Saturday, December 31, 2011

Behind The Scenes of the "Secret History Of Marvel Comics" P2

Let's close out 2011 with how it all began in 2010! The good news re: this project is that the deck is completely clear. The Bill Everett Archives v1 is likely on shelves in late January, the third volume of the Steve Ditko Archives is out of my hands and in production (for an April release), I finished a significant piece on Ditko for a 2012 publication (the proprietor of which should be announcing the details in Jan or early Feb), and I even just dusted the distributor's catalog promo text for the Bill Everett Archives v2 (yep, the publishing wheel begins to turn that far in advance). All of the above means that my entire focus is on tying off my next publication, The Secret History Of Marvel Comics: Jack Kirby and the Moonlighting Artists at Martin Goodman’s Empire that makes its debut at the San Diego Comicon in July of 2012.

I just came off a conference call with my collaborator, Dr. Michael J. Vassallo, about where we are with our particular responsibilities, and we are going to have a major announcement about the book next weekend, but let's first recap how we got here.

My best friend of almost 30 years, Len Lumbers (noted in comic-book history for the distinction of having three letters printed in Steve Ditko's 10-issue run of the Marvel comic, Speedball), sent me an email back in 1997, advising me of a Steve Ditko Discussion Group on the Internet, and that's what launched me into comic-book fandom. From there, I produced my Ditko Looked Up web site (now mothballed for the time being), and it led to my association with TwoMorrows for my first article in 2001 and my first book, I Have To Live With This Guy! being published in 2002. And, for a blip in 2001, I created and ran the official web site for Steve Ditko and his publisher.

But one of the participants on the Ditko group was Dr. Michael J. Vassallo; "Doc V" his moniker, noted for his collection of 1950s Marvel material. He graciously shared information and photocopies with everyone of any artist you'd request. Once I had unveiled the Ditko web site in April of 1998, I began work on a Bill Everett / Alex Schomburg / Syd Shores web site. One day, I was chatting online with Michael and told him that I wanted to start up a Bill Everett Discussion Group. Instead, he suggested that I start a Timely-Atlas list (the names associated with Marvel Comics' output in the 1940s and 1950s). On September 24th, 1999, I did just that and it lasted until late 2006 (topped out at 500 members) when a crash at yahoogroups made the list disappear for a few days. In its absence, Michael started a new one and that continues to go strong (join here).

In November 2001, Len and I had the pleasure of staying at Michael's place in upstate New York, mainly driven by me doing research on my first book, but also wrapped around a NYC comic convention. It was right after 9/11, and was the first time I visited Steve Ditko at his Times Square studio (more on that another time) and we saw David Letterman live too (was approached about tickets literally right after leaving Ditko's studio).

If you've scanned the pictures taken from the weekend back in November of this year spent at Michael's (click here and work through the links in the first sentence), you'll notice that it is quite the experience to be in his "Fortress of Sequential Art" aka the basement of his house that his wife kindly tolerates. I stayed there again in June of 2008 (and August) when my Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko book was being released, but it was the subsequent visit in August of 2010 that spawned our collaboration.

My Bill Everett biography had just debuted at the 2010 San Diego Comicon, but our August visit was strictly a social call with my 12-year old son, Luke, determined to see the new Yankees stadium (he had attended a game at the old Yankees stadium in Aug '08 with me). By this point, Michael had expanded the scope of his collecting to include more than just Martin Goodman's 1950s comic-book output. Michael's main focus at this time was Goodman's pulps of the late 1930s and 1940s.

Whilst the family dog, Cindy (aka "Jaws"), was taking chunks of flesh out of my son's foot and hand (completely unprovoked), I was looking over these pulps and said to Michael, "Wow, there's a whole secret history of Marvel Comics that barely anyone knows!" Michael concurred, saying that there was a ton of material by the Marvel artists who were moonlighting on Goodman's non-comic-book publications.

"We gotta do a book on this," I said to Michael, "'The Secret History of Marvel Comics'!" After some debate on the word "secret" (hey, if only a handful of people have this material - Michael now being the #1 collector of Goodman publications by a mile - and no one has showcased and documented this work and history in print, that's a pretty workable definition of "secret" in my book!), I whipped together a proposal and the publishers of Fantagraphics, Gary Groth and Kim Thompson, agreed to publication immediately. And the rest will be history in 2012 when the book debuts in about 7 months!

Michael and I landed on two main objectives for the project - one, showcase the non-superhero artwork of the Marvel Comics' artists of the 1930-50s; and two, showcase the fact that comics were, indeed, a small part of Martin Goodman's publishing empire. The artists' crossover was bound to happen, and was far more prevalent than anyone truly understands (based on the stunning volume of material that we keep uncovering literally to this day).

We'll be back next weekend with another installment as we edge closer and closer to revealing all the secrets of Marvel Comics...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bill Everett Archives v1 advance copies in!

The advance copies of Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1 have arrived on U.S. shores! My publisher, Fantagraphics, has received the small batch, destined for promotional outlets, and the book looks amazing. The rest of the print run is literally on a slow boat from China and will likely hit stores in late January or early February. You can pre-order it from at the link above, or pre-order it directly from Fantagraphics to get it ahead of the game (they ship out pre-orders as soon as the books hit their warehouse). I am very proud of this volume for a number of reasons. First and foremost is that it gets this super-rare, super-expensive, super-awesome Bill Everett artwork out there for the first time. When the book finally hits stores, I'll run through the Overstreet Price Guide and tally up how much it would cost to buy all this material even in not-so-good condition. Prediction: a lot of money. And that's even if you could find half of it. There is so much super-rare, barely-ever-seen material in this book; some illustrations that I had never even seen before until putting together this volume.

Second reason for contentment is how I organized the book - by hero, not by chronology - and how that plays out so wonderfully in the design. Each action hero has its own special section, introduced by some context regarding their history and appearances. It's so "colourfully" organized too, so well designed overall and with such wonderful reproduction of this 1938-42 artwork. Thirdly, there's the value of the introductory essay. I went to town on the piece, drawing the lines from the earliest sequential art to this specific period in history. That's important given that Everett's first work in comics predates every major superhero milestone in comic-book history.

Need proof of how good this book looks? Here's a POV promo video on YouTube:

Need more proof? Read this 23-page .pdf preview that features three Hydroman stories! And here's a Facebook Photo Album with lots of still photos of the book and insides. Have to get back to work now on the distributor catalog text for volume two...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Being Punked by Jerry Robinson & Other Memories

I never run into writer/artist Darwyn Cooke without him reminding me of the time I was punked by Jerry Robinson, one of the earliest Batman artists and creator of The Joker. Jerry passed away earlier this month at the young age of 90. I say “young” because his mind was that right up to the last time we spoke, even if his body had begun to slow him down in the last three years to the point of him riding around the San Diego Comicon in his own motorized chariot. (That’s what happens in a solitary occupation like comic books. You often only see fellow professionals once a year, or every other year, which means you come with a picture of how they looked/moved since you last saw them, and it can be a bit sad/jarring to see their health/mobility drop another level.)

I give thanks for the few encounters I had with the man related to my books on Steve Ditko and Bill Everett...including the time when I walked straight into a metaphorical, super-powered punch in the jaw while hosting a one-on-one panel in Toronto with Jerry, clearly still a man with his utmost wits and sense of humour about him. “Punked!”

Everyone in the field knows Robinson for his work on Batman, but his contributions to the comic-book medium include being, first, an inspiration to Steve Ditko and, second, his teacher at (what is now) the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Ditko was unique for many reasons, and one of those was that he didn’t fit the stereotypical profile of a comic-book cartoonist in the “Golden Age of Comics” – he wasn’t Jewish and he wasn’t born in New York state.

Ditko was from Johnstown, PA, and developed his love of comics through Robinson’s work on Batman (as well as Eisner’s The Spirit newspaper strip). Such was Ditko’s interest in the strip that, in his youth, he had his mother craft Batman and Robin costumes for him and his best friend Mike to wander the streets of Johnstown playing Cased Crusader and Boy Wonder.

