Saturday, March 17, 2012

My interview with Josie DeCarlo P2

Yesterday, we posted Part 1 of my interview with the late Josie DeCarlo. Josie was the basis for her husband Dan's fictional comic-book rock band "Josie & The Pussycats". The above photo (click to enlarge) is Josie in full pussycats attire on a cruise with Dan. Below is P2 of three of the 18000+ words compiled for their chapter in my first book, I Have To Live With This Guy!, published by Twomorrows in August 2002. I haven't even looked over this, so I'll be reading it with you for the first time in about 10 years (part 3 tomorrow)...

Josie DeCarlo P2
taped March 17th, 2002, by phone from New York for 
“I Have To Live With This Guy!”

Blake Bell: Now when he was working at home, when the door was closed you wouldn't go anywhere near to his workplace?

Josie DeCarlo: It meant, “don't disturb” when his door was closed.

BB: Did he listen to music when he was drawing?

JD: Yes.

BB: So that wasn't a distraction? He didn't need absolute quiet? He could work and still have background music going? I'm always interested in the process an artist goes through.

JD: I think it's mostly because when you have a thought in your mind, and you want to continue it, you don't like to be interrupted because it could change all the way you're thinking.

BB: But would he come out to you sometimes and say, “look at this, I'm having a problem, what do you think?”

JD: He just came out to have his lunch. But at that time, no, he most likely waited for me to have the finished process before he would ask me if I see something that needed a little change or something like that.

BB: Would you be focusing on the artwork or would you be focusing on the story or both?

JD: It was both. It was the whole thing. That was just my impression. I didn't always think that I might have always been right. It was a feeling, yes I like it or maybe, it was something I could see for Dan, I would mention it. But most usually, whatever I saw that he did, his work, I liked. I am his biggest fan actually. Whatever he did I loved. I loved his imagination. I loved his quick wit. There were so many things - I thought, let the man do what he wants to do. He was in charge of himself. That was a dream he had and he wanted to make sure that it would come true.

BB: Was he secure in his ability to do the work. Was he a confident guy or was he, “I don't know if this is working, is this funny?” What kind of temperament did he have in that regard?

JD: He was confident of his work.

BB: Sometimes artists are always insecure about their work.

JD: No. This is why Dan talks so much to young people, to young up-and-coming artists. “Please stay with it. If you have a dream, believe in your dream” and he always wanted to make sure that he talked with the young artists to encourage them.

BB: He's been working on Archie and obviously it's a big hit. Do you remember the day when he came home and told you that they were selling Archie to Hanna Barbera - that it was going to be on T.V. tomorrow and that they had not consulted Dan and they weren't going to cut him in for a piece of the profits?

JD: Yes, well I thought it was very unfair.

BB: That's pretty early. Obviously everything is well documented in the last few years of his legal struggles but even back then he became quite aware of not creating these charters but other people profiting from them when it should have been a shared thing.

JD: Exactly. Because you know what they did they really went into merchandise. Dan had done the artwork and he was paid but for everything else, Dan's ideas, were used.

BB: So right from the start, he had frustrations with his creations being used and making money for other people when he wasn't getting his proper share of it?

JD: Yes he did. He did but because he loved to draw he continued to draw. It was not just Josie - he also created Sabrina. He was constantly working on new characters - Valerie, Melody.

BB: I was going to ask you about Melody. Did he base a lot of his characters on parts of you? We know Josie and the Pussycats, but Melody, a musical character, sounds like you in a way.

JD: Yes, and yet I don't relate to it that much.

BB: I think the French language itself is a very musical, with the cadence and everything. Is that something he pulled from you, the way he added the musical notes into her voice.

JD: It could be because actually I am a musician. I study violin for many years. My whole family is a family of musicians.

BB: When did you start the violin, as a youngster?

JD: Yes, as a youngster. Before the war. The war ended my study. I already had four years of music lessons. My father's a musician and my sister's a musician. We all are. In fact, my father had his own band. And he was so excited and fascinated about the American Jazz.

BB: I was going to ask you about some of his creations. Do you remember when he first comes to you with Josie and says, “look I've created this new character?”

