesting as imbalance. You may intellectually dispute that, but as a practical fact, there is a great deal of truth to it.
DB: Yep, and all too quickly your Thor run was over.
AK: Yep, but with nice inks. I went out with nice inks.
DB: Yep, it was quite good.
AK: That’s some nice shoulders Sif’s got on that last panel.
DB: I was going to say …
AK: I think I had a “next issue” banner across the bottom of the page that they excised.
DB: Very broad shouldered girl.
AK: Yes, like I say, that last inch or so wasn’t there when I penciled it. So that’s why she’s got those shoulders. In the original pencils, she didn’t look like that.
The next story after this in my book is an episode of the Transformers from 1988 and it’s such a strange looking thing. They changed the printing process and had gone to plastic printing plates. And it’s awful.
DB: I know that there’s some people who are surprised that you did do some Transformer stuff.
AK: Yeah, oh yeah. I barely remember this one at all. There are no human beings in the story. I have no memory of it except the memory of my not enjoying doing it.
DB: You’ve got a lot of people who go nuts over Transformers stuff. You may think I kid, but I do not kid.
AK: No. I don’t think you’re kidding. A guy came up to me at a convention a year ago or so and said, “you drew the first comic book I ever read. An issue of the Transformers and I loved it and you’re great.” I said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” (laughter) I think he got one of the better issues that I did. But this particular one is awful. But then, in the next story in my book are pages from a Red Sonja story I did that appear to have been inked by Rudy Nebres, and it’s breathtaking.
DB: Well, Rudy was a good artist.
AK: All those fellas were at the last convention I was at. There was a whole table full of them.
DB: Well Rudy still is alive, that’s good.
AK: And Ernie is alive, because he was there. But I didn’t talk to him. I don’t even know if they’d remember my stuff. Both of those guys inked my stuff, beautifully. It didn’t look like my stuff, but it was beautiful artwork.
DB: And you never went back to Thor again? That was the end of it.
AK: As far as I remember. For the next seven years or so I never touched Thor again, did I?
AK: Not that I can think of.
DB: I can’t think of where you draw him after that.
AK: But I went on to better things anyhow, Spiderman. No, Thor was not my favourite thing to draw. I never felt I really captured the character. Not to my own satisfaction.
DB: Yeah, what …
AK: That’s my feeling about Thor.
DB: But what did you have in your head when you drew Thor? Whose vision, I mean Jack Kirby of course?
AK: Well failing that, at least John Buscema. Either way, if I had approximated either Kirby or Buscema, it would have made me happy. But I don’t think I did.
DB: Well you came close.
AK: Thanks. Well, it’s more important for you to be satisfied than it is for me to be satisfied. In the big picture, you’re the customer. So what I think is irrelevant as long as the customer is happy. I’m glad to hear that some of it works for you.
DB: And it was a good little series for you to do. It’s one of the more high profile books.
AK: Well, I think, I almost killed the book. And my neighbour saved it, so there you go. Walt came on Thor and it became one of Marvel’s top selling books.
DB: Did you read Walt’s run?
AK: Yeah, I did.
DB: What did you think of it?
AK: I didn’t care for it. But you know, that’s one man’s opinion.
DB: Why didn’t you care for it?
AK: It was too magical and as I’ve said over and over again, I’m not a big fan of magical transformation, magical spells and stuff like that. I like straight adventure. I think Walt created characters that are still being used, aren’t they?
DB: Yeah, oh yeah. Beta Ray Bill and a lot of the other ones. A lot of the things he did they still reference and still use.
AK: Yep, you can’t say that for me!
DB: Blue Devil is still about the only place and so is Kid Devil. You can’t say everything you did ceases to exist when you know, leave the title.
AK: Well, I spent more time drawing the last issues of titles than a lot of people. Maybe even more last issues than Neal Adams.
DB: Yeah, but Neal Adams drew last issues by choice.
AK: Oh, I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s by choice.
DB: Well, of course there’s always that famous story that he says that when he went to Marvel he wanted to be put on a book that was about to be cancelled and hence he got the X-Men.
AK: Yeah, but you notice that he didn’t save it either.
DB: No, but I mean, if it was about to be cancelled, why did it take it another, what was it, about ten or eleven issues for it to be cancelled.
