Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Bob Wiacek Needs Your Help

If you were reading Marvel Comics from the mid 1970s onwards and enjoyed the art, then odds are good that you were looking at art inked by Bob Wiacek.  Bob remains one of the finest inkers of his generation and fully deserving of everyones respect.

Bob has taken a fall recently and damaged his arm, meaning he can't work.  He does expect to make a full recovery but, until then, he has no way of generating an income and the bills are mounting.  To that end Bob has set up a Go Fund me page, in which he promises to draw a sketch for anyone who donates over $40 - once he's recovered and caught up on his commissions and other work.

Bob is a good person.  Go and help him, show him some love and let's makle sure he's well looked after.  It's incumbent upon the people who read and collect comic books and art to help look after those who created the work that we all enjoy.  Do the right thing,

Bob's Go FundMe page can be found here.  Donate and spread the word.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Encounters With The Rich and Shameless #1

I've often had it suggested to me that I should write my own life story.  That just ain't happening, but I have reached a compromise - I'm gonna write about some of the people that I've met, either in person or on line.  In some cases, such as this first entry, I'm not going to name people, but I will leave enough clues to identify them.

Way back in 1752 a semi-famous band toured Adelaide.  I was in the habit of heading out and getting the odd signature here and there, but I had no interest in this band, I rather preferred their chart rivals who were, to me anyway, an oasis in a otherwise musical desert.  Anyway, the then partner of a really good chum of mine asked me if I'd like to come and hang out and yap while she went goo-goo over these mop headed idiots.  Seeing that the alternative was either writing about yet another bland band that I couldn't stand, or sit at home watching the cockroaches race up the wall, I headed out.

The band themselves were staying at the Hilton in Adelaide.  At that point famous bands stayed at the Hilton.  Massive bands, like The Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam or U2 plumped for the Hyatt.  Middle range bands went for the Stamford and, if you were just some shit act with half a hit, you were shoved into either the Arkaba or, God forbid, into the Austral, a 'hotel, in word only with all the mod cons, such as sink to piss in.  Good times.

Down to the Hilton we went.  The band staggered out and headed for their people movers.  My pal, a lovely girl, got the drummers signature and the bass player, and photos with both.  The guitarist wandered out, promptly ignored her and sat down in his car, with the door open.  My pal wandered up the car and asked, politely (as was her way), could he please sign the album she had.  His reply, verbatim, "Can't you see I'm busy?  I mean, fuck off.  Fucking scabs."

My pal was taken aback.  I walked over.  "Mate, there's no need to be rude."
"I'm busy here."
"Doing what?"  As far as I could see the only thing he was doing was sitting there, abusing young ladies.  His manner an speech was combative and I'm not one to back down.
"Look, just fuck off.  I'm sick of people like you."
"People like her?  What? People that buy your shitty records, your shitty singles and buy your overpriced concert tickets?"  With that he looked directly at me.
"If you don't fuck off I'll get out of this car."  That was it for me.
"Get out of the car then and I'll smack your fucking head clear around the block and back again." He stared. "Come on then. Big fucking mouth. Get out."

He didn't move.  He shut up though.  I kept going.  When I fire up, it's hard to stop.  "Come on, wanker. Get out of the car. I'll beat six shades of shit out of you.  I'll smack you so fucking hard you'll think Noel Gallagher is your mum."

No movement. "That'd be right. You play guitar as well as you threaten people mate, that being shit.  Fucking dickbag that you are."

The lead singer came out, the girls squealed.  The lead singer stopped, posed for photos, signed everything.  I pointed this out to the guitarist who wasn't game enough to lean over to shut the door.  "One day, very soon, you're going to be nothing. A fucking washed up has been who was in a one hit wonder of a band.  You fucking tit."

With the the singer got in the car and off they went.  For the rest of the stay the guitarist wasn't seen.  He went into the hotel via the car park entrance, quoting 'security reasons'.

I was right though. His band broke up not that long after and although the singer kept going and went on to bigger and better things, the guitarist did nothing until the eventual reformation.  They toured recently, but didn't play Adelaide.  I guess it went by in a big blur for them.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle - Buy These Books NOW

As people might be aware, my old chum, Norm Breyfogle, had a stroke earlier this year. He's well on the road to recovery, but he can't draw, thus he can't pursue his livelihood, and he needs an income to live. DC have stepped up to the plate by releasing this 500+ page volume, nay, EPIC, that covers Norm and Alan A. Grant's first Detective Comics run.

A lot of this material has never been reprinted before, certainly not in such a handsome volume. You can see Norm, as an artist, growing in this book, from his first tentative steps (which he probably will argue with me about - again) to becoming the powerhouse that he did. Norm is considered by many, especially me, as being THE definitive Batman artist of the 1990s (although he started in 1988) and this work is long overdue for recognition from DC.

 Norm benefits from each volume sold in royalties. And the more volumes that sell the more likely it is that DC will follow this up with more volumes, covering Alan and Norm's run on Batman, along with Anarky and Shadow Of The Bat. The more that sell, the more you help Norm. It really is that simple. It doesn't matter if you like or loathe DC, or their practices, they're doing this to help a man, that's all that counts.

 When it came to Batman from 1988 onward, Alan Grant (and John Wagner for that matter) was the perfect writer and Norm was the perfect artist. Spread some love. Share this post. But buy a copy. Buy two copies and donate one. Just buy it, from a comic shop, a bookstore or on-line. And read it, if you've never read this run then prepare to be blown away, and if you have read this stuff before, then you know what's coming.