JD: Yes. It didn't happen exactly like that because we were going on a cruise. I had a friend, a French girlfriend, who was so beautiful, she made me a costume and that was the pussycat costume. On the cruise many times they had the little carnival night. When I talked to Dan about it, I was thinking of having this cat costume - the cat with the spots. He thought it was a good idea and when I came in with the costume he actually decided that it should be made a little bit sexier. I had a hat with a point on the forehead, cut around the eyes. He thought it was very nice but it covered my whole head and then he decided that we would just use the ear. When we had the whole costume together that's when Josie was created actually with the style of this costume.

BB: And who was this friend you spoke of who made the costume for you?

JD: Her name was Ette. She was actually the wife of a man that Dan had grown up together and was friends. He had also married a French girl and we became very good friends. That's how it all start, with the costume. I went to the hairdresser and came in with the bouffant.

BB: Would he go and draw that out right away? “Wow, that's the picture I have in my head for a character and run right away and draw the character?”

JD: Yes.

BB: I believe it was created for United Features for a strip and then it was shelved for that Barney's Beads thing? It was funny that he would shelve that to work on another strip. It was almost like a treasure chest sitting there waiting to be opened. Around that time, once Josie's about to come out, how many times is he using you as a model? Like, “I want to draw you for a certain scene in a comic book?”

JD: No, not really. It's all his imagination. He loved to draw girls so I don't think he needed a model. Although he did sometimes work with models in his early years. But no, he had a tremendous imagination and because he loved to draw girls it was something that he actually finally got most excited about drawing.

BB: It's funny, I was talking to Adrienne Colan, Gene's wife and he would draw such beautiful women as well, and I would say, “did you ever get jealous of all these beautiful women he's drawing all the time and his like for drawing beautiful women?” It was interesting, she had a good laugh over that and she said, “no, I was his wife and I always felt secure” and there was never any problems in that regard and it was the same way with Dan?

JD: Very much the same way, yes.

BB: Do you remember the story behind him creating Sabrina and the first time you knew about that characters existence?

JD: Sabrina, I don't know very much already because he worked very closely with George Gladis, the writer. Together I think they very much put Sabrina together. I don't remember that much of the development of Sabrina. It was at one point Valerie was called Pepper in Josie and it was changed.

BB: Why was that changed?

JD: Because at the time I don't think they liked the idea of having a black girl called Pepper. They thought maybe it would be offensive. I don't know.

BB: That's one of the few black characters in comics at the time. Do you remember any reaction to that because there was not a lot of black characters in comic books?

JD: Well, I thought it was great of them to introduce that. The last thing that Dan, his last project, introduced a lot of Spanish and Latin American people because this is what life is today. He was just working with the times I think.

BB: Now, Dan Jr. and Jimmy, now they ended up doing some penciling and inking as well. How big of an influence was their father on their desire to be artistic.

JD: No, no, no, they were artistic themselves, but in different ways. They didn't like the idea of working for so little money in comics. Dan Jr. has his masters in fine art and loves to paint and James went to the institute of technology and he loves to do sculpture. So they didn't have much interest but sometimes they had to pay the rent. Once in awhile they would work and do they cartoon and help their father because they were looking for a little extra money. It's the most difficult thing to break into modern art and fine arts. Also Dan Jr had one of his paintings in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He is doing well, but you just don't sell.

BB: Once you pass away you sell, I guess. The value seems to go up and they seem to only get appreciated once they're gone. So their careers and inkers and pencilers, for Dan, were just asides.

JD: When they did draw some comics, they had also there flare for fashion in comics and that's when I stepped out a little because Dan Jr. was very worldly. He had traveled all over the world and studied at the University of Rome. He also had a great, great flare for fashion.

BB: How big of an influence were the kids on keeping Dan up to date?

JD: They did have a great influence, yes. It was wonderful, again at the dinner table, to have those three men discuss and share their ideas. Of my marriage, it's something that touched me very much to think, the closeness of the three of them.

BB: Dan also had his brother, Vince. I'm interested to hear stories about him being Dan's assistant and inker in the sixties and being a part of that whole Archie look. When did that happen?

JD: And that was without any schooling to learn how to draw. It was just natural.

BB: How did he start working for Dan?

JD: Dan thought that Vincent had the makings of an artist also and he encouraged it and Vincent did very well. But unfortunately, he passed away at an early age. He died of lung cancer. The two, their relationship was naturally very good and it effected my husband a great deal - baby brother, you know.