Inspiration turned to influence when Ditko used his monies from the G.I. Bill (after having served in Germany in the post-War constabulary forces there) to head to Manhattan in 1950 to study under Robinson at the Cartoonists & Illustrators School. Robinson spoke of teaching Ditko in an interview for Alter Ego #39 conducted by Jim Amash: “Steve was quiet and retiring, a very hard worker who really focused on his drawing. Some of the ones who weren’t overly gifted went further than more talented ones, solely because they were driven. They must understand the story’s structure and characterization. Steve understood all of that. He could work with other writers as well as write his own stories and create his own characters.”So impressed with Ditko was Robinson that he helped him get a scholarship for Ditko’s second year. Ditko was so devoted to his schooling that he even remained in school part-time at night in 1954 after being published in 1953.

Ditko was also effusive in his praise of Robinson. In a 1959 letter to fan Mike Britt, Ditko said of his 1953 work, “If Robinson had seen some of that stuff, he’d have me shot. But there’s a big difference in knowin [sic] what’s right and having time to apply everything properly. I’m not alabing [sic] the things I did, a lot of it was pure junk but now I’m in a position to do better and I hope I am.”

In a 1966 interview conducted by Robert Greene for issue 2 of the fanzine Rapport , Ditko expanded on this: “Until I came under the influence of Jerry Robinson, I was self-taught, and you’d be amazed at the hours, months, and years one can spend practicing bad drawing habits.” Of the chief lessons Ditko learned from Robinson: “The basics of art — perspective, composition, anatomy, drapery, light and shade, storytelling, etc. You can’t really draw anything well unless you understand the purpose of that drawing (storytelling), the best way to get the drawing across (individual point of view — composition) and convincingly (perspective, anatomy, drapery, light and shade).”

In my 2008 bio/art book on Ditko, Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, I put panels of Robinson’s early 1950s work against Ditko’s late 1950s work and you’d struggle to tell the difference. Ditko’s creation of Captain Atom was a homage to Robinson’s 1946 character Atoman in form and function.

In 2005, I had the pleasure of hosting a Jerry Robinson one-on-one at a Toronto comic-book convention. He was an exemplary gentleman, but also had a mischievous look in those eyes when he playfully thought he could mess with a youngster like me. During the one-on-one, I asked all my penetrating questions about his time on Batman and his later career...all leading up to my "true intent": to drill him more about his time as teacher with Ditko.

He must have sensed this because, when the questions at the end died out, I explicitly went after him to relate some untold stories about that period. Without a hint of sarcasm in his eyes, he said, “Blake, did I ever tell you about the time at the school when Steve Ditko saved a woman from being raped?”

My ears, eyes and entire posture shot to attention with the glow of a naive researcher coming across a gold nugget of history never before discovered. I exclaimed, “No, Jerry, you’ve never told that story!” Jerry then replied, “Oh, that’s because it never happened. I’m just messing with you.”

I quickly turned to the maddening crowd and said, “I just got ‘punked’ by the Joker!” and the audience roared in approval at my folly. (Punked was the Ashton Kutcher show at the time where he pull practical jokes on his Hollywood peers, Kutcher famous for his part in the That 70s Show, being married to Demi Moore, and replacing Charlie Sheen in Two And A Half Men.)

Darwyn Cooke was amongst those in attendance, and has never failed to remind me of my shame and humiliation. Secretly, it was, and is, a great joy to share any memories with one of the industry's original members.

I also had occasion to talk with Jerry in person at the 2008 San Diego Comicon about Bill Everett and, like most of Bill's peers in the 1940s who worked for Marvel, Jerry had few memories of the man, just admiration of his work. (Everett worked in Lloyd Jacquet's Funnies Inc. shop that supplied Marvel with all that Golden Age material such as Bill's Sub-Mariner, but Everett never worked in the offices.)

When my Everett book debuted at the 2010 San Diego Comicon, I spoke with Jerry again, this time while he was in that scooter, his legs having begun to fail him (at least in terms of getting around a behemoth like that convention). That was the first moment where it hit home that time stands still for no man, no matter how much you freeze them and their work in your mind as eternal.

I started writing this post on December 12th. Since then, Joe Simon has passed away, as well. Joe was Jack Kirby's partner for many years. Together, they created Captain America, the romance genre and countless titles in the 1940s and 1950s. Joe was one of the first employees for Martin Goodman at Marvel Comics (then known as Timely Productions).

With the passing of these two legends, we are again faced with the reality that almost all members of the first generation of comic-book creators are gone. Few still stand, like Stan Lee and Al Jaffee, and we are blessed to have them around still, as we were to have Jerry and Joe with us for so many years. They lived long, healthy lives and leave a legacy up and down the comic-book industry. I'm glad I had the chance to appreciate them while they were still with us.

PS. My co-conspirator, Dr. Michael J. Vassallo, on our book, The Secret History of Marvel Comics, has a lengthy blog post with rare art, photos and videos of both men.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Behind The Scenes of the "Secret History Of Marvel Comics" P1

Let's make this a weekly feature, okay? Last week, and the week before, we let you behind the scenes of putting together my latest book: a collaboration with Dr. Michael J. Vassallo entitled The Secret History Of Marvel Comics: Jack Kirby and the Moonlighting Artists at Martin Goodman’s Empire that makes its debut at the San Diego Comicon in July of 2012. And everyone's been asking us "just what exactly is this book about?" What's the angle from which we are approaching "Martin Goodman's Empire?" Are we focusing on his skin/smut magazines that ran parallel to those for-kidlet superhero comics in the 1940s, 50s and 60s? (Nah, boring.) Is this going to be some academic exercise into the financial maze that was Goodman's interconnected web of companies and dummy imprints found in the indicia of all his comics? (Yawn!) What is the scope of this book and how will it truly please comic-book fans of Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Alex Schomburg, Matt Baker, Joe Maneely, and so many more (it totally will, in ways no other book ever has!), as well as fans of pulp and magazine illustrations, the sci-fi genre and L. Ron Hubbard, Tom Cruise, John Travolta and the rest of the Scientology Liberace, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jackie Gleason fans? Yes, Doc V. and me aren't known for the sacrifice bunt when we can swing for the Green Monster instead, so here's a sneak peak at the book's entry in the Fantagraphics catalog for Spring/Summer 2012 that gives a lot more on the scope of the project...but not all the details, so come back next week when we reveal the secret origin of how this book came to life in the Fortress of Sequential Art...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Putting Together The "Secret History Of Marvel Comics" P2

Last week, we published part one of our weekend dedicated to putting together the visuals for my latest book project, The Secret History Of Marvel Comics: Jack Kirby and the Moonlighting Artists at Martin Goodman’s Empire, that makes its debut at the San Diego Comicon in July of 2012.

My collaborator, Michael J. Vassallo, and me not only poured over some great artwork, but some of the innards of those 1930-50s mags could evoke a great deal of hilarity. Here are some visuals of the weekend, including the few moments I saw the sunlight outside of Michael's Fortress of Sequential Art...

First Row: 1] One of Michael's prized possessions is his Secrets Behind The Comics by Stan Lee; a small 1947 publication that features Lee pontificating on how to put together comics. This is a special one because Michael has a zillion Timely creators sign the cover. Can you pick out all the names? 2] The biggest laugh came from a magazine ad for the Do-It-Yourself-At-Home dentures! "We have thousands of customers all over the country wearing teeth we made by mail at sensible prices" from National Detective Cases v1 #3 (Jul '41). 3] Wow! In just 5 months during 1941, the cost of Do-It-Yourself dentures went up $1.10 in price! 4] Best Martin Goodman pulp magazine ad ever? Are you ruptured? Need the "double Rupture-Easer"? Of course you do. 5] The book's primary focus begins in the early 1930s when Martin Goodman starts publishing pulps and ends in the 1950s. I'm holding Snafu #3, Martin Goodman's Mad Magazine rip-off, but a treasure trove of art by Bill Everett, Joe Maneely, John Severin, Russ Heath and more!