But, if you're that anti-DC, then the other way to help Norm is to donate to The Whisper Campaign. As the blurb on the campaign page says:

The Whisper Campaign is here to help Norm Breyfogle recover from his stroke, and we need your help to do it.  By helping this campaign, you get a trade paperback featuring Norm's never-before-reprinted Whisper stories along with many additional comic stories from Norm Breyfogle and his award winning supporters in the comics industry!
On December 17, artist Norm Breyfogle was hospitalized due to a stroke. For many Batman fans, Norm Breyfogle stands out as one of the top artists from the late 20th Century as the penciller for Detective Comics from 1987 until 1993, as well as working on the Batman series from 1990 to 1992. Norm Breyfogle has most recently been seen illustrating Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger and Batman Beyond, and the award-nominated Life With Archie.
Norm Breyfogle has suffered paralysis on his left side, and he draws with his left hand. He now needs months of extended care with daily therapy that will hopefully enable him to once again continue his skillful art and regain his mobility to be able to walk, draw and hopefully work again. 
Like many comic book artists before him, Norm Breyfogle is experiencing the brutal reality where freelance artists with marginal or no insurance can find themselves crushed under hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical bills from career-altering illness or injury. Even in the Affordable Care Act era, health-care security eludes many artists, including ones with histories as extensive and reputable as Norm Breyfogle. He needs help. You can help save him and get cool art for doing so. 
Whisper- A 280-page trade paperback containing Whisper #3-11 
Written and created by Steven Grant (Punisher, 2Guns) and published by First Comics in 1986. The series has never been reprinted before, this will become a collectors dream and a great chance to see Norm Breyfogle early work. Steven has given us permission to reprint Norm Breyfogle issues of Whisper to raise funds for his recuperation.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Alan Kupperberg: 1953 - 2015

Alan Kupperberg as Wally Wood drew him
This was one of his all time favorite pieces of art
Alan Kupperberg was my friend.

I grew up on Marvel Comics. It didn’t matter who published them, be it Marvel themselves, or Newton or Yaffa here in Australia, they were my staple diet.  Throughout the ‘70s I’d read them and enjoy the artwork and the funny words that I never understood until I looked them up (see, comics DO encourage literacy, or, at least at one stage they did).  Moving into the ‘80s I began to notice names on stories and discovered that some names did stories that I enjoyed more than others.  One name that stood out to me was Alan Kupperberg.  It didn’t matter that his art wasn’t on the same level as Johns Romita or Byrne, or Franks Miller and Robbins, it wasn’t that bad to look at.  It was entertaining. Plus he drew The Invaders and several issues of Marvel Two-In-One including my all-time favourite issue, number 75.

I noticed that Alan was good at drawing clowns.  Nobody drew Obnoxio The Clown like Alan did, and nobody ever will.  I was as happy as could be when I discovered Frenchy The Evil Clown in the pages of National Lampoon and saw Alan’s name there, front and present.  Clown city!  Years later I had Alan do a Clown Team-Up cover.  I’m not sure if he ever finished it, if anyone has it; it’s mine so give it back.  But Alan and foul mouthed clowns with filthy habits seemed to run hand in hand.
Obnoxio The Clown vs The X-Men #1
Alan write, drew, edited, lettered and coloured this book from cover to cover. Nobody has done that at Marvel before, or since
I found Alan via the magic of the Internet about ten years ago.  We began to correspond, I interviewed him and we hit it off for some reason.  He was very self-depreciating about his work.  He was proud of it, but he knew where he stood in the history of comic books, a journeyman artist, dependable, able to hit deadlines but far from a superstar artist.  When I met him he was in the doldrums.  His comic book career was finished. He’d given up on drawing the syndicate strip Little Orphan Annie as it was costing him more than he earned, so small were the returns.  Publishers had long ceased to call and nobody was asking him for commissions.  He wasn’t rich, so I set up a web-site for him, free of charge, and got him work via that.  I contacted people I knew, publishers and art collectors, and let them know he was willing and able to work.  He got commissions and some minor publishing work.  His joke was, “I’ve gotten the ten people who were looking for me for commissions, so you can take down the web-site now.”  He felt that people didn’t care about him, but then would complain that all they wanted was a signature or a free sketch.  Deep down he loved that he was remembered.  He hated asking for anything, but would happily take anything offered.  The one time that he asked was when he reached out to me and another friend of his to write to HERO on his behalf.  He was very happy that HERO helped him and he couldn’t speak highly enough of them.

I also began to interview him about various runs he did, Blue Beetle, Spider-Man, Invaders, What If, Thor, Avengers – books that he’d worked on and that people remembered with fondness.  He was belligerent and abusive towards me during these interviews if I praised him, if I didn’t recognise a swipe or, God forbid, I didn’t have the source material in front of me – because he’d be ready and waiting with everything he needed and he was equally as quick to tell me how stupid I was for being unprepared. "Oh, fuck this, call me back when  you're ready," he'd say, but then he'd keep talking for another hour or so.  He was quick to point out what panels he’d swiped and could tell me exactly what book he swiped them from.  For example, in one issue of What If, a Spider-Man themed issue, was packed with swipes he claimed.  Gil Kane, Jim Mooney, John Romita, Ross Andru, Steve Ditko.  If it was inked the way he wanted it, it would have looked like an all-star jam, but, as is the way, he wasn’t finished the way he intended it to be.  Never mind, he hated drawing it anyway.  He hated drawing superhero comics because he couldn’t figure them out.  He wasn’t a physical man so exercise and fighting was alien to him.  But it paid the bills and he got to meet people.  And did he meet people!!!