BB: How much younger was he?

JD: Vincent was 38, I think, when he passed away.

BB: How much younger than Dan was he - ten years younger?

JD: Oh, more than that.

BB: So he really was a baby brother.

JD: He was the last born. Dan had four sisters and one brother.

BB: So out of high school Vincent started working with Dan?

JD: No, he worked with his father in landscaping. From there Dan would give him samples and ask him to ink them and sort of guide him. Dan really felt that he was so good that he decided that they would work together for awhile.

BB: Back in the sixties when Archie was in its heyday, was there any connection between the fan, the reader, and the artist? Do you remember having any sense that there were hundreds of thousands of people out there reading these things?

JD: Well, yes and no. We knew there were fans because we would get fan letters all the time but we never realized the amount, no. I don't think it was as great as it is now. I think more and more people are beginning to recognize cartooning as a form of art. It wasn't recognized that early in Dan's career.

BB: Before comic book conventions came around would Dan get a lot of fan letters in? Was it related to his Archie work mostly?

JD: Yes.

BB: He had that unique thing working for such an icon like Archie that even the super hero artists of the time, of the sixties, didn't really have because they were just kind of starting. But Dan's artwork appealed to so many people, so many ages. I gather he had a better sense of who was out there reading. Was he one who was encouraged by the response to his work?

JD: Oh sure. And also as the years went by it was like a study of people who continued to keep in touch. It was not something like receiving one letter and then it was the end. It was like a continuation of receiving a letter from the same person – “I saw your work in that book and I liked it.”

BB: Did you ever talk Dan in something or talk him out of something? Like a project?

JD: No.

BB: He worked pretty consistently for Archie all the way through.

JD: Yes, I was always amazed at how he never ran out of ideas. I was always surprised, how can you always draw something different everyday? How did he do? Coming down in the morning and having to look at a blank sheet of paper and having to put something down.

BB: Do you remember periods where he would suffer writers block or artists block? Like, “oh geez, I can't think of anything today.”

JD: I don't think it was ever an issue. Maybe when that happened he would go play a game of golf.

BB: Did you ever see him over the years, jump into a project that you thought was wrong to jump into or no?

JD: No.

BB: In the later days he would do Bongo Comics and those types of things. Did you ever think, “Gee, I don't know if you should do that” or “that doesn't sound right?”

JD: No, because I thought if he wanted to do that it was up to him. In fact, I liked the idea because it showed that he was so versatile.

BB: So you were raising kids as you were, that can be a rather expensive venture. When he's doing Archie and you talk about Dan Jr. going of to University, what's it like to work for somebody who's an artists and you never know...There's no health benefits?

JD: Yes it's very insecure. There was no pension. From time to time a bonus. But Dan was very productive so he managed to get the two boys an education. That's what he was working so hard for, too.

BB: A lot of the wives I've talked to felt that insecurity. What if one of the kids gets sick? What happens if I get sick? Did that play on your mind a lot in those days or was it just Dan's passion and will...?

JD: It did. Actually they did have coverage at Archie at one point, health coverage. It was not early in his working days. It came late.

BB: Now when you say late, are we talking eighties, are we talking seventies?

JD: I would say eighties.

BB: I got the feeling with your sons, they would look at Dad and say, “that's not a secure way to make a living. I'm going to try something else and go to university and still maintain an artistic quality” but did they learn from that? Is that one of the reasons they didn't get into comics?

JD: Yes. They used to think that their father should not work for so little money. They say that he was great but underpaid.

BB: We spoke of Pepper. Was that based on somebody you guys knew?

JD: No, it was Ginger. Ginger actually, a friend of one of my son's college friends.

BB: So Ginger was based on somebody you knew but Pepper was not? Pepper was just somebody out of Dan's imagination?

JD: Actually, the look of Ginger was very much the same with the glasses and the short haircut.

BB: What's it like to live with somebody who's around all the time because they work from home? What are the positives, and the negatives if there were any?

JD: We were living well enough to know that we didn't have to be concerned with putting dinner on the table like during the war.

BB: I just meant what is it like to have somebody around 24 hours a day. That can have some interesting positives because you were around the person you liked to be with but then you could also feel sometimes like, “geez, we never get away from each other.” Was it just a joy to have him around at home as opposed out at the office all the time?

