CBA: Were you introduced to comics at a young age?
Alan: Yeah, at a pretty young age. I remember my mother’s younger brother, David, used to read DC comics and Mad magazine and he had a whole stack of them on the bottom of the metal closet in his bedroom. He lived in the apartment building next door to ours. So I used to go through his stack and really found myself liking them.
CBA: Were there particular titles you were attracted to?
Alan: Well, I really liked Superman an awful lot. I don’t remember watching the Superman show when I was a kid. I was a little bit older before I found George Reeves on TV and it kinda came as a surprise to me. I didn’t really know it existed.
CBA: Did you start drawing at a young age?
Alan: Yeah, they have photographs of me in my high chair, holding up a blackboard on which I’ve drawn the Man in the Moon. [chuckles] So yeah, I’ve always considered myself a third-generation artist as my grandmother was an artist and my father was a fine photographer. Classic ashcan school stuff.
CBA: Was he a professional photographer?
Alan: No, an amateur but he won a lot of awards. He had a real good eye for composition and storytelling. He met my mother at a meeting of the Lincoln Terrace Camera Club in Brooklyn. He used to drag me around to all the museums, starting at a very early age. So I always felt as though I’d grown up in the Brooklyn Museum. [laughs] He helped teach me to begin to “see.”
CBA: Did you keep an eye on the newspaper strips?
Alan: Not an awful lot. I wasn’t a big fan of the newspaper strips. I don’t know why. I don’t even recall if we took a daily newspaper when I was young. So I certainly didn’t follow any adventure strips, or anything like that. I really loved Popeye cartoons when they debuted on television and then I discovered there were Popeye comic books to latch onto. Then I realized Popeye was just one amongst many titles in that big stack in the corner candy store. They kept them in a random stack on the back table of the store.
CBA: Did you become a collector off the bat?
Alan: I don’t think it occurred to me to collect until I ran into Marvel Comics, maybe five years later, because their oldest title, Fantastic Four, when I started buying it, was #29 or 30, or something like that. I realized it was not like collecting Superman comics where if you really get the bug, you had to go back to the issues that came out in 1938 or ’39 and that was not doable back in those days.
CBA: Did you get on board with Marvel, pretty much at the beginning?
Alan: Well, the first month or two that my pals were showing them to me, I lived in Canarsie then, and my good friend, Scott Simonofsky would give me . . . probably Spider-Man. And I really thought Steve Ditko’s artwork was real ugly. [laughs] The coloring and the printing was really awful at Marvel in those days. I just didn’t get it. I was really turned off by it and it took me a month or two. And then I saw Amazing Spider-Man #14, Spider-Man fights the Hulk, and that grabbed me.
CBA: Were you previously interested in the Mort Weisenger-style comics of DC? Then, obviously, Marvel started a revolution.
Alan: Absolutely, although I still stuck with DC books too, and all that. You know, I sort of grudgingly read Batman because he co-starred in World’s Finest with Superman. But it took me a while before I started in with The Flash and Green Lantern. I’m ten years old and those were a bit more sophisticated, obviously, and it took me a while to grow into that. But, eventually, I did; probably more for the artwork than the stories. I was enjoying The Flash art by Infantino more than Gardner Fox and John Broome’s writing. At that point, I guess they were more sophisticated than I was ready for. I really dug Mort Weisenger’s routine, and it was routine because it was all a formula.
Alan: I’m very comfortable in a rut. [laughs]
CBA: Did you aspire to be a professional artist at a young age?
Alan: Absolutely. When I slept, I used to dream about meeting Stan Lee and in my dream, he looked like Mort Weisenger, although I didn’t know what either one of them looked like at that point, but who can explain dreams? [laughs] But I just hoped I’d live long enough to draw The Fantastic Four. You know, I hoped I wouldn’t get hit by a bus before my dream could be realized.
CBA: And did you do your own comics at all?