Kupperberg by Wood
Alan knew a lot of secrets about the comic book industry.  He knew where the bodies were buried and, more importantly, who buried them.  He told me many, many things that I won’t repeat for a few years, “Wait ‘til they’re dead, or I’m dead at least,” was his catch-cry, as we’d both dissolve into laughter over another  scandalous story about an artist or a writer or a publisher.  He told me who stole what art from whom and he’d tell me how they did it.  I remember telling him a story I’d heard from Mike Esposito about how an editor at Marvel used to steal art.  Alan not only already knew who it was and what he stole, but he told me that he (Alan) used a similar trick to snag some Don Heck art back in the day when the same editor asked him to do ‘the trick’, but Alan turned the tables (‘the trick’ is kind of legal really, for an artist anyway, and no, it didn’t involve re-drawing or deceit, unlike the editor).  He told me who paid off their house with stolen Kirby and Ditko art from Marvel.  He told me how he’d tried to do the right thing by sneaking art that was destined to be destroyed out of DC’s offices and giving it back to the rightful owners only to have one artist actually complain to DC about how Alan was able to get art out but the artist couldn’t.  As Alan said, he never did that again, and he was bemused when the same artist later in life complained about all of his great art that DC destroyed.

He’d tell me, with a perverse sense of glee, about the work and personal habits of many people he met and he’d love putting them down in his Profusely Illustrated series.  Alan knew he could ruin a few reputations, but he never did.  He despised people who seemed only to be interested in people after they died, people who’d never lift a finger to help anyone, but once they’d passed would be racing to be the first into print with an eulogy.  He’d feed me stories; give me hints of what to look for and where to find information, which I’d follow up.  There was so much knowledge there and, as Steve Mitchell told me, if Alan told you something then it happened.  Such was the steel trap that was his memory.  He never forgot a slight and he carried his grudges for life – the mere mention of a certain inkers name would be enough to send him on a rant for a good twenty minutes, usually ending in Alan recounting how he’d nearly punched the inker out at a show over a debt of $100, causing an increasingly worried looking Irwin Hansen to lean over to give Alan back a borrowed pencil telling Alan that he didn't want to owe him anything.  Irwin’s response was usually the cue to start the laughter.  He would always ask for the latest word about the artist and then add to it with another bit of scurrilous gossip, usually about his personal habits.

Possibly the dirtiest conversation I had with him was the four and something hours we spent talking Clowns, and interview everyone should read.  Out of the four hours I expect that a good ninety minutes would be pure laughter and swearing.  And the swearing!! Alan taught me how to swear, fluently, in Yiddish and I’ll always think him for that, the putz.  One day I'll listen back to that tape, along with other tapes that we did, interviews never published and conversations that just went on and on.

Alan loved his family and was destroyed when his mother, Lottie, passed away. He loved his cats, when his beloved Bennett passed in his arms, Alan was inconsolable.  He would talk for hours about the Kupperberg clan, his grandparents, how his father Sydney bore a resemblance to Jim Mooney and how he adored his wife Debbi.  The way to get him going was talk family, cats, television and I Love Lucy.  I lost track of the amount of time we spent talking about the various phases of Lucille Ball's career.

He was mischievous and if he could get a laugh at the expense of another person, then he was good for it. Especially if that person was me.  A typical Alan Kupperberg gag goes like this – I told him that Howard Chaykin was coming to Adelaide for a convention.  “Great,” said Alan, “when you go and see him and say, ‘Hey, Howie, Kupps says hello!’ Trust me, he’ll get a kick out of it”.  I knew that Alan and Chaykin knew each other from way back, going back to when Alan would ghost for Chaykin, most famously on Star Wars #10 that saw Alan’s name in larger type than Howard (which, as Alan would gleefully tell me, pissed Howard off royally) and from when they’d prowl various bars and nightclubs collecting phone numbers of girls that they’d never call.  I duly walked up to Chaykin, introduced myself, called him ‘Howie’ and mentioned Alan.  

I honestly thought Chaykin was going to belt me, such was his seething anger.  “My name is HOWARD,” he hissed and then proceeded to tell me each and every one of Alan’s failings as an artist.  When I told Alan he laughed himself hoarse as he told me that he knew that Chaykin hated to be called Howie – it was a set-up, at my expense.  Then he listened as I recounted what Howard (not Howie) had said, asked what I'd said in response (I didn't agree, Alan said I was an idiot because if I'd agreed I might have gotten free artwork), told me how wrong I was and then told me each and every one of Chaykin’s failings as an artist.  Pure gold.  That was Alan Kupperberg.

I’m sure he turned that acid tongue on me to a few people in his days, I don’t mind. He earned that right.  He backed me to the hilt when it mattered, and I hope he knew that I did the same for him.  He was a damned good friend and I’m glad I told him that.  I’m glad I told him how much I loved him, both as a professional and as a person.  No matter our issues we cleared the air towards the end and that’s all that matters.  He was good to me and I hope, if he was being honest, he’d say the same back about me. 

Right after that he’d tell me how useless I am because I still can't work out what a brisket is.
I’m going to miss Alan.  He was a good artist, a terrific writer and a good friend.  Perhaps I should repost those interviews for people to see, once more, just how good Alan was.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Stan Lee: "Not the least bit coherent." - Sony Pictures Blunt Assessment

Half the planet must have visited the Sony Studios Wikileaks site over the past few days going on the sheer amount of material that is surfacing.  There’s gigabytes of material to wade through, the bulk of it is utterly mundane, boring run of the mill exchanges between people, revealing nothing of any great note, but in amongst it all is correspondence that helps explain a lot.  Such as the fact that a major film studio, which handles The Amazing Spider-Man and works with Marvel a lot, has no real idea, or respect, for the true creators of the characters they exploit and make billions from.