JD: It was sometimes a joy but it was to a point. When we did have something to do, when we had plans to go out with friends, it was difficult to pull him out of that room! At that point, I was always going back all the time, reminding him, “it's six thirty, it's a quarter to seven, it's seven o'clock. We're meeting them at seven thirty, Dan!”

BB: You're first comic book convention. Do you remember the first one you ever went to?

JD: Yes. It was really an experience for me because I had never really met the fans. I never know, really, how I would react. But it was very easy since they were there to see Dan and I felt comfortable about speaking with all of them and actually enjoyed it.

BB: Do you remember approximately when your first comic book convention was? Was it in the seventies, the eighties?

JD: Oh, no it was later than that. I would say it would probably be ‘85. I didn't go to San Diego right away. It was in New York.

BB: Was it Dan's first convention? Did you guys go to the first one together?

JD: No, he went many times without me before that.

BB: What was his reaction to the first comic book convention he went to?

JD: He went with some of the people from Archie.

BB: That must have been quite the experience. Did he come back and talk about having hands on contact with the fans and getting that direct contact?

JD: Oh yes. Other times there were so many wonderful people working with Archie who were very big fans of Dan. They made it easier for him by going along with him because it's very difficult at a convention to sketch and to talk to the fans. You have to have someone else with you. They were very supportive of Dan and they helped him a lot when they went along.

BB: There was almost a school at Archie, wasn't there? The owners would always hold Dan up and say, “here, draw like Dan. Here Dan, teach these guys, bring these guys along.” It is that a fair assessment?

JD: Yes, I would say yes. Some would come and bring their work and ask Dan what he thought about and ask him for advice.

BB: Whom do you remember from the Archie days, from the company and those who worked there. Did you socialize with any of the people, any of the artists who worked at Archie?

JD: Yes we did.

BB: Who would be some of those? Do you remember anybody in particular?

JD: Well, we would socialize with...Pauline and...oh dear, I don't have these memories since Dan passed away. I may have do some research.

BB: Speaking about your first comic book convention and it's your first time in seeing all these people and the effect that Dan's work has had on them. What are some of your memories of a comic book fan?

JD: It was most unbelievable for me. I know that he was a good artist and I know that he was receiving praise but just to witness it was a different story. It was very exciting to see the reaction of people. They wanted to see and meet him.

BB: Did that give him a sense of rejuvenation? Because if you do this long enough and it can seem like you're just doing it but then all the sudden you get that kind of face to face contact and it can be almost a regeneration.

JD: Yes that's right. I’ve decided to go all the conventions this year and will take the grand children along with me because I have that need of seeing everyone again and talk about Dan again. I was in Orlando a few weeks ago and it was very comforting to me when the fans came up and talked about Dan because they made me feel good. It was very comforting because they came with nice words. For me it was important and I want to keep his memory alive. I don't want to let go just like that. I want to keep his name alive.

BB: In the last ten years, would he get a lot of commission work from fans? I know he would do a lot of sketches at conventions.

JD: Oh yes.

BB: How much time would he spend doing the Simpsons or Bongo Comics and how much time would he spend on doing commissions?

JD: It's hard to say. It's hard to keep track. If Dan could not draw something at the convention because time was running out, or some other reason, he would do some commission work, yes. The last two years it was a little bit easier to work on commissions because he was not on Archie’s staff anymore.

BB: What was that like, not being a staff artist anymore?

JD: Well, he realized that he didn't want to work for them any longer. They gave him that terrible letter telling him that he was no longer needed. But it's also the fact that he was beginning to get very unhappy about what was happening.

BB: And that's do to all the money being made over the movies and the T.V. Shows without getting any part of it at all even though he was still working for the company at the time? When you take on a big company like that in a lawsuit, that's a big decision. Looking back on that, what are you thoughts about that? Was that right to take them on in that regard? Did you get a lot of support from the industry?

JD: Yes we did, so I thought Dan must be doing the right thing because I feel whenever you think you're right you have to fight for your rights.

BB: That was something he was passionate about - morally making a statement that companies like that should be sharing in the profits with the creators? Otherwise who's going to create for the company if the creator is not going to see a share?

