Original Art Stories: Dave Simons & Bob Budiansky's Ghost Rider
Dave used to remind me that some of his best work was done in collaboration with others. Be it his work with Rags Morales, Gene Colan, John Buscema – all artists who Dave respected – or those who people called ‘lesser lights’, Dave would point out that rarely are great, or even good, things done alone. He loved collaboration and there were many on his list that he wanted to work with, sadly it would never be. If I pointed out his strengths he’d take the praise but then put it into perspective by saying he wasn’t as good a penciler as John Buscema or as good an inker as Tom Palmer. That’s what made Dave as good as he was, he learnt from others and he was always seeking to improve.
Dave always wanted me to expand a lot of what I wrote on his web-site, especially the Ghost Rider section. Dave was bemused that such a small body of his total work – 14 issues in total – had such an impact upon people. For Dave it was a job, but as time passed he realised how good it was, so with that in mind, Dave, this one is for you – happy birthday mate.
The dark demon of the night.
The world's best stunt motorcycle rider.
A deal made with the devil.
A life won.
A life lost.
The Ghost Rider.
Budiansky pencilled his first Ghost Rider cover with issue #33 and remained the regular cover artist for the run of the book, with five exceptions, those five covers being drawn by Don Perlin, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alan Weiss, Frank Miller; Herb Trimpe and Bob Layon – although unusually Budiansky, a penciller and not an inker, would ink the sole Miller entry.
Although Bob Budiansky was assigned to the book, initially as penciler, he soon became heavily involved with the plots. Roger Stern wrote the first few issues to be followed by the equally as brilliant J.M. DeMatteis. Forging a strong alliance with Budiansky the creative team created some of the best books that Marvel published in the early 1980s.
“I was tricking into (writing) it by Tom DeFalco and Mark Gruenwald,” says Roger Stern. “I was visiting their office to drop off something Spider-related, and found them in a funk about Ghost Rider. Michael Fleisher, who been writing the book, was leaving to write...I don't know...CONAN or something. Tom started lamenting the fact that he had to find a new writer, and I said something like, ‘That can't be too hard. Writers should be jumping at the chance to take over the book. There are all sorts of things that you can do with Ghost Rider.’
“And Tom said, ‘Good. Your first plot is due two weeks.’
“And when I started to protest, Mark said, ‘Hey, you said there were all sorts of things you could do with him. Put up or shut up!’ So I promised them I would think about it.
“And by the next day, I had the idea for my first story.
“Writing GHOST RIDER was great fun, because it was so different from all the other books that I'd written. It's basically the story of a stunt cyclist who has a demon trapped inside him. And GR has one of the best visuals in comics.”
"I don’t know if he also wore leather pants. He might have worn them. But anyway, the point is, he knew how to ink leather, which was really important for Ghost Rider.”
"When we came on Ghost Rider," said Dave Simons, who indeed did wear leather pants at the time, "it was either improve or get cancelled. When we took it over it was at its lowest point ever.
Kicking off with a re-telling of the origin story of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, Stern, Dematties and Budiansky wove a rich tapestry of stories which not only gave the Ghost Rider a name (Zarathos) but also an origin story of his own, which was tied into a villain who was stalking Blaze/Zarathos throughout the run. With the books impending cancellation, Dematties and Budiansky decided to do what others had tried before but had never fully succeeded in doing, separating Zarathos from Blaze, imprisoning the demon supposedly for eternity and thus leaving Blaze to reunite with his long lost love, Roxanne, to live happily ever after. Along the way, leading up to the final issue, Blaze and Zarathos had dealings with Nightmare, in one of the most beautifully drawn issues of the series run, the Carnival Of Crime, Steel Wind and more. However all too quickly it was over.
Bob Budiansky remembered what made the run so special for him. “When I worked with Roger Stern on the book Roger did things the traditional Marvel way,” said Bob. “He would turn in a plot, I would draw it then he would get back my drawings and he would do a script.
“For almost a year DeMatteis and I plotted Ghost Rider together. Typically, here's how it worked: he'd come up with an overall structure for the story, all the character beats, interactions and conflicts, and then I'd go through it with him and put in all the action and far-out visual stuff. That might be oversimplifying the process a bit -- I'm sure there were times when he came up with action and I came up with character stuff -- but it was a terrific collaboration. We each drew upon our respective strengths to create a story together.”
“At the time when Ghost Rider was cancelled we had brought sales up to maybe about 120,000 a month in the U.S., and then it started dropping, like I said, when Dave left the book, couldn’t replace that look. It started dropping, and I think it maybe went down to close to 105,000. At the time Jim Shooter, the Editor-in-Chief, wanted to launch a few new books. So he chose a few low-selling books and cancelled them to make room, and Ghost Rider was considered low-selling at 105,000.
Never had there been such a demonic interpretation of the character in all of Marvel's history. The schizophrenia between the Ghost Rider and its human host, Johnny Blaze, was explored like never before. And for seven glorious issues we were able to experience one of the best artistic teams that Marvel had to offer for the early to mid 1980s. Seven issues of interior work and thirteen covers, an all too brief run, but a run that has been reprinted recently in the final Ghost Rider Essential volume, volume #4.
“I had lobbied to draw this book,” said Dave. “This was the penultimate issue. I got to show what I could do on Ghost Rider solo, and draw lots of motorcycles. Pencils and inks on the story were by me, too.” Besides pencilling and inking this story, Dave provided both pencils and inks to other stories, titled Honcho’s Racing Hints, these one page stories featured as back-ups to the main title for issues #6 and #7, along with providing the cover art for issues #9, #10 and #11. Unfortunately both Bob and Dave would move on to other lines of work, and it would take twenty years before the duo would work again, for one final time, fittingly on a commission for one of their best known and best loved Ghost Rider covers.