Here’s what we know.  At the end of January, 2014, then Sony Vice Chairman Jeff Blake fired an email off to a group of senior Sony exes, including then Chairperson Amy Pascal, about his dinner with former Disney executive and now a director at legendary Films Dick Cook who apparently had just optioned, “the entire works of Jack Kirby, an animator you might know, I don't.”  That’s right, Jack ‘King’ Kirby, a mere animator.  But it got worse. The next day, Chief Executive Michael Lynton, who clearly prides himself on his knowledge of all things comic book related, fired this pearler off to a group of Sony execs, “jack kirby a big deal, true creator of marvel along with mike ditko (sic)”.  And yes, you’ve read that right – ‘Mike Ditko’, who Lynton probably thinks created Spider-Man.  Not Steve Ditko, but the previously unknown Mike.

The lack of respect for those in the comic book world was perfectly illustrated in a November, 2014 exchange between Studio 8’s Jeff Robinov and Amy Pascal.  After batting ideas back and forth about potential directors for future movies, including Sam Rami, who is dismissed as having, “…gone a little Joel Schumacher,” with the third Spider-Man movie, the discussion then moved to the deal that is now in place between Marvel and Sony for the use of Spider-Man.  Here’s where things get interesting.  As of November, 2014, Marvel’s plans were, and presumably still are, for Spider-Man to be a major player in the third Captain America film, which is clearly a frustration to Sony as they have no other Marvel characters, outside of the Spider-Man universe, to play with, which means no similar superhero blockbuster for them.  Then the killer blow comes with this Jeff Robin question, “Is Stan lee still coherent?  Can he add another character to spider world to Kosher it.”   

Two minutes later came the reply from Amy Pascal, “Not the least bit coherent.”

Sony has been dealing with Stan Lee for decades now.  He’s appeared in every Spider-Man movie and is listed as an executive producer.  But, in the halls of Sony, he’s just a senile old man.

And speaking of superhero team-ups, the plan, according to X-Men producer Simon Kinberg, as relayed to the Sony executives, is for an eventual X-Men/Fantastic Four film, with the forthcoming Fantastic Four movie and the next X-Men film, The Age Of Apocalypse, both laying the groundwork for that epic.

For a lighter chuckle, here’s the top brass at Sony discussing the most recent Warner Brothers Studio Superman movie, Man Of Steel.
From: Pascal, Amy
To: O'Connor, Rachel; Minghella, Hannah; Belgrad, Doug
This superman movie is really bad

From    O'Connor, Rachel
To        Pascal, Amy
Man of steel?
Yeh. I thought that the zak snyder photographed superman in a very iconic way that they were able to turn into an epic and kind of evocative marketing campaign. But it is humorless and long and jumbled. The final action is ridiculous -- more people were probably killed by collateral damage cause by superman than he saved. Daily planet tag reminds you that the best part of dick donner movie was him having to pretend that he was doofus.

From: Pascal, Amy
To: O'Connor, Rachel
Subject: Re:
Stupid planet is awful

On Nov 23, 2013, at 2:59 PM, "O'Connor, Rachel"wrote:
Oh ur just at the beginning!

From: Pascal, Amy
To: O'Connor, Rachel
They keep going back there
And ny looks like the same color scheme
I'm getting sick of theses movies

That’s as good a review as you’re likely to see.

So, next time you see a superhero movie, or read an interview and wonder why the original creators are being ignored and shut out, now you know. It's nothing personal, the executives most likely don't know, nor do they care to know.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Superman vs The Amazing Spider-Man: The Inside Story


(This was originally pitched and published in a vastly different form in Back Issue magazine. The idea was that it would be a chapter in the Andru & Esposito: Partners For Life book, but that got nixed when the publisher did his chopping and changing. I’m going back to that book, in an intermittent fashion, rewriting and bringing it back to the original vision that both Mike and I had for it. So, here it is.

All original art scans courtesy Terry Austin)

By the mind 1970s several; creators had crossed between Marvel and DC, going back to the days when Stan Lee began to poach artists and writers to help launch the Marvel Universe.  Mike himself had crossed from DC to Marvel and had worked for both companies at the same time, before signing an exclusive deal with Marvel.  Ross was also at Marvel, as was other DC staffers in the form of John Romita, Gil Kane and even Wayne Boring.  Jack Kirby, who had almost singlehandedly developed the look of Marvel, had crossed the other way, moving to DC for a role as writer/artist/editor, as had Steve Ditko (Spider-Man), Dick Ayers and others.  With the revolving door of talent, the time was right for the companies to come together and pitch their flagship characters against each other.