JD: The fans would give him a lot of support saying, “I hope you win your case, it's terrible what they're doing to you.” That was very good for Dan because he realized that even if we don't win the case, because it's still in litigation, we felt that it is good for Dan to know that his fans felt that way. They gave him a lot of support.

BB: Was it a crusade for him? Was he able to gather strength from it?

JD: Also the fact that quite a few companies came forward to say to Dan, “we're not going to leave you without work. We're going to give you some work.” He worked for Bongo and Elvira. He did quite a bit of other things when he stopped work for Archie.

BB: Well that's great to hear because a lot of artists get left on the scrap heap, as they say, but he obviously was thought of so highly and his work was thought of so highly, that other people came and were willing to pitch in to help. He was able to get other work in that regard because if one job goes and sometimes that job can be very difficult one.

JD: Dan just started. He wanted to do a book of his own. Finally, he say that, I have to do that and that's when he start to create new characters which are now just on paper but never got any further. Christie, our older granddaughter, was writing the stories.

BB: What kind of characters were they?

JD: They were three girls who were living in the lower east side, Manhattan, and the story was revolving about their lives sharing an apartment and their different view on life and also their way of living. One, that will always staying with me, she loved beautiful clothes, that was always in trouble with her credit cards and the other one was based on something else. It was going to be very exciting.

BB: Was he going to self publish this or was there a publisher interested?

JD: Well, yes there was. Actually it was introduced at the convention in San Diego. Dan Fogel was the backer for the book.

BB: How did that come about? You had like a lawyer handling this kind of thing for you at that point?

JD: No, because first they had to prepare and work on the idea. Then when everything would have been together then the lawyer would come in and probably not do the same thing that already happened with Josie. Make sure things were on paper. To this point, we haven't really abandoned the idea. That's all up to Dan Fogel. He wants to do things with what we have. He would like to frame the characters in a very good... in a more expensive frame so it would be put would not be for the convention people but for the...

BB: Like an art gallery?

JD: The gallery, to be in the gallery.

BB: How far did this get? You spoke of it being on paper. Were there actual pages drawn for the book?

JD: No, no, just the model sheet.

BB: The character designs?

JD: Yes, the character designs.

BB: Who were these characters based on? Were they based on real life people that your granddaughter and Dan knew?

JD: No, no that was strictly Dan's idea but Christie fell into the story rather nicely because she's twenty six years old and they wanted to do something that would have Christie using the language that the kids of our time are using - a little more modern.

BB: She was going to be the scripter?

JD: Yes, yes.

BB: So that was his dream to produce a book?

JD: It was wonderful also because Dan Fogel loved the way she wrote. That was also a plus because we say now that Dan is doing the drawing and Christy was doing the story writing it was kind of exciting for us again. It was an exciting time.

BB: Did Dan ever see any of his original artwork? Was he getting his original artwork back from Archie?

JD: At one point, yes, and then at one point it stopped.

BB: And then it stopped? They decided no to give it back to him?

JD: It was always like begging to get it back.

BB: That's too bad. In the later years of a lot of cartoonists, that can make up for an appreciable amount of income - original art.

JD: That is one of the reasons why we were able to go to the conventions because he had some of the work, the originals, that he could sell.

BB: To try and do a lawsuit, that can take a lot of your financial resources, as anybody who has ever confronted the legal system can attest to. How does one maneuver through a lawsuit like that and keep one’s head up? Was it a constant source of frustration for you and Dan to have to do this, or were able to put it aside and deal with it when it was time to deal with it, when a decision would come up?

JD: Well, at times we would do that and at other times we would also feel that if Archie had wanted to cooperate a little bit better, a little bit more, this could have been settled a long time ago because we weren't looking for millions. The lawyers’ fees are pretty high, so we felt it was a question of stubbornness on their part because they could have settled with Dan.

BB: It's too bad that it had to happen like that.

JD: Yes, but our lawyer is very optimistic and he’s still doing it for the grandchildren's sake and he doesn't want to abandon the litigation - he wants to keep fighting.

BB: Does that have an effect on ones health going through a lawsuit like this? Dan had the colon cancer in the mid-nineties and he survived all that and came through it. If you’ve conquered cancer you can basically conquer anything, but does fighting a lawsuit does that take effect on ones heath?