Alan: Yes. I have a big, fat manila envelope full of the stuff that I did in school, sitting in the back of the room, instead of paying attention to the teacher. I must have done ten issues of The Hulk for myself. Most kids were reading comic books behind the math text book. I was drawing them.
CBA: Oh, really? Did you do your own knockoff characters or just steal them outright?
Alan: It all depends. I don’t remember what month it was but when I decided to do The Hulk, I just picked it up wherever Stan and Ditko left it off that month, and I just took it off in my own direction. [laughs] I thought it was more interesting to have Bruce Banner be the Hulk, as Banner, just this super-strong guy, and I gave him a suit very much like Dynamo. So that was *my* Hulk. [laughs] I also did a lot of issues of Iron Man and I still have them. They’re all in #2 pencil on lined, loose-leaf paper.
CBA: Did you go to art school?
Alan: I went to the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan.
CBA: Did you frequent Manhattan as a kid?
Alan: As you probably well know from my Streetwise story, I started going up to National (DC Comics) around 1967 or ‘68, at 575 Lexington Avenue. That was just the most thrilling experience. Neal Adams would sit in the Production Department at a spare desk and do covers and I could watch him. When I first started going up there, Carmine Infantino was just the cover editor. So he’d just sit in this tiny windowless room, with all the DC covers pinned up around him and do these scribbles which were his cover layouts, that he’d hand over to Adams and all. In those days, Neal was just starting his spectacular cover run at National, and his stuff just killed me. Just a whole new sensibility in mainstream comics.
CBA: Did you take the tours?
Alan: Yeah, that’s where I was on Thursdays at 2:00 or 2:30.
CBA: Did Mark Hanerfeld conduct them?
Alan: At first, it was a DC production room guy, Walter Hurlecheck. He would show us around and then Mark Hanerfeld starting doing it and Walter went back to the Photostat room.
CBA: So did you go up every week?
Alan: Sometimes. We *all* went up every week. It was always the same crowd, every week. Me, Hanerfeld, Marvin Wolfman and Len Wein. A couple of other guys. [laughs]
CBA: Were you skipping school?
Alan: Absolutely, I was skipping school! I went to Meyer Levin Junior High School in Brooklyn (Meyer Levin was a bombardier in World War Two). I’d cut out every Thursday afternoon. You bet. [laughs]
CBA: Did your parents find out?
Alan: I don’t think so, but on the other hand, I wasn’t hiding that I went to DC Comics because I’d probably gush about the quality time I was spending with E. Nelson Bridwell. [laughs] And I was, too! [Bugs Bunny voice]
CBA: So I guess you didn’t get in trouble?
Alan: No, I was in trouble all the time. [laughs] I was a rotten kid. You know, this particular trouble wouldn’t stand out from any of the others that I got in. [laughs]
CBA: Did taking frequent tours through that professional environment give you aspirations to work there?
Alan: Oh, sure, and that is actually what happened eventually. An editor, maybe it was Kashdan or Jack Miller, gave me old scripts that had been already illustrated, so I got to draw my version of those stories. They gave me one script--I think it was by Dave Wood--that eventually turned up in Star Spangled War Stories, called “The Phantom Flyer,” illustrated by my later-to-be dear friend, Jack Abel. So I’ve got my version that I did from that script before it ever appeared in print.
CBA: They gave you discarded scripts?
Alan: Yeah, they were through with it because Jack had illustrated it and turned it in with the art. I did not see Jack’s version then, I saw it when it appeared in print.
CBA: When did you start professionally?
Alan: Not counting the Canarsie Kid, a gag panel appearing weekly in the Canarsie Courier, in 1967, when I was thirteen? Well, I went on to the High School of Art and Design, which was around the corner from DC at 909 Third Avenue. You know, I watched them move the furniture into 909 and I remember the smell of wet paint when they moved in there. I was around the corner and really started doing some serious school cutting at that point. I just kind of moved in. I’m probably exaggerating but I felt as though I’d moved in to the reception area at DC, just to ambush people. I spent an awful amount of time out there trying to get sketches from the artists passing through. I don’t recall anyone saying no, so I’ve got a nice Silver Age sketch collection.