AK: No, Neal said, “give me your lowest selling book.” The same thing that Kirby said when he went over DC. Kirby didn’t want to put anyone out of a job. Kirby didn’t want anyone kicked off a book so it could be given it to him. Let me put it this way, Neal has never had a commercial successful comic book has he?
DB: Oh, the Avengers?
AK: Neal never was the regular artist on a book that survived. He left the Avengers, so we don’t know what would have happened there. And he missed issues.
DB: Well, Batman was never cancelled.
AK: Batman was never his regular feature.
DB: Yeah, but I suppose Batman, the Avengers. Surely those were hugely commercial?
AK: Well, the Avengers were never in trouble. And he got himself taken off the book by not making the deadlines and stuff. But when he stayed on a book, it didn’t survive. I’m not saying the Avengers would have tanked if he stayed on it, I’m just saying that everything he DID stay on, died.
DB: So he was the perfect fill in artist?
AK: Look, I loved everything he did back then. But not enough people were buying it to allow it to survive. Now, Neal will tell you that, just because he was drawing the book, the wholesalers were selling it out the backdoor of the warehouses. So his books didn’t get on the stands and were written off by the wholesalers as returns.
DB: Yeah, I’ve heard that so many times, I don’t know if …
AK: My point is, why Neal, Adams? Why didn’t they do that with any successful book? It makes no long-term sense for the distributor to do this.
AK: Why just Neal’s books?
DB: I mean, I’ve never subscribed to that. The other one I’ve heard similar to that is John Byrne who claimed that retailers colluded to prevent his books from hitting the shelf, that they would have, you know people would, all of the retailers would get together and decide that, you know, no John Byrne book was going to make the bookshop.
AK: So they disliked Byrne so much that they would rather take the potential profits out of their own pockets and flush it down the toilet?
DB: Yeah. That was his theory, that’s why his books did poorly.
AK: I don’t believe it.
DB: Yeah, you feel like saying …
AK: At least these guys in the wholesaler’s warehouse in Neal’s story were making their money off the books, albeit under the table. But I don’t believe that a comic book shop owner would cut his own throat to make a point like that. Not in enough numbers to have a significant impact.
DB: But then, the other side of that thing is, why can’t people take responsibility and go. “well, maybe the books weren’t selling because they weren’t that good” ?
AK: Oh, well, that’s a given. At this point we are just picking the lame excuse apart. That’s a given, yeah. Not that I ever disliked the stuff that John Byrne did. Some of the stuff he does I like, some of it I just don’t care about. When he’s working with iconic characters, I generally like it. When he’s doing stories about his own characters, not so much.
DB: Yeah, well, the one he claimed the retailers were ganging up against him was that Lab Rats series he did for DC.
AK: Lab Rats. I think I started off buying it and I could not sustain interest. There were a couple of independent series he started and I would follow them. And I would not be interested. There were a lot of guys like that. You know, like Chaykin. I would automatically buy whatever he did. And then I’d find myself not caring about the characters and then I’d drop it. Now, I don’t even check out these guys’ stuff any more. I just figure it’s the same old stuff again, over and over again.
DB: Actually, Chaykin has been doing some interesting things at Marvel of late.
AK: I was reading about it the other day. Unfortunately, I think I’ve been out of it too long to re-immerse myself in this stuff.
DB: Probably a good thing.
AK: Oh, it certainly saves a lot of money and I don’t have a feeling that I am missing anything. There’s no sense of deprivation.
DB: Yeah, well, because you’re not deprived. I mean, it’s probably a good thing. You’re not wading through crap to find two or three stories.
AK: Yeah and if there is a gem there, there are enough people who will tell me about it so that I can go out and check it out if I want to. So I would not miss it.
DB: I suppose the two Chaykin stories that really stuck out for me of late was an issue of Wolverine he did and also a Punisher issue which I bought solely on the strength that it was Chaykin artwork.
AK: Chaykin uses an awful lot of assistants. I think he does most of his own figure work, but I don’t think he draws or inks his backgrounds. When a guy turns into a corporation I loose a lot of interest.
DB: Yeah, but how many of the big boy’s aren’t corporations?
AK: Nowadays. But in the old days no one touched a page of Kirby. Nobody touched a page of Buscema. Inkers had assistants, but most Marvel pencilers didn’t, really. Well, I’m probably wrong. There were probably guys who had help. Gil Kane used Roger Brand and Howie Chaykin. And Wally Wood, don’t get me started. But Marvel’s top pencilers generally had no help in penciling. Ditko, Heck, Ayers, Leiber were all solo acts. Kirby did layouts, but they were credited.