Second Row: 1] Me buried deep in Michael's basement. Can you name some of the art of his walls? (It can now be revealed - Michael's been secretly hoarding all the old Timely original art!) 2] Nellie The Dental Assistant? Even in Michael's dental practice does Martin Goodman rule the roost. 3] Remember when a few Ditko fanatics got all over UK teevee personality Jonathan Ross for the scene when he and Neil Gaiman visited Ditko's Manhattan studio and "revealed" the address on the building? Yet, Ditko the alleged "Recluse" has had his studio phn # and address published publicly for decades. 4] Times Square in November, ten years after I visited Michael for the first time in 2001 (two months after 9/11) when I visited Ditko's studio for the first time. Of course, back in 2001, there was no security guard blocking the elevator. I blame you, Jonathan!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Steve Ditko Archives v3 in November PREVIEWS

PREVIEWS is the distributor catalog for comic book stores and Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives v3 is in the latest issue for ordering (the Nov '11 issue). The book's entry is on page 280 in the Fantagraphics Books Inc. (the publisher) section. The ordering code is NOV11 0991 and you have until Friday November 11 to tell your local comic book store that you want them to put it on pre-order for you (you don't pay them up front, of course, but stores have to submit their Diamond order form for the books that should arrive in store in January). You can always order after this date, but this is your way of making sure it's there for you that first week when it arrives. Click HERE to read all about the volume which features over 210 pages of Steve Ditko's work from 1957 at Charlton Comics.

Ordering through Click HERE to pre-order (you won't be charged until they ship it). Join my Steve Ditko Archives Facebook Page for exclusive updates leading to the book's release!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Putting Together The "Secret History Of Marvel Comics" P1

This past weekend was dedicated to putting together the visuals for my latest book project, The Secret History Of Marvel Comics: Jack Kirby and the Moonlighting Artists at Martin Goodman’s Empire, that makes its debut at the San Diego Comicon in July of 2012.

My collaborator, Dr. Michael J. Vassallo, lives in a "Fortress Of Sequential Art" and we locked ourselves inside from Friday to Sunday night scanning our little hearts out  from all the work that had been put into researching the visuals. Here's some of what we were digging into this weekend (click to enlarge the photos). These may not appear in the book but are too much fun to resist not capturing in some manner...

Okay, that's my 2010 Bill Everett bio / art book which I'm pouring over, but let your eye wandering around the outskirts of the photo. You can see our scanning set up on the desk in the (your) bottom right corner (yes, that's the Iron Man Marvel Comics Omnibus we used to flatten out the materials that were being scanned, Ditko never far from my reach). Post your comments in the Comments Section below on what else catches your eye around the room.

That's Michael to my right in the photo. Michael's written 16 introductions to the Marvel Masterworks series of books; his knowledge of the 1930s-50s Marvel Comics empire is unrivaled. In my hands is the cover to a Martin Goodman magazine, National Detective Cases ("Sex Blasts Our Hideout" emblazoned on the cover). Michael is holding National Detective Cases v1 #2 from May 1941 with the captions "...He Tried To Burn Me Alive!" and "Case Of The Unwanted Babies".

Martin Goodman put out comic books, he put out pulps, and he put out magazines, books and smaller digests as well. Michael is holding a 3-Book Western digest from 1957 that features Matt Baker artwork. I'm hiding behind an illustration from the same issue by Carl Burgos, creator of the Human Torch in Marvel Comics #1, the very first comic that Goodman published (also featuring Bill Everett's Sub-Mariner debut). Probably the best Burgos illo. I saw all weekend.

One of my favourite Golden Age artists from my teenager years (in the 1980s) was Syd Shores. He took over as artist from Jack Kirby on Captain America Comics back in the early 1940s, and had a rendition of Sub-Mariner that I loved. Here, buried in a Martin Goodman magazine is Shores doing an illustration for the story, Devil's Weed. Yes, that's Satan rolling a doobie. Shores' brilliance really shines through on this material.

Michael's having fun with a Martin Goodman pulp entitled The Angel Detective from 1941 in his right hand, and a copy of the magazine, Amazing Detective Cases from 1942. The cover is by illustration artist Caldwell Higgins (who never did do any work for Goodman's line of comic books). Hmmm...Michael sure seems to be surrounded by a whole bunch of interesting artwork. Post your identifications of each to our Comments Section below.

We'll back for Part Two of our adventures in putting together our Secret History Of Marvel Comics book, including a look at some of the hilarious material to be found in the Martin Goodman books that was probably normal for the 1940s but is stunning when taken out of context.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Join our "Secret History Of Marvel Comics" Facebook Page

Want to see how a book is constructed from scratch? Join our Secret History Of Marvel Comics Facebook Page where me and my collaborator, Dr. Michael J. Vassallo, are posting pictures and other random miscellanea about our weekend of scanning in the "Fortress of Sequential Art" somewhere in upstate New York (Michael Shannon, you shalt not find us!).

Also, follow me on Twitter for more exclusive updates and missives as we progress to the book's release date in July 2012 at the San Diego Comicon.Want a peak at what's under that cover? Keep your eyes on our Facebook page!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

More on "The Secret History Of Marvel Comics"

On Tuesday, we revealed my next book project, The Secret History Of Marvel Comics - a collaboration with Dr. Michael J. Vassallo, the world's foremost expert on the empire of former Marvel Comics owner Martin Goodman. "Doc V", as he is affectionately known in comic-book fandom, is the author of 16 different introductions to the Marvel Masterworks series.

Michael's primary area of interest started as an art-spotter and collector of 1950s Marvel Comics (often referred to as "Atlas Comics", Michael now owns an almost complete collection of that era) before expanding his scope to include 1940s Marvel (known then as "Timely Comics").

Michael then took his interest in Martin Goodman's empire to a whole new level when he began his pursuit of Goodman's other publishing endeavors. These included Goodman's pulps, magazines, and digests; Michael's interests primarily residing in the material from the 1930s to the 1950s.

When I visited Michael's fortress of sequential art in upstate New York in August of 2010, he showed me how the collection was building, and the goldmine that was found inside, and a light blub went off in my head - "The Secret History Of Marvel Comics". Realizing the same, Fantagraphics bought in quickly, and the world will get to see the results when the book debuts at the San Diego Comicon 2012! More details tomorrow!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bill Everett invades Spain!

As we await the arrival of Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1 from the printers, take a look at where my Bill Everett biography / art book, Fire & Water, is turning up! Clearly, La Central (located in Barcelona, Spain) is a fine purveyor of quality books, based on the selection of graphic novels present in the photos (courtesy of Bill's daughter, Wendy Everett)...

Technically, these photos were from late last year, and it's not the first time I've invaded Spain. The first Steve Ditko Archives volume was translated into the Spanish language.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bill Everett Archives v1 final cover! Book to printers today!

It's equal parts exhilaration and unease whenever a book you've taken from conception to reality leaves the publisher's hand for the printing press. It's that moment when that moment comes, after months and months of knowing you can make changes, that you can no longer have an impact on what will be the final product that is in print forever.

I've gotten much better about being super-diligent on checking and rechecking those final .pdfs for errors, but you just never know. Mark Evanier once said that it was inevitable that he'd get back a book, and the first page he'd open would have the one type in the entire job.

I feel great about Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1 for numerous reasons, not the least is how amazing the final cover has turned out. Lots of time in this industry, the publisher slaps together a cover just to get it into the distributor's catalog on time because that information has to be prepared a good year or so in advance. With my book going off to the printers today (hopefully to arrive in stores before Christmas), I can finally share the finished version of the cover; in fact, the entire cover. Click on the top left image for the front cover, or click on the image below for the back, spine and front cover...

Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1 collects, for the first time, some of the earliest original comic-book material, all from the pen of Bill Everett – one of the true originals in the annals of the Golden Age of Comic Books. Everett – one of the first “five-tool players”: writer, penciller, inker, letterer and colorist – created the Sub-Mariner in 1939, the first mutant in the Marvel Comics Universe and the first anti-hero in comics. It was Everett’s sensibilities that paved the way for the X-Men’s Wolverine and other morally-challenged characters whose anger and disfranchisement saw them walk a fine line between hero and outlaw.

Everett is also “famously unknown” for co-creating the blind superhero, Daredevil, in 1963 with Stan Lee during the Silver Age of Marvel Comics. Bill Everett, however, wasn’t always a “Marvel Man”.

This volume brings together rare and classic material from as early as 1938, over a year before Marvel Comics #1 hit newsstands in late 1939. The pages that follow feature Everett's work for Golden Age titles like Amazing Mystery Funnies (1938), Amazing-Man Comics (1939), Target Comics (1940), Heroic Comics (1940), and Blue Bolt Comics (1940) to name a few. These books display an endless array of Everett-drawn characters such as Amazing-Man, Hydroman, Skyrocket Steele, Dirk the Demon and more. The majority of the comics were produced during Everett's early years as lead artist and Art Director for a company named “Funnies Inc.”, a collective of writers and artists that sold packaged comic books to first-generation comic-book companies like Centaur Publications, Novelty Press, Eastern Color and Timely Publications (known today as Marvel Comics).