CBA: Did DC take you on as an intern?
Alan: There was no such animal back then. Steve Mitchell and I graduated from high school, and he went to work at DC as production assistant during that summer of 1971. He then started college in August or September and I took his place. They sat me at the last desk in the room, right behind Jean Simek Izzo.
CBA: Did you contribute to fanzines at all?
Alan: I did a couple of covers for The Comic Reader, I think it was, or Etcetera for Paul Levitz.
CBA: Did you attend the first comics conventions?
Alan: I probably went in ‘70 or so to my first convention, a Phil Sueling convention.
CBA: What was the atmosphere like at DC? That was a very interesting time for the company.
Alan: Yes, Carmine Infantino was in charge and I worked under Jack Adler. Before I went on staff, I’d been getting freelance production work, like cleaning up the art on the Golden Age reprints. My first real comics paycheck was for cleaning up the Robin origin story for Crown’s Batman hardcover reprint. I also did a lot of modernizing and extending romance reprint art. We had to change the proportion on the reprints because National stopped using running heads in their books. Then when I first went on staff I started as a miscellaneous $100-a-week guy. That was the legend on my check, “$100 miscellaneous.” And that was the time of President Nixon’s wage and price freeze. So Sol Harrison was delighted to have me locked in at a hundred bucks a week. But I still did plenty of freelance work as well. On staff, I was doing art and lettering corrections, and pasting up stuff. They had two regular correction guys who worked in the production department there, Morris Waldinger and Joe Letterese, and they were both mainly letterers, and they also did the corrections on the books. They had quite a racket for themselves because they’d take a book out of the art drawer in the morning and they’d spend all morning fixing it up, doing whatever they had to do to it. When I got in there, I’d do three books before lunch. And these guys had nothing to do, so I don’t think they were very happy with me. [laughs] Because when you think about it, how many books did DC have? 40, 50 books, and not all of them monthly, and two production guys that they do two books a day each. [laughs] You know, there’s not that much work to go around. In those days, Glynis Oliver Wein was in the production department doing cover paste-ups. This was before she started coloring because Jack Adler was the color maven and he taught her and I thought she was an incredibly apt pupil. He also taught me coloring.
CBA: Sal Amendola told me--and it’s evident in his Streetwise story--that there was a soul-killing aspect to the DC production department. Sal admitted he was a very sensitive guy, but it really affected him.
Alan: Well, Sal had all the sensitivity that I didn’t have. And that’s lots! [laughs]
CBA: You could take it?
Alan: Take it? I was deaf, dumb, and blind. I mean, technically, I picked up everything, workwise. But as a person, I didn’t have a clue back then. So just like at home, I’d get in trouble all the time. [laughs]
CBA: You weren’t attuned to the office politics taking place at the time?
Alan: Oh, I was attuned to it but I didn’t realize that I had powers and responsibilities, as a human being. [laughs] Things that I did to hurt people, it just never occurred to me that I could hurt people, and I was hurting them right and left. But I didn’t know it. I couldn’t understand why people were pissed off at me. [laughs] The point is, people have always accused me of being fairly bright, but they didn’t realize that my smarts weren’t across the board. There were some things I was not smart about, like people. People assumed that I knew better, but I didn’t. [chuckles] So I’d get in trouble. They figured out I was smart, if I could remember every line of dialogue from every movie or comic I’d ever read, why couldn’t I understand certain things, that life was not a movie or a comic book, and things could hurt people? I was intelligent, but I wasn’t smart. I was clever, but I wasn’t cagey.
CBA: Did you socialize with other comic book folk?