JD: Yes, I would believe that it had an effect. It was beginning to have an effect on his life, yes.

BB: It was funny, when I saw him in November at the convention, you wouldn't have thought anything of that. I don't know if he was shy but he was so busy working all the time, drawing the whole convention. It's funny -there's you and Lindy and Dick and Dan and those two guys would be drawing away. You and Lindy would be the ones meeting all the fans and selling all your wares there just to give them time to be able to draw. Is that pretty much what life is like at conventions for you? Let Dan draw and I'll handle the table?

JD: Yes.

BB: You must have met a lot of interesting people?

JD: Well, because I felt that Dan would rather draw than talk.

BB: What would you say was the biggest thrill of Dan's career?

JD: The biggest thrill really, it was Josie, because there were so many things that put us together. He created Josie and he had me in mind. That makes me feel good to think that he got so excited about putting this together. Because it was like, well, that's some of his family.

BB: Was Josie your favorite thing that he worked on? Who was your favorite character that Dan ever worked on?

JD: I would say that I always liked the Archie characters. I thought they were great. The two gals were Betty and Veronica, they were great but there was still nothing like Josie.

BB: When that movie came out, did that make it bittersweet? What were thoughts when the movie comes out?

JD: We didn't like the movie. We went to see the movie because we wanted to be able to give our opinion to people who ask us about the movie. It was nothing like the cartoon. When they had the cartoons on TV, that was fun. But, no, the real life movie, I was not impressed at all with that.

BB: Did Dan have any say in that at all? Was he ever asked for his opinions with regards to the movie?

JD: Yes, but he felt that it was almost like they used every space in the movie for special effects, showing Coca-Cola. It was almost like advertising, a commercial. They were not always in their costumes. They were in street clothes also.

BB: Why was Dan so shy? Because on the page, it comes out that he was this laugh a minute individual, but you would be so surprised looking at his work that he was so shy.

JD: He was only shy during the early part of his life. He didn't stay shy. He came out of that. He was very easy-going and also very funny. He was able to get along with young and old. He was not shy anymore. I think I changed a little bit of that on him.

BB: Because you were more outgoing than he was at the time, you brought him out of his shell a little?

JD: Yes.

BB: Did you ever meet Wally Wood? He was the one that was at Tower. He was the famous artist from the ‘50s, EC Comics and then Dan did Binky. Do you remember Binky at Tower in the mid-sixties?

JD: No. You see, there was a part of our lives, also, when I went to work. I went to work as a consultant in cosmetics and I worked for 26 years. So there are a lot of things that I heard about but it didn't really stay with me.

BB: When did you start doing that?

JD: I went to work when the boys left for college.

BB: So, you had a desire to get back to work and do something once they had gone?

JD: Yes, and also to add to our income.

BB: Do you get a pension from Archie?

JD: No pension from Archie - nothing at all. I got a pension from my work. I work for Lauren Taylor. I was consultant in cosmetics for twenty-six years. I retired from that.

BB: So you actually get a pension for all the stuff you did but for all the stuff he did he doesn't get a pension. How do you look back on the comic book industry then as one of the wives? Do you look back and say, “thank god Dan loved it so much because they didn't treat him very well or they don't treat artists very well?” Is that a fair assessment?

JD: At the time, at the beginning when he went to work for the company, I didn't think they treated him that badly. It's just that at the end of your career when you know that you can't maybe draw forever that you would want a company to give you the reward for all the years that you gave them. He gave forty-seven years! They were the best years of his life to that company.

BB: What was Richard Goldwater like back then. Did you socialize with him at all?

JD: Yes.

BB: What was he like?

JD: He was friendly. We got along with him. We were on friendly terms.

BB: Was he a funny guy?

JD: No.

BB: What about Richard Sr. back in the old days? Do you remember Richard Goldwater Sr. at all?

JD: They were funny. The old timers were funny, yes.

BB: So now you're looking forward to going to the conventions?

JD: I am, yes. I have that need.


  1. I knew Josie for the past ten years; even though the news was not unexpected, it still hit me hard. I'll be leaving for Scarsdale in a little bit to pay my respects.

    Thank you for posting this interview. I can hear her voice in the responses and it gives me a smile.

  2. Really enjoying this interview. They sound like such a great, strong couple.