Click HERE to pre-order the book from and stay tuned to this blog for more updates and previews as we inch closer to the book's release date!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bill Everett Archives v1 in September "Previews"

Run, don't walk, to your local comic-book store, because "Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives v1" is available in the September "Previews" catalog for ordering! This means the book is scheduled to arrive in comic-book stores in November (I'd say late November). "Previews" is the catalog from the distributor (Diamond) which supplies all comic-book stores and you can pre-order your November purchases just by contacting your local store. This is important because, a lot of times, comic-book stores order just what they know, and what customers tell them they want. Times are tight and they often don't take a chance on non-returnable books (which is all that the distributor, Diamond, offers). If you really want to see publishers continuing to put out Golden Age Comics material, you need to put your stake in the sand early, so that the publishers know this is desired material and can order enough to meet the demand.

Information you need to order:
On the Diamond Customer Ordering Form, there's an ordering code for the book (which is on pg. 297 of the catalog). The ordering code is SEP11 1101. Give this to your comic-store owner and ask him to order the book. You don't pay until the book arrives. Click HERE to read all the details about the book. The 5000-word introduction of the history of comics leading up to, and including, Bill Everett's entrance into the comic-book field in 1938 is worth the price of admission alone!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Gene and Adrienne Colan: A Love Story (P3)

Back in 2001, I sold TwoMorrows Publishing on the idea for a book that focused on the stories of comic-book history's greatest creators...seen through the eyes of their spouses/partners. It was my first-ever book, and I titled it "I Have To Live With This Guy!" I came up with the idea at the 2001 San Diego Comicon, after spending time at the show with couples like Gene and Adrienne Colan.

In memory of Gene passing Thursday, June 23, we're representing the first chapter of my book (slightly edited). Click HERE for part one and HERE for part two. Every quote is in Adrienne's voice. Onto part three...

"I Have To Live With This Guy!" (published Aug '02)

Chapter One - Gene and Adrienne Colan (Part Three)

As she had done for Gene at the Sherry Studios in the early ‘60s, she finally has to confront Gene to help him say stop. “It must have been within that week I came into his room one day and asked him, ‘Why are you continuing this way? Why aren’t you quitting? Is it because of me, the children, the whole suburban thing, the house, the cars and the stereos?’

“All these years he’s at his board, when the family comes in and talks to him, he would always not even stop work. But now, he stopped his art, turned around and said, ‘Yes.’”

Adrienne marched into her son’s room and typed her husband’s resignation. Stan Lee attempted to mediate by long distance, but he was already off to set up the Marvel Hollywood offices, and was no longer a buffer. Marvel asked Gene to stay to try a six-month trial period. Adrienne was hopeful, but not for long.

“The vice-president at the time, Mike Hobson said, ‘I’ll talk to Jim, see if the two of you can...’ blah blah blah. They got Jim to write this so-called apology letter. In fact, Virginia Romita called and she said, ‘Gene, hold on; you’re getting an apology letter.’

“But it wasn’t an apology letter - it was just whatever fantasy world he’s in. It was his version of an apology letter, but it wouldn’t have mattered because it wasn’t an apology that Gene wanted. He told Mike Hobson and he told Jim, “I only want one thing: I just want creative license. Just leave me alone. That’s all I want.”

Exactly what Jim Shooter thought he was going to accomplish, trying to alter the style of a thirty-year veteran was unclear, but he wouldn’t relent.

“Shooter said, ‘I can’t do that.’ Gene said ‘Well, I can’t work here and I don’t want any trial period’.”

In the summer of 1981, Gene took his last walk into the Marvel offices. “Jim stood there and stared out a window while Gene talked and tendered his resignation. Gene walked out of Marvel and people -- including John Romita -- came out of their doors with their thumbs up. It was like something out of a movie.”

Adrienne’s role in Gene’s life took a dramatic turn. They were now partners in the truest sense of the word. Gene handled himself where money was concerned in the pre-Shooter days, but the aftermath left him a man who cared to focus solely on the creative. “Once a year it was a little bit nerve-wracking having to ask Sol Brodsky for a raise and it was always like pulling teeth. Not because of Sol, but just because it was hard to get raises. You’d get fifty cents to a dollar. Outside of that, there was no politics.”

After the Shooter years, Adrienne not only continued handling the household finances, but she became his manager. She never went back to work after raising the children. “I really just worked for Gene to facilitate him being able to draw. I stepped in and did negotiating contracts for him. Post-Shooter I really had to because it makes Gene very nervous. When he has to talk business or numbers or contracts or dates, it’s like he may as well be back in third grade and the teacher may as well be teaching trigonometry!

“The only thing I really felt that I missed out on was those eighteen years not being in Manhattan. As far as a career, I was just thrilled to see Gene evolve, to see those original pages come to life and hear compliments from the editors and writers. It was gold to Gene and it was like platinum to me.”

After tendering Gene’s resignation, Marv Wolfman, who had been working on Gene for a year, had no problem coaxing Gene over to DC. “Before Gene took the resignation letter in, Gene called Marv and said, ‘Do you think there’s room for me at DC?’ Marv said, ‘Hang on, I’ll get right back to you.’ Within an hour, Marv called and said, ‘You’re hired and we’ll work on Night Force.’

“We knew when he handed in the resignation, he could literally just cross the street, but we had to forget that we lost a lot. We lost a lot of benefits, insurance, savings, he was working towards a pension - a savings plan where they added equal to it. We got that - what we had put in - but those kind of good times were over. At least he was able to continue to be gainfully employed and even go over there with a contract.”

The reality was that Gene had little choice if he was going to remain in the comic-book field. 1981 was not the time to be out of the mainstream loop with a mortgage and a family. He may have made even more money in advertising, but creatively that would have left himself a husk of the man he was at his peak.

But DC Comics had never been Gene’s home. Night Force was not a mainstream superhero book, neither was his project, Nathaniel Dusk, with writer Don McGregor. Gene’s contract with DC came to an end. They used him in whichever way they could – on Batman and Wonder Woman - but Gene was a ship lost at sea. By the summer of 1988, there was nowhere else to go.

“Then I really started actively helping Gene with his career, choosing projects, taking up teaching, selling original art, negotiating contracts.”

What was left for the couple was living on a project-to-project basis, jumping to and from smaller, independent companies like Eclipse and Comico - neither of which survived the 1980s. There was not even a guarantee that his work would be published at those places. Feelers always had to be out, in case the roof caved in on a job.

When Shooter left Marvel in 1989, Colan and McGregor were back at Marvel – “back” being the word, as Gene was restricted to anthologies and one-off jobs.

“Make no mistake. It has been nerve-wracking to keep his career afloat. A lot of manipulation, a lot of flexibility, a lot of keeping ourselves together emotionally - it could often be unpleasant. We had to give the impression of not being needy, of being busy and gainfully employed, like ‘What do you have in mind? I’m willing to listen. I’d love to hear the project.’

“This comes full circle. Remember that man I met in Tamiment that had no guile? Well, I had to go beyond being a secretary and sharpen my own street sense. I could pull it off better and he was grateful for some relief. Business can be tough, especially to sustain success without losing one’s principles, humanity and mind.”

With the children out of the house, they moved into a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. “We had the whole bedroom set up like an art studio and had a fold out futon bed for sleeping. I had my own office - also in the bedroom - but Gene’s whole art studio, it was beautiful built-ins. It was just a great setup. In a sense it was a nerve-wracking time, but we were very close. The children were gone; we found ourselves arguing less, excited about living in New York for as much as he hates it. There’s always a movie being made outside our door. I’d go do some shopping and have to come flying back saying, ‘Gene! De Niro’s on 67th Street’!”

Gene Colan had a heart attack in 1989, and Adrienne’s sense of “legacy” became more acute.