Alan: Yeah, sure. All the time. One of the things Sol Harrison and Jack Adler always tried to drum into me was, “Keep away from the artists. Don’t hang out with the artists. Don’t bother them! They’ll mess you up!” [laughs] I think they were worried, mainly, about Neal Adams. [laughs] But sure, I hung out in Neal’s room all day. At least that’s how it seems in my imagination. Neal and Murphy Anderson would be sitting in there, doing incredible stuff. The coffee room at National was also an incredible stew of new talents and stiff shirts interacting. Kaluta and Wrightson and Englehart and Aragones. And guys like Nick Cardy and Win Mortimer and Frank Robbins. Sol Harrison put together a life drawing class in the coffee room after hours. DC paid for nude models. So I’m in life drawing class with Kaluta, Neal Adams and Joe Kubert and Sal Amendola, Giordano and Howard Chaykin, etc. And Chaykin is making racy comments in front of the nude female model, and Kubert’s neck is getting redder, because he’s a nice jewish boy from Brooklyn, and Chaykin is a jewish wise-guy from Brooklyn. I’m glad I never got Kubert mad. That man was solid as a brick building.
CBA: You were part of an influx of new, young talent that came into DC at the time.
Alan: Well, I wouldn’t call what I had back then “talent.” [laughs]
CBA: Well, a new generation, anyway. Certainly, Howard Chaykin and his friends came in and a number of other guys. Did you hit it off with any of these guys?
Alan: Well, Howard Chaykin, for one, of course. I don’t know what I was to him, but he was my best friend. We were the Gruesome Twosome for a lot of years. [chuckles] I became his little clone. He taught me composition.
CBA: How long did you last at DC?
Alan: Well, I eventually, after several weeks, got to be Jack Adler’s assistant. I was the assistant to the assistant production manager, which meant that I checked all the black line artwork engraving, among a lot of other stuff like logging and filing. I did in-house photography, I did the color drop outs, the “bleaching” for reprints that National didn’t have negatives for. I worked the dark room.
CBA: Did you ever meet or deal with Gaspar Saladino?
Alan: Oh yes, I love Gaspar who is a great guy. Total professional. Best display lettering in the business. Funny story: Steve Mitchell and I were always doing unpublished fanzines and stuff like that, now that you remind me. We’d get a lot of artwork together, pencil and ink it. We did one western we meant to call the Plains Rider, but I lettered, the Plain Rider. So true, too. But we were going to put out one ’zine called Anthology. I did the logo and showed it to Gaspar for a critique. He’s looking at it and he says, “Well, it’s okay. Maybe, check this width on this letter, etc. But you didn’t really get any spirit into it, Alan.” And I said, “The spirit of what?” He said, “You know, about digging in the earth, finding bones and stuff.” And I’m going, “I don’t understand.” [laughs] “No, no, no, this is *‘Anthology,’* not ‘Anthropology.’ It’s a selection of stories.” I always thought Gaspar was ne plus ultra. He was the best letterer and also did most of the logos for Atlas. He was the greatest. I was also crazy about John Costanza’s lettering. And Sam Rosen is great, too. Best balloons.
CBA: Did you study those guys? You obviously had a career as a letterer, too.
Alan: Yeah, I studied them an awful lot, as well as learning color from Jack Adler. To this day, when I color the Little Orphan Annie Sunday strips, I’m thinking of Jack. I got to meet lots of nice people at DC. Where else would I have met Paul Reinman? He was coloring for Jack Adler. Paul was a very lovely German gentleman. I loved that MLJ [Archie] crap. [laughs] That Jerry Siegel stuff? Wow, was that bad? But awesome. And I still have every one of them.
CBA: What happened at DC?
Alan: Eventually I screwed up enough where they had to fire me at DC and I went freelance. I probably went over to Neal Adams next. He and Dick Giordano had one room, I think, at that point, in what eventually became Continuity Associates. Steve Mitchell and I were over there, the two grunts who sat there and watched the phone and the office when Neal opened up his business.
CBA: Who let you go?