Unofficial cross-overs had happened before.  In 1972 writers Steve Englehart (Marvel) and len Wein (DC) began a series of unofficial cross-overs when they intertwined a storyline in the pages of The Avengers, Justice League of America, Batman, Amazing Adventures and Thor. This crossover followed the misadventures of the real world writers as they appeared at the annual Rutland Halloween Parade, and also featured artist Neal Adams subtly inserting Marvel characters into DC books.  Then in 1975 the two companies officially dipped their toes in the water by producing an adapation of The Wizard of Oz, written by Roy Thomas and drawn by John Buscema and Tony DeZungia.  This went largely unnoticed, mainly due to the subject matter.  The calls in fan circles for comics featuring the likes of Superman battling the Hulk, Batman and Spider-Man, the Avengers and the Justice League and more were too irresistible so the companies announced that, in 1976, Superman would officially meet The Amazing Spider-Man.  After negotiation the creative team was settled and duly announced.  The book would be created by people from both Marvel and DC in a fair split.  Writing the book was DC employee Gerry Conway (at that stage the only man to have written both Superman and Spider-Man for any length of time), the penciller would be Marvel artist Ross Andru (the only man to have drawn both characters at that stage) and the book would be inked by freelancer, but then working for DC, artist Dick Giordano (pretty much the pre-eminent inker of any era).  The rest of the duties would also be split between the companies, with the whole thing overseen by editors Stan Lee (Marvel) and Carmine Infantino (DC).  Infantino would also lay-out and pencil the cover for Andru to follow.  As the contracts were being finalised, Ross asked for the inker to be his partner, Mike Esposito.  It made sense, Ross had pencilled both Superman and Spider-Man, and Mike had inked him on both characters, as well as inking others such as Curt Swan (Superman) and John Romita (Spider-Man).  This would upset the balance though, but Ross was insistent.  Unfortunately other people would push their agendas into play.

MIKE ESPOSITO: I was supposed to ink the first Superman/Spider-Man cross over.  However, I got into a big argument with Marv Wolfman, who was the editor at Marvel at the time. They kept changing editors; Roy Thomas was the editor at one stage, then Marv, then Len Wein. I got a call from Sol Harrison at DC and he said, ‘Mike, we want to team you and Ross up together. We’re going to do a cross over with Spider-Man and Superman and since you guys were known as Andru and Esposito up here we figure it’d be perfect for you guys to do it’. And it was all set to go and then Marv Wolfman, and I’m not doing this verbatim, I’m paraphrasing what happened, he called them up and said, “You can’t have both guys.

It was like they were trading ball players from one team to another. He said, ‘You can have Ross but you can’t have Mike, or you can have Mike but you can’t have Ross. You can’t have both of them’ So Sol Harrison called me up and he was very apologetic because he really enjoyed the idea of having the two guys from years ago coming together on the project. He said, ‘It looks like you’re not going to do it, I’m sorry Mike. It looks like Dick Giordano is going to be put on it’.  Dick Giordano did a good job. It’s a very nice book.

MARV WOLFMAN:  Mike’s quote from Sol is wrong.  I was on the Marvel Black and White books at the time, not the colour comics. I had absolutely nothing to do with deciding who was on the Superman/Spider-Man book.  Len Wein was the editor, as he will tell you because I had to hold him back when he nearly strangled the guy from Cadence Corp. who told us about the team-up and that Len, as the Marvel editor, would not have any say in the matter. I may have later inherited the project when Len left Marvel, but I don't remember. At any rate, I know the team had been selected without us, and that the idea, as little as I remember of it now, was that there would be a Marvel penciller and a DC inker on it so I doubt that Mike would have been considered, despite his years with Ross, because they wanted people from both companies working on each step of it. Gerry Conway was the writer because he had written both Superman and Spider-Man, the only one to do it at that point.

LEN WEIN: I'm pretty much with Marv on this one.  I was the Marvel Editor-in-Chief at the time, not Marv, who had nothing at all to do with the Superman/Spider-Man book other than saving then Marvel Publisher Al Landau's life when I threw myself at him, determined to rip out his throat. Landau told me when I complained about losing Ross Andru's pencilling services off the Amazing Spider-Man title for a couple of months, that, despite my position as Marvel E-I-C and also being the current writer on Amazing Spider-Man, what went on in the S/S-M team-up book was, quote, “None of your fucking business!”

Nobody in Marvel editorial had anything whatsoever to do with determining who worked on the Superman/Spider-Man book and, to the very best of my memory, Mike Esposito's name never came up. And, frankly, I doubt it would have. As mentioned, the idea was to make this one-shot a true cross-company book. That meant splitting the creative services between the two companies. Thus, the writing came from DC (Gerry Conway), the pencilling from Marvel (Ross Andru), the inking from DC (Dick Giordano), the colouring from Marvel (Glynis Oliver) and the lettering from DC (Gaspar Saladino). Even the cover was laid out by DC's then-publisher, artist Carmine Infantino, pencilled by Ross, and inked by Dick, and coloured by Glynis.

Despite whatever line of bull Sol Harrison might have fed Mike (Sol had his own agenda at the time, having been passed over for the publisher position), I don't believe for an instant it ever happened. The best I could imagine was Ross (always a wonderful man) suggesting his buddy Mike as inker and being overruled for the reasons mentioned above.  Also, it should be noted that Mike inked the two issues of Amazing Spider-Man that Ross missed while pencilling the crossover. The fill-in penciller for those issues was Sal Buscema

Mike clearly remembered Sol Harrison phoning him twice.  The first call was to discuss his inking the book and setting a page rate that would be agreeable to all parties concerned.  Shortly after Sol phoned Mike and informed him that the editors at Marvel had refused to give permission for Mike to work for DC.  But, as Len recounts, Sol had hidden agendas at that stage, known only to himself and it’s highly likely that he didn’t contact anyone at Marvel and felt that it was a given that he, as the Superman editor, would be able to choose the creative team.   Sol found himself in a bind. He had made a promise to Mike, so he broke that promise and in doing so, laid some seeds of discontent by claiming Marvel had turned down DC’s request for Andru/Esposito.  Perhaps he felt that, by blaming Marvel, Mike would quit and move back to DC and, in doing so, deprive Marvel of a dependable staff artist. 