“I’m not a teacher,” said Gene who bristled at Adrienne’s suggestion about the School Of Visual Arts, but Adrienne put together the outline for the course and the syllabus. “I said, ‘Just get yourself hired.’ I told him how to get himself hired. ‘Go in there to the president, don’t let it be about you. Ask how you can be of use, and that you have your own approach to teaching, and it’s a hands-on approach, and it’s one of positive reinforcement.

“It was not just strictly to have a financial base or some sort of an income, but also for the nobility of doing the right thing. He would be a gentle and good teacher. He just has a lot to offer as a human being and particularly for sensitive artists, being one himself.

“I told him how to do the interview. He literally rehearsed it again and again, to walk in to the president and give a mental image that you want to roll up your sleeves and get started.

“I waited outside in the lobby at SVA and he nailed it! They needed him to write up a thing for the catalog; they all think that Gene was able to do it, but no. That was my end and I just rose to that challenge. I don’t even know how. I don’t think my twelve months at secretarial school, when I was seventeen, prepared me for that. Maybe it’s genetics and my total belief in Gene’s excellence as an artist and as a man.”

Her father’s example had taught her well.

“We muddled through. There always seemed to be something. Marv was calling with a project from Dark Horse, Curse of Dracula, or Don was calling, or an editor would call from a particular company. There seemed to be a small network of professionals out there.”

The couple moved to Vermont in 1991. “He tried to commute once a week to the School of Visual Arts every Friday - and did it for a couple of years. I would take him to the Albany, N.Y. train station, which is an hour and-a-half ride, and then nearly three hours by train - this is one way - and then to do two back-to-back classes just to keep an income coming in.”

The 1990s brought the industry to its peak (the success of Image Comics and one million copies sold of the second X-Men title) and quickly back down to its lowest valley (Marvel’s bankruptcy and overall sales diving by almost seventy-five percent by decade’s end). Artists from Gene’s heyday, artists from the 1940s to the 1960s, were deposited on curb, and most vanished from sight.

Gene’s page count, which once stood at over 500 in the middle of the 1960s, was reduced to fifty-five in 1993. “We held it together.”

They essentially had to until 1997, when events began to unfold that resurrected the reputation, the career of, but most importantly the will to live for Gene Colan.

“It all started when Gene was invited to visit a comic book store, That’s Entertainment, in Worchester Massachusetts. You may as well have said the moon. I don’t know why, I just felt we should accept the invitation. I’ve been keenly aware of Gene’s age ever since he’s been in his mid-60s and since his heart attack in Manhattan, around 1989.

“With that in mind, I say to Gene, ‘Do it. I’ll get you there. We’ll find Worchester.’ ‘Oh, I’m not being paid...’ he crabbed. I say, ‘Do it - Do the right thing. Whatever fans come, if they want a little sketch...’

“‘Well, I’m gonna charge,’ he threatened. I say, ‘No, you’re not.’

“‘Well, I wanna get paid,’ he grumbled. I say, ‘Maybe take five dollars. Make it a day where you’re not going to think about you. You’re going to think about giving, not receiving, and that’s the attitude we’re going to go with, all right?’

“The store manager, Ken, showed us the setup. He was working on a computer and I said, ‘Oh, I’m so afraid of them!’ “I did a couple of little things and he saw that I basically already understood the concept of it. He said, ‘If you ever want to learn about the computer, or setting up a web site, Kevin Hall’s the guy for you,’ and he introduced us.

“The book signing went great. We were supposed to be there two hours, but we stayed maybe four or five. There was a little electrical light out when we opened the car door to leave. To Gene, all things have the same value. In other words, cancer diagnosis or the light is out on the door: same hysteria!”

“There was Kevin. He was outside talking with a buddy when we discovered this pathetic little light that was out. Whatever it was, he just took care of it. He allayed Gene’s fears that nothing tragic was going to happen to us on the way home.”

Several months later, Adrienne got up the nerve to buy a computer and re-connected with Kevin. “I said, ‘Let’s work on a web site and eBay.’ That was it – the beginning of great career independence for Gene and deep connections to his fans worldwide.”

Kevin set up an official e-mail list for Gene. “That’s when Gene really came to understand just what’s out there. There are all these young men who grew up on his comics, who have grown into men of accomplishment, who could understand Gene’s artwork indicated a maturity and depth. The one thing Gene did understand, when he was working in the 1960s, was it was probably not going to be understood by most six-to-nine-year olds. Stan always told Gene, ‘That is your audience, Gene – six year-olds.’

“Gene understood that but couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t play down to that because he needed to stretch as an artist. We knew other artists were more popular because they appealed more to the masses, like Romita, and Kirby, and even John - because as powerful as their work was, it was clear. We knew his work was not always clear, not always easy for anyone, let alone a youngster to read.”

Adrienne was correct in her assessment that Gene’s artwork had many levels; levels a child could grasp, but deeper levels an adult could appreciate. Jim Shooter’s platform was to knock out all the levels he could, believing only then would Gene appeal to a mass audience.

“And that’s why Gene’s main criteria – his main criteria – is artistic freedom. Every project, that’s the only thing he wants and literally insists upon.

“In terms of managing his career, I said to him, ‘From this point on, we’re not going to accept just anything.’ You always want to be paid as well as you possibly can, but I said, ‘Different companies are going to have different budgets. We’re going to base the decision on how interesting is the project; how much do you want to do it; and if you want to do it, but the pay is lousy, do it. We’ll go for the exposure on that one.’

“It would be hard for most men to give themselves permission to prioritize the project, not the pay. I’m kind of proud of some of my thoughts are a little outside the box.”

Whether it was invites to conventions, the rebirth of the fanzine (in actuality, the prozine), or just fandom’s realization that, in ten years, everyone of their heroes would be long gone, the Internet helped lead a mini-revival of the Silver Age and Golden Age artists. This revival also helped to build interpersonal connections between artists who never before socialized, never before traded stories, together.

“Gene didn’t understand in those years how much was available to him in terms of friendships. For example, he would put John Buscema on such a pedestal; he was intimidated to call him. He’d want to call and reach out. One second he’d be all humble and intimidated, and then he’d get his back arched and say, ‘Well, I mean, he never calls me.’

“That would be his way of saying to me, ‘I feel like a baby - an idiot - calling him.’ Same thing with Tom Palmer; he would say, ‘He doesn’t call me to socialize; I feel like a jerk calling him.’ He wasn’t a card player so he wasn’t ‘one of the guys.’ There were times where Marv or Ernie Colon, or a whole group of them, would get together and play poker or whatever. Gene was not asked. He comes off somewhat aloof. He’s painfully shy around people. He really doesn’t know what to say.

Gene’s dream of reaching out to those fans has not altered from the 1950s until today. At the 2001 San Diego Comic Convention, a black man in his thirties – during the panel on Gene’s artwork – asked Gene about how he knew so much about black people. At the end of Gene’s explanation, the fan shouted out, “Black people love you, man!”

“That was just so extraordinary. It was like this great reward at the end of it all to discover that whatever he’s been doing in his art, and in portraying black people, that they know. It’s got soul; all his faces have soul.

“When Gene draws a black person, there’s a love for their look and their character that Gene feels. They are not caricatured. He would rather draw a black face, man or woman. It’s like the soul is deeper. They’re just more interesting to him.

“I think it’s his artist’s eye. It’s his good experience in the Air Force with black servicemen, as opposed to white servicemen from the South that were jerks. The nature of the black servicemen was, no matter how hard or how frightening the circumstances might be, they always found a reason to laugh and blow it off. It was comforting to Gene and he admired it. We have some fine art paintings of black people sitting on their porch he did in the days where he lived in a home in New Rochelle and there was a black community there. Times were different, and they didn’t necessarily really welcome him, but he got away with taking some photos.”

One watches Adrienne buzz around a convention table and knows she shares the same experience with a Carrie Nodell or Lindy Ayers. They are the caretakers, the “managers of the shop,” leaving their husband’s free to perform. “I know Virginia Romita’s a devoted wife, and she was terrific for John in that she knew how to be a company woman. I never met John Buscema’s wife until last year in San Diego: a doll.

“The only other wife I’ve ever met is Marsha McGregor, Don’s wife. I see some of myself in her. She does get in there to help Don storm through the life of a freelance creator. She’s deeply devoted to him, but she’s also worked all those years outside the home. She involved in acting and has her own life.”