Alan: Sol Harrison and Jack Adler. Actually, what happened… [chuckles] oh, well. I think I had pissed off Joe Orlando and that wasn’t a good thing to do. I was a little snot and Joe decided he had no patience with it. More or less the straw that broke the camel’s back. While it was a tragedy to me at the time, years later Joe didn’t seem to remember that stuff. To this day, Jack Adler scolds me for blowing the chance to have become the King Of The Production Department.
CBA: You then went over to Continuity?
Alan: Yeah, and just picked up scraps, lettering and coloring and stuff like that. For instance, Neal Adams called up John Verpoorten--John knew who I was and probably wouldn’t have gone for it--but Neal Adams says, “I got a kid here who can letter. I’ll send him over. Give him a job.” So I show up. You know, John Verpoorten says okay to Neal Adams. And I show up and John Verpoorten goes, [growls] “Okay, here.”
CBA: You had a reputation over at the competition?
Alan: Oh, sure. [laughs] Oh, I messed up everywhere, an equal opportunity offender. I eventually wooed my way in everywhere. [laughs] The way I got established at Marvel, eventually, was when they were doing the British reprints, very early on in 1973, I started doing the Zip-A-Tones on those books.
CBA: Was that Larry Lieber’s gig?
Alan: No, everything was handled through Sol Brodsky at that point. This was the department they gave him after he returned to Marvel after his Skywald adventure with Israel Waldman. I don’t think Larry got involved with the British books until after Atlas. That’s what he did after Atlas, when he got back to Marvel. And then I did splash pages for Larry for the artificially divided stories that needed new splash pages. A cover or two for the Planet Of The Apes reprints. So I did stuff like that.
CBA: Did you pencil and ink and the lettering, the whole nine yards?
Alan: Well, we’re skipping ahead in the chronology. That British stuff was after Atlas.
CBA: That was later? Okay, then let’s back up.
Alan: We’re still way before Atlas, depending on how detailed you want to get. So, being up in this one room with Neal, there were five desks jammed into that tiny room. When all the desks were full, it was Giordano, Adams, me, Steve Mitchell, and sometimes Joe Rubinstein, who was 14-years-old. One day the phone rings, Neal answers it and it’s Jack Abel calling from Wally Wood’s Wood studio in Valley Stream; where at the time, worked Woody, Jack, and Syd Shores. Jack had received a black and white assignment from a guy named D.J. Arneson, who was publishing an alleged humor magazine by the name of Grin. It ran for three issues. The job was a movie parody of the Godfather, called the Godmother. So Jack was looking for somebody to pencil the thing because he either didn’t want to, or whatever. He probably got bigger money offers for drawing something else. Most likely, he didn’t want to cope with drawing likenesses. So Neal sent me over. It was a little bit like a shady transaction, you know? I met Jack in his car by the subway station in Forrest Hills, in front of the movie theater. “Hullo, didja bring da stuff?” And Jack looked at “da stuff,” whatever samples I had and said okay, and do I know someone who can letter it? I said, “Oh, I can letter it.” So I’m doing this stuff for him later at the Wood Studio and I guess Woody took a look at what I was doing and said, “How would you like to help me on Sally Forth and Cannon? Can you letter it?” So I lettered it and then he asked, “Can you ink backgrounds?” and, yes, I could ink backgrounds. I could use the “swipe-o-graph.” Eventually, within three weeks, I was writing it with him. You know, if Woody saw you could do it for him, he’d go for it. So Woody was real impressed with the first page. (I think I was pencilling before lettering because he had pages left from Gaspar that had been lettered but hadn’t been pencilled.) I just pulled out my T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and copied some stuff and he was very impressed so he took me on. So there I was with a giant.
CBA: You became Woody’s assistant of the day, so to speak.
Alan: Yeah, I was probably the last assistant he had there because I found him an apartment in Brooklyn after he broke up with his wife and he dissolved the studio.
CBA: What was Woody like?
Alan: I think when I first met him that week, he was coming off a bender and his hands were shaking and I could show you the page I’m talking about on Sally. He just kept trying to ink that one line on the top of her leg, on her shin, and he kept electric erasering it out. He couldn’t get it, man. He was shaking that day. Though he was not drinking and thus steady of hand most of the time we worked together.