DB: Yeah, but then people used to pass around pages. Artists would pass around pages. There’s a Ghost Rider issue where you know it’s Starlin, Netzer, Leiohla, Weiss, a whole pile of people did it.
AK: That’s true, the younger guys did it more often. But it wasn’t business, you know. Wrightson, Jeff Jones and Weiss, they lived in the same apartment building on 79th street. They passed pages around, amongst themselves, mostly for kicks. But it wasn’t a professional decision and it wasn’t a regular thing. It was kind of a romantic decision. Like the Fleagle Gang, at EC.
DB: I was talking to Weiss not so long ago and we were talking about the Atlas issue that he draw, I can’t remember what the title was, the Brute, I think it was, and he was telling me, he said, well not a lot of it, but some of it was drawn by Frank Brunner and Jim Starlin who were hanging around and picked up different pages and went for it.
AK: Right, that’s exactly the way it used to happen. I remember Starlin handed me a page of Captain Marvel or Warlock once. This is early on, in the early seventies. He told me to pencil this guy’s head. I tried, but I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t up to it. I think they erased whatever I did and maybe Weiss wound up doing that head.
DB: How did you see Starlin’s pencils, especially on the Captain Marvel stuff?
AK: Um, I’ve never been a fan of Starlin’s artwork or writing. I don’t care for heroes whose thighs are wider than their head. Or villains whose thighs are bigger than Sequoia trees.
DB: I’ve got to admit, I do like Starlin, I do like his writing and I do like his artwork. But then taste is totally subjective.
AK: It doesn’t make me lose respect for you. [Laughing] No, it’s no better or worse than a lot of people’s stuff. But it just doesn’t appeal to me. I was already in the business when Jim Starlin showed up. So I’m looking at it differently than you are. You are looking at it as a consumer, so you consume this stuff and internalised it, along with everyone else’s stuff. But I cannot see it. When I look at these guys stuff, I’m looking at the person and not necessarily just at the artwork. As a kid, who doesn’t know the artist as a person, the art just takes me into the story. Now I’m analyzing the artwork, not just reading stories and internalising it that way. So I can’t help but look at these post 1970 guys differently than you do. Thank god I knew Neal Adams’ work before I knew Neal Adams. Knowing him as a person before I knew his art could have ruined it for me. Big-time.
DB: You’re not removed enough.
AK: I met Neal pretty shortly after he got into the comic book business. But there was enough time for me to me dazzled by those covers he was doing to be able to accept that stuff as quote, unquote, real. In other words, the “real” stories took place before I got into the business. And these “fiction’ stories happened after I got into the business. When I first met Neal he was still drawing Bob Hope Comics.
I think Jack Kirby was drawing the third issues of his DC books when I went to work at DC. So I can’t look at Kirby’s DC stuff as a fan. I’m looking it as a professional and it really turns me off. The dividing line in Kirby’s career for everyone, I’m sure, is the Marvel pre-Fourth World stuff and post Fourth World. And for me, it’s not just a change of venue and characters. It’s an actual physical difference. I was a participant in the Fourth World, not a reader.
DB: Yeah, well I’m not a huge fan of his Fourth World stuff, and the reason I wasn’t a huge fan of the Fourth World stuff was because I thought it was very poorly dialogued.
AK: That’s true.
DB: You know and I know people that literally fight you on that and say no, it was Kirby at his purest and I maintain that if it was Kirby at his purest, then it shows that Kirby really couldn’t write and hence Kirby did not write …
AK: He could not dialogue. And he didn’t have the discipline to edit the stuff. Kirby’s mind was all over the place. He did not have the discipline of a dialoguer. He needed a throttle.
DB: He needed Stan Lee.
AK: Or someone like Joe Simon, or Stan Lee. Or someone.
DB: Yeah, it’s a shame.
AK: Oh well, the point is nothing lasts forever, good, bad or indifferent.
AK: And things change.
DB: And change is very necessary.
AK: Well, is it? Always? In everything?
DB: Yeah. That way we don’t get stuck in a rut. If things change, you know they can either go downhill but then they could change for the better.
AK: Well, change, merely for the sake of change itself is not what I want. I have no problem with evolution, but change for the sake of change is not necessarily a good thing.
DB: Fair point.
AK: You get the last word, Daniel.
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