The process of daily living for Gene, now in his mid seventies, is an exact one. “If I get up early, he gets up early. He doesn’t get right to work. He’ll walk the dog, maybe go to the post office in town, but he’s always been one who can’t gather himself quickly. He needs to get dressed, shaved, and have breakfast. Just that stuff takes like an hour and a half.

“I’m different – everything is bing, bang, boom. Everything – even the shower – is within a half-hour. Maybe that’s why New York and I fit. I’m just more of an ‘ants in your pants’ kind of person.

“He’d rather do a commission, no matter the size. At this time in his life, he likes tackling one main pin-up project than to tug along with a story – particularly one that doesn’t interest him. He almost doesn’t have that in him anymore. The only recent story he’s done that he just loved doing, and because of it the time went quickly, was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He’s enjoying Doug Petrie’s scripts and is currently doing his second Buffy book, then onto a project for Argosy Publications.

With multiple prozines flooding the market, with conventions and the focus companies put on reprinting of various works - the Marvel Essentials and DC Masterworks - the impression one receives is that artists from the 1950s and 1960s may have suffered in the early 1990s, but now they’re doing much better now. This is not the case.

As spiritually healing as the past four years has been, the financial recovery has not matched. “Definitely not. It’s just the opposite. The cost of living is tough these days.”

Commissions don’t role in every day for the Colans, and Marvel’s latest editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada, flat out says he can’t market older artists. “He will command and get paid more per page,” she says. “Dark Horse is pretty generous, but usually because they’re studio-backed projects so the money is available.

“Marvel and DC – he will not accept any work from either. The projects offered so far are insignificant and the page rate is insulting. The projects are insulting. He doesn’t want to go out doing filler stuff.”

Adrienne is focused on her husband’s legacy and is willing to gamble that work will always be present, while the worry may be that she’s pricing her husband out of the market.

“Here’s an example of how ridiculous and hard-nosed Marvel is. They called him just recently for a pinup they wanted to use somewhere. He asked for $400 – which is like nothing. It was an elaborate superhero pinup. They said their budget was for something like $340 or $350. Would you believe they let him walk?”

Is love blind? Few love as hard as Adrienne Colan, and few respect their husband’s talent more. “He’s not going to lend his great talent, his great name – this is me, he will never say something like this – and he will just feel bad and feel demoralized, but I put the words to it to get his ego back up.

“The conversation around here goes like, ‘No, you’re not going to take it. I’m not going to have you lend your talent and your name to something like that and they can’t even pay you a pathetic little amount. Your fans will pay you better than them. They’re riding on your great name and they can’t even, for like $50, stretch it? He is a marquee name for them and if they have a budget of $350, and they can’t even pay him $400 for a pinup that they’re going to make a fortune on? No.

“When you think of how much they have given other artists who are ‘hot tickets’ - taking nothing away from them; great for Todd McFarlane, he’s a great businessman – we know they play a game with the numbers. So, I give him the words so he doesn’t stay in the demoralized state, but feels proud of himself.”

But Gene is not on the Top Ten list of favourite artists in Wizard Magazine (the Teen Beat of the industry), and Marvel won’t even make a fortune on the Spider-Man movie. Adrienne walks a tight rope between reality and keeping her husband’s confidence high.

But Gene’s talents haven’t abated one bit. Few in the industry from his era are still drawing. John Severin, Russ Heath and Colan (when dedicating themselves completely to a project) are the three most able to lay claim to the fact the quality of their artwork has not diminished with age.

So deep was Gene’s desire to return to the fold, so deep were the scars from his break with Marvel that, in early 1997, when he receives a call from Ralph Macchio to go back to Daredevil, Gene confessed to Adrienne he had been waiting for the call for years.

“He never told me this. I said, ‘You’re kidding me.’ He had a secret desire and believe me, he tells me everything. We’re together all day long. Every thought in his head comes out.”

The dream only lasted a mere handful of issues before conflicts with the series writer, Joe Casey, had Gene withdrawing from the project. Unless Gene is comfortable with a writer, unless Gene can be given what he considers enough artistic license, he will not devote himself to a regular book.

“As far as his emotional state, his mental outlook, and just his whole sense of how he feels about life, he’s just never been happier. He would never be able to accept a monthly comic now, but it’s the best time of his life. The money isn’t the be all and end all. There’s no sadness here, no bitterness because it’s been a great career and a great life. He’s a very happy man.

“We love one another and have been very fortunate in the past several years, living up here in Vermont, to have made some extraordinary friends. A couple of them are artists – not comic book artists - and that’s of great satisfaction to him.

“He’s still collecting photo reference. There is still art on his desk everyday to be drawn.”
Extraordinary talent doesn’t make a career. If you don’t own the company, or own your own creations, you can be crawling your way in the dark, hoping the sharp edge to your left is not a cliff over which you are about to spiral off.

“She has been my biggest fan and most severe critic,” says Gene, “hardly ever wrong in evaluating where I went wrong on any of my work. She has been the driving engine in my life that has never quit. I have seen people stop her in the street and ask her for directions on how to get to a place and she never fails to know how. She will always be my North Star.”

Marriage can be like crawling around in the dark. You reach out your hand and realize you’d rather not be in the dark with anyone but this person who truly loves and respects you, your work, and your desire to remain in an industry that brings your life as many cliffhangers as you have drawn on the last pages of so many stories.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gene and Adrienne Colan: A Love Story (P2)

Back in 2001, I sold TwoMorrows Publishing on the idea for a book that focused on the stories of comic-book history's greatest creators...seen through the eyes of their spouses/partners. It was my first-ever book, and I titled it "I Have To Live With This Guy!" I came up with the idea at the 2001 San Diego Comicon, after spending time at the show with couples like Gene and Adrienne Colan.

In memory of Gene passing last Thursday, we're representing the first chapter of my book (slightly edited). Click HERE to read part one of our three-part series. Every quote is in Adrienne's voice. Onto part two...

"I Have To Live With This Guy!" (published Aug '02)

Chapter One - Gene and Adrienne Colan (Part Two)

In the early-to-mid 1960s, Stan Lee was not above using the “Why, you’ll be working for Marvel!” line when trying to hook back artists he desperately needed (knowing he could count on them to consistently produce product). Stan also called John Romita, offering far less than DC. Lee would feign indignation at their refusal, but he would always call back the next day with a five-dollar page rate increase that cinched the deal.

Gene Colan had a quiet pride about him, and didn’t leap at Stan’s bait. “Stan got a little huffy and said, ‘Look, forget about it. I don't need this. Quite frankly, we’re getting a lot of artists from Spain and can pay them way less than you and they're sensational. We are not going to need you anyway.’

“Gene said, ‘Alright, Stan,’ and ended it cordially. The phone rang the next morning. We were thrilled. $5 a page was money for us at the time! Marvel was truly where Gene wanted to be working, but he just felt it wasn't right for Stan to ask him to be exclusively Marvel, offering nothing other than being exclusively theirs. Gene and Stan have never been able to be cross with one another for more than a minute.”

The dream had been achieved. By the summer of 1966, Gene began his nine-year run on the Lee / Bill Everett creation, Daredevil. The work was steady enough for Gene and Adrienne to eventually move into their own home. There would be twelve years of creative harmony before the walls came crumbling down in the worst way imaginable.

The greatest myth of Marvel Comics in the 1960s: an actual bullpen, a gang of raucous comrades, whooping it up all day in the tiny offices at 625 Madison Street. Such is the charm of Marvel Comics during the “Silver Age of Comics.” Stan Lee’s hyperbole made you want to believe it all. In fact, Gene had worked at the only true Bullpen Marvel ever had – in the Empire State Building of the late 1940s.

Like ninety percent of all people who came through Marvel, they worked at home, or in their own studios. In his earliest days at Marvel, Gene, Adrienne and baby lived in their Queens apartment; one room devoted to the baby's nursery, a living room/dining room combination, a tiny little kitchen, and their bedroom.

In these cramped quarters, a freelance artist must be able to exist in harmony with his environment. Distractions are the work-for-hire’s worst enemy, but the toll is not the artist’s to absorb alone. “Gene had a corner of our bedroom. He’d get to work around 10am, but then days would end like 12am, 1am, 2am and very often not. I would go to sleep with the light on. He put in so many hours to do as much work, and be as perfect, as he could.”