Mike had two regrets when it came to the Superman vs Spider-Man book, the first was missing out on seeing the Andru/Esposito name on one of the biggest projects that either of them would ever be likely to be connected to is one of them. The second regret was a more practical one: money.

MIKE ESPOSITO: It would have been nostalgic and it would have been a landmark thing for us two guys to come back together to work for DC on Superman, because we had done Superman together in the late ‘60s and we both were doing Spider-Man at the time. Our names were still going together with the old days of Metal Men and Wonder Woman and so on, and now we were finding a new audience with Spider-Man. The book did very well and Ross got a lot of money for it, I think he got around $27,000, which is pretty good as a royalty and later he got more from the reprints.

For years people had mentioned how the Superman figures in the book looked more like Neal Adams than Ross Andru and that the Spider-Man figures, in particular the faces of Peter parker and Mary-Jane, looked more like John Romitas work.  There’s a very good reason for this – both men worked on the book, albeit uncredited.  “John Romita did redraw most of the heads of Peter Parker and other supporting Spider-Man characters,” recalled Mark Evanier on a Jack Kirby mailing list, “even though the Andru versions were good enough to appear for years in the Spider-Man comics. That whole book had a ‘too many cooks’ mentality about it”.  Evanier had seen a lot of the original pages as they were being handed around the DC offices and believed, in his own opinion, that Adams never touched the pages.  John Romita wasn’t so sure. 

JOHN ROMITA: I think the greatest thing Ross did was the Spider-Man vs Superman cross over.  I have told many people at many conventions that I don’t know of anybody who could have done a better job on a huge project like that. It’s high profile, you’re out there exposed, and he did the best job I’ve ever seen on such a big project. That’s one of my favourite books of all time. I did work with him on that book because I was the consultant for Marvel and Stan sort of insisted that every once in a while I touch up a Mary Jane Watson face, or a Peter Parker face. You might find a couple of my faces sticking out like a sore thumb in that book.

DICK GIORDANO: No one asked Neal to re-draw the Superman figures, but the pages were sent to me at Continuity and were mostly left on my desk or thereabouts when I went home at night or on weekends and Neal took it upon himself to re-draw the Superman figures without telling me that he was going to do it. I didn't complain but I also never mentioned it to anyone at the time and really never spoke of it until now...mostly out of respect for Ross and his work. Ross was one of the very best storytellers in the business as well as great at composition, layouts and design. But his drawing was a bit quirky and somewhat distorted as a result of an eye problem that affected his perception. He often drew on one side of the paper, then, on a light box, turned it over and re-drew it on the other side, correcting the distortion, then reversed the page again and traced the corrected version from the back side of the art board onto the copy side. This took a great deal of time and slowed him down greatly toward the end of his career.

But...I loved the distortions! It gave his work a charm and distinction that I always believed was appealing. I learned how to ink his work to minimize the distortion without losing the charm! That became moot, as Neal changed/corrected all the Superman figures to his own frame of reference. I tried in the inking not to lose too much of the Ross Andru look (and to his credit, Neal tried, as well, to retain the ‘look’ mostly correcting anatomy errors in his re-drawing). You really couldn't lose his storytelling or compositions, so in my mind, the result was still Ross Andru at his best!!

I questioned Neal's son's claim that Neal inked the Superman figure on the cover. He re-drew it and I inked it...and then Neal may have gone back and ‘tightened up’ some of my inks as he often did on my inks on his material. He never much liked my more organic brush inking, preferring the more controlled look of pen inking. Different strokes...

NEAL ADAMS: Ross Andru came to my studio well before this project and I had heard about this project.  I discovered that he was working on this Superman Spider-Man thing and in fact it was going to come to the studio and Dick was going to ink it.  So when he came in it was come and have a cup of coffee, just relax, I've been a fan of yours and I really like your stuff, since the Metal Men since I was a kid and he said, “Well, you know this Superman Spider-Man thing is sort of a fluke. If I had my way on this book of course Mike Esposito would be inking it.”
“Why isn't he inking it?”
“I asked for Mike and they told me that they wouldn't let it happen.  They said, they want to share the work between the companies.”  And I said, “That doesn't seem right.” 

He couldn't get Esposito in as an inker even though he'd asked.  When the job came through the studio, it came in and Dick had mentioned some of the Superman logos on Superman's chest were done kind of quickly and apparently Ross was under a tremendous deadline.   When I looked at the first pages I realized Ross had rushed some of the work and Dick, himself, had a lot of pressure deadline-wise.  I thought how many times would Supes go up against Spidey? How many shots will this project get? One!  I knew the strengths and weaknesses of the two artists. I asked Dick if I could tighten up the cover for him in preparation for inking. He said, “As long as you don’t, basically, change it.” I said, “Never, I’ll just sorta ink it with a pencil.” It worked out nicely.