With Gene trapped indoors by his career, the age difference finally became a factor, manifesting itself in the cultural divide between the woman in her early twenties and the man closing in on forty. “I would say in my twenty-year-old enthusiasm, ‘Want to go to Woodstock?’ Like who wouldn't? How can you not be part of it? He would, in his 36-year-old voice, ‘What? Are you nuts?’ There was some stress in that regard.

“He also came from an era of showing a lot of attention and respect to parents. In 1963, I'm still twenty years old. I grew up with East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Splendor in the Grass with Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty. He looks back now and thinks I had every right to expect to see concerts more and parents less... and he adores the Woodstock album!”

The lack of time spent together due to work took the greatest toll. “It wasn't too bad in Queens because he could work up to nearly the last minute, and a restaurant and a movie were nothing more than a walk or five minute drive away. When we moved out in '66 to the suburbs - which was Gene's heart's desire - my feelings hadn’t changed. I wanted to stay in the city. That was the lifestyle I liked.

“I said, ‘When did you know you hated the city,’ and he said, ‘When I was six!’ He always felt that it was crowded, doesn't like the pace, found people intolerant and had some really bad experiences. He’s been held up at knife point. He's been chased after with knives. He's had to stand up to bullies and get beaten around, but won the respect of the bully because he stood up to him. It may have been awkwardly, but he attempted to beat the crap out of the bully, so I guess the bully gave him an ‘A’ for effort.

“I, myself, have been pick-pocketed twice, maybe three times in Manhattan and I see no dark side. I just feel alive. I think if he never saw the city again, it would be too soon. He tells me now that he enjoys the city going back more as a tourist, but I don’t believe him.”

The dichotomy was that Gene’s work for Marvel had such an urban, downtown Manhattan feel to it. “In spite of himself, what is more interesting to draw? What's more edgy than a street scene, interesting architecture, garbage cans, and chain link fences?”

Ripping and snapping became Gene’s tools of trade out in the ‘Burbs. “He worked from reference he had already been collecting since 1946. He kept it current with taking pictures of street scenes. Even when we lived in Queens, even when we moved out to New Jersey, and even living here in Vermont, when he wants a particular scene, we simply go into the city with his camera. Most of his reference material is his own angles and perspective, but Gene has an extensive file of pictures of everything from every imaginable source. I usually say, ‘No magazine or book is safe around him!’

“When we got to the suburbs in 1966, and for all the eighteen years we stayed there, those were very tough years, in terms of the hours he put in. He would come out of his room for maybe lunch and definitely dinner, which we'd have with the children, then right back up to the art board. He'd come down for certain things. We'd all say, ‘Daddy, come down the Waltons. Let's go!’

“Outside of that he was really in his room. That was very hard on me because I didn't fit into the suburbs at all. Even though I had friends, I felt very lonely.”

Luckily for Gene, he was an artist who preferred background noise when he drew. In the days of their Queens apartment, daughter Nancy “wasn’t more than 6 footsteps away. Day or night, raising her never interrupted with his work.”

Their son Eric spent a great deal of time looking over his father’s shoulder. Such is the trade off of having your father around twenty four hours a day, just within reach, but forced to be a million miles away in the fantasy world he’s creating to make sure the roof stays over their heads.

“On one hand, it was all right for the children but, looking back on it, it wouldn’t be what a modern father would consider proper raising of a child at all. He didn’t like sports, so he wouldn’t be taking Eric to any kind of games. On the other hand, Eric was a born artist; he didn’t feel he missed anything. When I’d leave to shop or run an errand, he’d sneak in and show the kids scary movies. I wanted to kill him!”

Perhaps it was the insane assortment of sounds emanating from Gene’s in-home studio that produced such a unique style. “We’d get calls from friends, saying, ‘Turn down the volume!’ It could just blow your eardrums out.”

Gene’s ambient music consisted of classical and modern classical music and...sound effects? “In those days, he was big on reel-to-reel or eight track. He would record dialogue from the audio of films and would play back entire films for himself while drawing, driving me nuts.

“It was horrible, because most of the time he was not playing the kind of music I wanted and, even if he did, it was just unbearably loud. He would just be in his own world.

There’s no escaping the stress of trying to raise children, who are on their own body clock, while a freelancer burns the midnight oil. “I’d be in the bedroom trying to sleep, but not really. The light would be burning in the next room and I would have to say, ‘Will you come to bed already?’”

Working continued even outside the home. “We would see parents on the weekend, mostly mine, therefore, we could count on one day of the weekend where he would not be working. When they’d leave, though, he’d go back to work. My Dad rigged him up an art table in their basement so Gene could work while visiting in Fairlawn if it was a real tight deadline.”

Two factors played into Gene’s decision to never say never to Stan Lee’s constant supply of stories - money and ego. “There was a fear, definitely about money, but Gene loved being put on all these titles at Marvel. He loved the opportunity to show what he could do.

“It was also about ego. If he has a shot to do X, Y, and Z characters all in one month, he wants to be the one to do it. When he was a kid, he wanted to be a famous artist. I think that’s dear and sweet and it charmed me.”

As with most artists from the 1950s and 1960s, Gene was completely oblivious to any sense of fandom. To whom was Gene showing off? “His editor, himself, and the fans that he imagined were reading. He didn’t think of them so much as fans, but readers - readers of comics. He hoped they noticed he was trying to make it feel more like a movie, more like going on a trip, where you’re suddenly not aware of anything else but the reality of what’s on the pages/screen. Artistically, that really turned him on very big.”

There are traps involved in the artistic process, and many not of the creative variety. Gene took on the artistic reins of Dr. Strange and the door to a bottomless pit opened. Gene almost fell in. “He began to take amphetamines to keep pace. Eventually, I demanded he stop those pills. I feared he’d bring on a heart attack. He then discovered cough syrup with codeine, but eventually stopped all those things.”

Letters to the editor were the only connection a creator may have had to the readership. Stan Lee turned the letters’ pages into raucous events, but it wasn’t until comic book conventions began in New York that artists like Gene felt the impact of their work. Adrienne and Gene attended one of the first conventions ever, across from Madison Square Garden in the late 1960s.

“Whoever was running this convention secured a balcony level of this hotel with tables going around the balcony area. We didn’t know what to expect. We walked into the lobby and he was besieged by a bunch of fans asking for sketches. Before he could even get upstairs to his table, he was in the lobby drawing sketches and signing autographs. It was so flattering. We were both dumbstruck!

“That was the first awareness that ‘Wow! There’s something going on here! There are specific fans that know specific artists and Gosh, you’ve got a bit of a name!’ We couldn’t wipe the smile off our face the whole train trip back to New Jersey. It began to snow and Gene and I thought this was the most romantic night of our lives – like a movie.”

For a proud man like Gene, who had seen the bottom, this adulation only egged him onward. For Gene it also helped cement his bond with Stan Lee. “They were gentlemen of a certain era, cordial, sweet by nature, ‘except if you talk about money!’ Gene would always say.”

From a working perspective, Stan allowed Gene the freedom to be the storyteller. “Stan would just call and give a five-minute synopsis of a seventeen-page story and it just didn’t get better for Gene. Even when he would do wrong on a rare occasion, he would get a call from Stan saying, ‘Enough with the car chases, Gene!’”

Gene became infamous for cinematically shooting scenes at different angles, and didn’t hesitate to draw out a scene for full emotional, or physical, impact. “What Stan would say was ‘The pacing! Why do you use the whole page for Tony Stark putting on his tie? And a whole page with the hand on the doorknob!’”

Lee knew how to handle each artist’s unique ego – especially the fragile ones. “Even in those days, the complaints weren’t intimidating. It was almost like a loving, ‘I know I’ve got a mad, little genius scientist here. I’m not going to harm you, hurt you, or make you correct or change.’ It was almost like begging, like, ‘Please, watch the pacing’!”

The early 1970s saw the Comics Code Authority relax its rules on the inclusion of all things ‘horrific,’ including vampires. Gene commenced work on what many consider his signature series, Tomb Of Dracula. It was a difficult series to write because the central character is a force of evil. Written by Marv Wolfman, the series spawned the vampire hunter, Blade, now with two Hollywood movies under his belt. Wolfman continued the Gene-happy trend of simply telling a story, rather than an overly wordy script with text panel-by-panel breakdowns.