We agreed to ask Ross if I could, because I had more experience with Superman, tighten up the Superman figures in the book. Ross was delighted. Dick and I were delighted. I took great effort to keep the Ross Andru look and quality while I added a bit of anatomy here and there, chiselled a face a bit, and basically inked with a pencil, after which Dick inked with ink. I don’t think you could find a collaboration the like of this one, anywhere. I was the mustard on a ham and Swiss.  I ran a kneaded eraser over each Superman figure, which lightened the pencil. Then I pencilled new lines over the old and filled in areas that were unfinished, I located the roughed in “S” symbol and made the anatomy more solid. I knew Ross Andru’s style so I kept it Ross as best I could, and Dick blended it with his ink…but if you look real close…

The true unsung hero on the whole project is Terry Austin, who did the lion’s share of the ink work, inking the backgrounds and secondary characters, although Bob Wiacek inked the backgrounds on the prologue.  Terry has often felt his involvement has been downplayed somewhat by others who, while they may or may not have done anything of importance on the book, were trying to promote themselves over him. At the time of the Superman/Spider-Man crossover being produced he was working at Continuity Studios as an assistant to Dick Giordano and as such worked on a lot of projects totally uncredited.  This was one such project.  During a lengthy phone call Terry explained that he'd done more inking on this book than virtually anyone else other than Giordano but didn't see how Neal Adams could have re-pencilled some images, however looking at the original pages from the book that he still owns he stated that it was now obvious to him. One thing he did mention was that the original art pages were done at almost the same size as the printed treasury. He then sent me photocopies of the art, at the original size, to illustrate his point and these pages are what you now see accompanying this current article. Terry mentioned that Bob Wiacek also had a hand in the inking stage.

Each year it seems that more and more memories are brought forward about this landmark book, the first official meeting between two powerhouse superheroes at opposing companies.  Such is the power and impact of that amazing story.  In 2006 Michael Eury spoke to Gerry Conway about the Superman/Spider-Man book and published the results in his Krypton Companion. As the writer of the book, Conway denied any knowledge of the art situation but did comment that, while he was working at Marvel on the Spider-Man title, John Romita would often retouch Ross Andru's Spider-Man faces. The interesting comment here was that Conway felt that Giordano was heavily influenced by Neal Adams with the result being that almost everything he inked came out looking like Adams. So when Conway saw the end result, “…it looked like Neal Adams' drawing, it didn't occur to me it might actually be Neal Adams' drawing.”

In February 2007 Roy Thomas printed a letter from Marv Wolfman in Alter Ego #65.  The letter was in response to a series of interviews that Mike Esposito had given to the magazine in question.  During the course of those conversations Mike mentioned the  Superman/Spider-Man book.  That came as no great surprise to me as the interviewer for Alter Ego and myself were speaking to Mike, at times, on the same day about the same topics, hence a lot of what was said Mike duplicated.  Marv took offence at Mike's claims that perhaps it was he (Marv) and Len Wien who blackballed Mike from the book.  Marv's letter, in part, said, "He (Mike) obviously holds a grudge against us (Marv and Len) because he thinks we were the ones who took him off the Superman vs Spider-Man book, costing him royalties; but I wasn't even in the colour department, and Len was allowed to have any say on anything connected to the book.  I wish he'd stop bad mouthing us totally mistakenly".

The controversy surrounding the first official Superman and Spider-Man cross-over will probably never cease, but the book itself is a landmark and fondly remembered by all that have read it for the first time.  After all, who can go past that incredible double page spread of Superman and Spider-Man shaking hands? When you’re talking iconic images in comic books that ranks up there with all of them. It signifies the first meeting of the two main companies of the day and is the iconic image of a book that blazed a cross-company trail that’s still being followed to this day.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Senator, The Director & The Comic Books: Kefauver, Hoover and the 1950 Anti-Comic Book Questionaire

Senator Estes Kefauver and FBI chief, J. Edgar Hoover, had an interesting relationship over the years.  Files reveal a raft of correspondence between the two, almost all of it complimenting each other, however the relationship between Kefauver and Hoover got off to a rocky start.  In January, 1947, Hoover was offended enough by remarks made by Kefauver to raise them with the then US Attorney General Tom Clark.  Hoover took umbrage at a report issued by Kefauver in which the FBI were painted as novices and that the Truman administration was planning to cut funding to the FBI as a whole.  Hoover’s outrage was passed on to both Clark and also Kefauver directly, resulting in an instant apology from Kefauver in which he claimed ignorance to the remarks and deflected the blame onto his underlings.  “Certainly no one on the Committee, or connected with the committee wish to do you or the wonderful work of the F.B.I. an injustice,” Kefauver wrote to Hoover, “and I regret exceedingly if any injustices were done. The report you will notice is by the Staff to the Members of the sub-Committee.  It was not prepared by the sub-Committee.” This apology and even the deflection would have appealed to Hoover who forgave Kefauver, but never forgot the slight.

Files also reveal that Hoover wasn't that enamored of Kefauver in private, often complaining about Kefauver using Hoover’s image without permission and especially irate with Kefauver’s constant requests to the FBI for background checks and information, with Kefauver going as far as to request that the FBI provide the same kind of protection to him as the Secret Service did to the President – a request that was denied – and that his son be given use the FBI shooting range to ‘try out’ a pistol that he had been gifted as a Christmas present in 1962.  But, no matter what the FBI might have privately thought of Kefauver, it was always noted that Kefauver was on a first name basis with J Edgar Hoover and such a relationship came with a high degree of discretion and politeness.  The connection between Hoover and Kefauver had its advantages though.  In 1960 Kefauver was the subject of a smear campaign run by the Ku Klux Klan as he was running for re-election. The smear was that Kefauver was far too liberal to be effective as a Southern senator, that he had met black leaders in private and public and was sympathetic to communists and coloured people. The FBI investigated the smear campaign fully and was able to both identify the people behind it put a stop to it. Along the way they were able to thwart death threats and other accusations levied against Kefauver, which seems to be the usual practice for politicians worldwide.