“Marv was deeply respectful and appreciative that Gene would monkey with the script in order to allow Gene to display the visual the way he interpreted it. If Gene felt combining or cutting a page off in half in order to make that page become a cliffhanger - so you’d want to turn to that next page - he would pace it himself. In all those years, Marv never said ‘boo.’”

Scripts entered the household, but Adrienne believed imposing her point of view on Gene in this way was akin to his days at the Paul Sherry studio. “I have never seen or read one script in all the years – not from the very first day at that hotel - Gene has received from anyone. I’ve never heard the taped synopses Stan would give him. I was only aware of the duration of the phone call because very often I’d be sitting there in his room. If they ran ten minutes, that was a long conversation; five minutes would probably be more accurate. I have never given any direction or my point of view. My eyeballs should fall out, and my children’s eyeballs should fall out, if anybody thinks I am lying or even bending the truth!”

Two exceptions to this rule developed. “When Gene was working on Howard the Duck with Steve Gerber, I’d hear him in his room, day and night, roaring with laughter. He’d say, ‘You have got to read this!’ He’s just had the greatest admiration for Gerber. I’ve never known Gene to relish working on anything as much.

“The other was D.C.’s Jemm, Son of Saturn. ‘This Greg Potter, he’s terrific,’ and he would always ask me to read the opening. Each story would start out with a special preface that would be in a box or a scroll in the first panel. It was always very thought provoking and would set the tone for the story.

“I would see the pages as published comics for the simple reason that all those years that Marvel was sending him the monthly or bimonthly subscriptions, I would always shout out, ‘The package is here!’ It was the manila envelope with the rubber band around it.”

Further validation came from opening up those envelopes, with Adrienne boosting Gene’s self-confidence by pouring over his finished books. “I would always play this game - especially in these past years where he’ll get just a small story fit in with other people’s work - where I’d always go, ‘Now there’s this, and this, and this. Oh, and then there’s this.’“

The “this” was Gene’s work. “I’d line them up and it would make him smile – very quiet, very humble, but he’d smile. My point was you’d go, ‘Oh, this story, this story...what’s this?’ Even if you thought, ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen,’ his would be the one that would make you stop.”

Gene appreciated two artists more than any others and the incoming package of books provided a monthly ritual for husband and wife. “He ran for two comics - Buscema’s and his own. There would be a silence that would fall over us looking at Buscema’s. Gene feels John Romita is brilliant - the quintessential American artist.

“Gene would check out maybe Joe Kubert or Gil Kane, but it was John’s work he had to see before even his own. It was John’s that took his breath away and by whom he measured himself. Other than the ones mentioned, there would be like a relieved ‘snicker’ on my part that Gene’s was superior.”

Even if they didn’t read it, Gene was so obsessed with having the reader always being able to follow the story from the art. Adrienne herself rarely read the actual stories. “Gene always wanted to keep the suspense alive for himself, so whether it was Marv’s or Steve Gerber’s or Greg Potter, he did not read ahead with scripts he would get. Of course, if it was just Stan’s synopsis, there was nothing to read.”

Within Gene’s work, she recognized photos she had taken for him, or ones he had taken of the children and her. “He would use Playboy a lot for Clea or the Black Widow. He always needed somebody with a raincoat on, or a broad-brimmed turned down hat and a gun or a rifle! We have more photos of Erik in some sort of ridiculous falling type of position in his underpants, so Gene could get the body structure. Our daughter despised it, but she would be a woman or a man in a particular position from a particular angle and light source. We have the most bizarre collection of family pictures!”

Gene refrained from using popular models or actresses of the day. “He is a notorious beauty parlor magazine swiper. He has files that are very specific: women looking right, women looking three quarters to the left, women looking up, women screaming. There’s like ten different categories. Doctors throughout the world are missing magazines that are all in my home!”

Gene continued his dream ride, a dream in the sense of working without interference for a company he loved. Perhaps he could have made more in another field, but he could never been anything but an artist. The consistent work gave him a sense of security, financially, emotionally and creatively, but it was all about to be ripped out from under him by one man.

The Devil in Disguise, as the song says, is Jim Shooter.

Martin Goodman owned Marvel Comics since the 1930s, but if you asked half the kids in America, Stan Lee ran the show. As long as it was the Goodman’s family business, Stan stood as a buffer between the business realities and creative needs of his artists.

After Goodman sold out in 1968 to the conglomerate Cadence Industries, the buffer began to weaken. Stan himself stepped down in September of 1972, leading to a parade of writers thrust into a position that forced them away from the creative side of the business. None of Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, or Archie Goodwin lasted more than three years each - Conway for only a month. Goodwin, considered by all to be the consummate editor, returned the company to profitability. He was keenly aware that proper people management gets the most of out of individuals with varied egos and unique personalities.

Goodwin resigned in late 1977, and left the door open for one of the most contentious men to ever walk through the doors of a comic-book company. On the first day of 1978, Jim Shooter became the editor-in-chief and lasted ten years in the position before being ousted by the corporation and burned in effigy by its creators.

Born in 1951, Shooter was a comic book prodigy, selling three Superboy stories to DC Comics at the age of fourteen. Shooter appeared at Marvel as an associate editor in 1976, also writing for The Avengers, Ghost Rider and Daredevil. Once assigned the role of leading the company, Shooter distinguished himself from his predecessors by jumping into the financial end with great vigor. All too appropriate for the 1980s’ definition of corporate mogul, Shooter soon simply wanted it done his way or the highway.

Argue over whether events like the birth of the direct market bolstered Marvel’s fortunes in the late 1970s, or whether it is solely Jim Shooter’s direction - everyone else does. He came in a blaze of glory, and left the same way. The only given was that, in every subsequent interview Shooter gave, the turmoil with the creative staff at Marvel during his tenure was never his fault. Shooter always had his loyalists, but the cause of every failing he recites lands in someone else’s lap, usually in the hands of those pesky creators who couldn’t take his directions.

There may never be a story more symbolic of creator versus businessman in the comic book industry than the story of Gene Colan and Jim Shooter. Gene’s fall from the high towers of Marvel, a fall from which he never truly recovered, in terms of consistent employment, underscores the thin line of the tightrope every work-for-hire artist in this industry walks on a job to job basis.

It became quite clear, quite quickly to Adrienne and Gene that Shooter either hated Gene’s style, or believed him to be incompetent as an artist. To this day, the bile Adrienne exhibits when mentioning Shooter’s name is very vivid.

One can argue the intent of Shooter, whether it was personal against Gene, or simply a professional man guiding his company’s ship in the necessary direction, but one can’t argue that Jim Shooter almost broke Gene Colan financially, emotionally, spiritually, and artistically. Financially, Shooter most certainly turned the Good Ship Colan into the Titanic, but of immediate concern to Adrienne was Gene the man.

A post-Gerber, Howard the Duck story was burned into Adrienne’s memory, but that was only the beginning. “The corrections were just so unbelievable. It was the amount of the corrections and the nature of what Shooter would ask.

“In all the years I had been married to him, I never ever heard him ask me anything about a script or what should be drawn. There we were, in a Chinese restaurant in Red Bank, and he’s asking me about a panel. He’s saying, ‘This is what I drew but this is what’s being asked of me. I just can’t see it because if I did, then the person who’s supposed to be flying on the top of the room would be on the bottom of the room.’”

Across the table, Adrienne’s watched her husband return, spiritually, emotionally, to the Paul Sherry Studio. “That was exactly what was going on. I was literally watching him just emotionally crumble in front of my face. It was a horrible thing to watch. He didn’t want the corrections, but he didn’t want to lose his job. Those were years where you got better contracts if you were in good favor. Those were years where Marvel was giving you vested interest.”

Then. Jim Shooter fired Gene Colan.

Stan Lee temporarily smoothed over a return, warning Gene about the cliff on which he’s standing. Gene returned, but the corrections kept coming.

To be attacked on a creative level was one concern, but Gene had a two-child family for which he had to provide. It was pulling the proud man apart. “I didn’t even realize all of that stuff was factoring in for him, in terms of why he was allowing himself to be tormented this way. He couldn’t even understand what was being asked - notes saying ‘your artwork defies the laws of gravity’ and things that would undermine his confidence.”

(to be concluded tomorrow night in Part Three...)