Whatever Hoover and the FBI might have thought of Kefauver and vice-versa was irrelevant to the two major committees that Kefauver headed during his time in the Senate.  In his first, the Investigation into Organised Crime in 1951, which was famously televised, Kefauver did the FBI a major favour by turning the spotlight onto the Mafia and avoiding the tricky question as to why the FBI had never properly investigated their activities.  In 1954 Kefauver released remarks by Hoover (from 1951) in which Hoover praised the work that the Crime Committee were undertaking, commenting, rather disingenuously, that Kefauver’s committee had brought to light a part of crime in America that was previously hidden from view, and thus giving the impression that the FBI had been acting all along.

Despite the assurances of friendship towards Kefauver from Hoover, it didn’t stop the FBI from collecting information about Kefauver’s private life, all of which was passed onto an eager Hoover.  Kefauver’s files contained information about potential bribes and bumbling, along with his apparent interest in young women who were not his wife, the FBI gleefully passing onto Kefauver a letter from one Marion Horio who, in 1952, complained about the ‘fat headed’ Kefauver keeping ‘concubines’ and ‘B-Girls’. If the FBI had chosen to act upon this information in 1952, then history might have been forever altered in regards to the Senate Hearings into comic books in 1954, but, as noted, Kefauver had protection at the highest level and the senate investigation into juvenile delinquency was one that Hoover and the FBI gleefully leapt into with gusto.

In 1948 Hoover became aware of Kefauver’s interest in juvenile delinquency in January 1948 when he read Kefauver’s remarks in the Congressional Record. The comments so moved Hoover that he dashed off a quick note of praise, the results of which would see the FBI providing its resources to Kefauver and his Senate Committee.  In May, 1950, Kefauver visited Washington and attempted to meet Hoover with a view of obtaining information.  It wasn’t to be as Hoover was out of the office when Kefauver stopped by, resulting in a memo being dashed off to Hoover’s right hand man, Clyde Tolson.  The memo mentioned how Kefauver was keen to get his hands on speeches and articles by Hoover about the ‘evils of comics’ and general advice on how to screen people in his office.  Hoover later wrote on the memo, “Ok to send articles but I think we should avoid telling him how to run his investigation”.  In this way Hoover was able to keep his distance, while appearing to be assisting.

In August, 1950, Kefauver wrote to a number of Government agencies, professionals, academics and comic book publishers asking them to complete a questionnaire.  The answers to the questions – seven in total for non-comic related people and four for comic book related people – resulted in over seventy respondents.  The answers themselves took up 254 pages of a report tabled during the senate hearings, but this report was not made freely available to the public, thus the questions, and answers, have remained unseen but for a few people. Here, for the first time since 1950, are the questions and answers that were submitted both to and from the FBI.

The ten pages that the FBI sent back to Kefauver were quoted during the senate hearings as absolute proof that comic books corrupted the youth of the day.  This is despite the FBI pointing to other factors in the community at the time and the overall positive effects that non-crime and non-horror comic books could have on children. Education standards, religion, lack of parental guidance, poverty, lack of respect for law and authority and more were cited in the report, yet these were glossed over during the senate hearings.  One answer that was certainly overlooked and ignored was the FBIs response when asked for statistics to prove juvenile crime can be directly linked to comic books. “The FBI does not have statistical data regarding the number of crimes which can be traced directly to the reading of comic books.”  Either the FBI had no record, or there simply was no proof anywhere. The truth, as history as shown, was more the latter than the former. Still, this didn't dissuade Kefauver from his campaign to eliminate comic books from the face of America and, by proxy, the rest of the world.

Immediately after the senate hearings, in June, 1954, Kefauver made arrangements to appear on national television and in doing so managed to anger Hoover.  The FBI were contacted and informed that Kefauver planned to directly quote a 1951 letter from Hoover on the subject of juvenile delinquency, and as such the television station required a “good photograph” of the director.  The memo was passed on to Hoover who angrily wrote at the bottom, “I certainly don’t approve of this” and the matter was closed.  Kefauver made one more attempt to link his crusade on juvenile delinquency with Hoover, extending an invite in October 1957 for Hoover to appear on a proposed new television show about the subject.  This time the message got across, Hoover did not appear on television, had no desire to and it would be a waste of the producer to even approach the FBI.

Despite the often bizarre and inappropriate requests Hoover and Kefauver remained in close contact, exchanging books and letters.  1960 saw the major investigation into the smear campaign which would have brought the two men together yet again.  In their last noted exchange, Hoover wrote to Kefauver when the latter fell ill in May 1963 and was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. Kefauver wasted no time in responding and when Kefauver passed away in August, 1963, Hoover instantly sent a telegram to his wife, expressing his deep sorrow at her loss.  Ironically the comic book industry that Kefauver had done so much to destroy in 1954 was starting to re-emerge with Marvel Comics beginning to establish its super hero universe and DC also following suit, ironically in the same month Kefauver died, linking their pre-Kefauver era with their post-Kefauver era with Justice League of America #21 with a cross-over between the Justice Society of America and the Justice League.  It was proof that the comic book industry could survive almost anything that was thrown at it.  It was hit by Kefauver, and the FBI, and hit hard, but the blow wasn't as fatal as first thought. People whose careers Kefauver had ruined with his crusade slowly started to find work in their chosen industry, some never returned, others thrived and became bigger and better than ever.

Kefauver would have hated what was published after his death. That alone is a worthy epitaph.