CBA: How long was that?
Alan: I’d have to count the number of Sally and Cannon pages and tell you. It seemed like forever but it probably wasn’t that long. At least a couple months and maybe even a year, altogether.
CBA: So were you commuting down to Valley Stream?
Alan: I lived in Brooklyn so I’d take the Long Island Railroad back and forth. And it was not an unpleasant commute because I’d be going opposite traffic.
CBA: It was about an hour away?
Alan: It couldn’t have been much more than half an hour. I had been going to Valley Stream most of my life because Green Acres was the big shopping center. There was a big shopping center in Valley Stream so I’d go in there with my parents.
CBA: And where from there?
Alan: Let’s see, after I alienated Woody… [laughs]
CBA: Oh, Woody fired you too?
Alan: Uhh, yeah, probably. [laughs] I don’t remember, specifically, but it’s probably a good bet. But at that point, when Woody left his wife Marilyn, I got him an apartment in the building next door to mine. A building Gray Morrow had lived in. So that was quite a storied block in Brooklyn on Woodruff Avenue. Gray Morrow and Woody lived there, and I, to say the least. And for some reason, Larry Hama and Ralph Reese kind of came back and started helping him out at that point, but I think Woody was falling apart. I’d given some party in my apartment--maybe a birthday party for Howard Chaykin--and Woody got real plastered and kept me up talking, trying to talk to me all night. I just wanted to go to sleep and now I wish I had a recording of that conversation.
CBA: What did you guys talk about?
Alan: Oh, I have no idea. He was drunk. He wasn’t making any sense. So, post Woody, I probably started picking up some freelance work doing those Zip-A-Tones for Sol Brodsky, which probably led to some lettering.
CBA: You have a solid comics production background, right?
Alan: Oh, absolutely.
CBA: What was there to know? Is the coloring of comics unique to comics and it doesn’t really translate to anything else?
Alan: Well, it doesn’t even translate to Little Orphan Annie because I can look at a color in a letterpress comic book and tell you the comic book code for it, or at least in the old days. (I know absolutely nothing about modern computer production techniques for coloring.) But in the old days, I could look at a color and tell you what it was. You know, R2B2 through Y3, whatever it was.
CBA: What were the four colors that they had?
Alan: Well, they had red, yellow, and blue, and black. Black was only the solid line art, unless the artist put in a Zip-A-Tone, in which case he would determine the value he wanted. Because there was no separate black tone in that color process.
CBA: I’ve seen Marie Severin color guides, and they say “Y20,” for instance. Does that means 20% yellow?
Alan: Y2B2 would be a light, pale green. 20% yellow, 20% blue. Or B3 for 50% blue and just B for 100% blue. Those were the three values we had on each color. So I was there, as a matter of fact, at DC Comics, in the production department, when Neal Adams came in and said to Sol Harrison, “Why can’t we get a better flesh color at National? Look, Marvel is adding a 20% yellow to the 20% red for a nicer flesh color. Y2R2.” Sol Harrison says, “No, no, we don’t buy 20% yellow from Chemical Color. We only buy 50% and 100% yellow. [laughs] We’re not paying them for that.” Neal says, “Call them up and ask them.” It turns out that National just never used it, but Chemical Color said, “Sure. If you just mark the color guides for it, we’ll give it to you.” So then the flesh colors changed at DC Comics. But that was the situation at DC: The first answer was always, “No, you can’t do it.”
CBA: That was the advantage, obviously, of having somebody who had experience from outside of comics.
Alan: Neal was a sh*t stirrer and that was what he did best.
CBA: He also understood contemporary production techniques, right?
Alan: Well, yeah. He wanted to use some of his pencils as black line artwork instead of inking them. I think this was the time someone stole Neal’s briefcase from between his feet when he fell asleep on the subway home to the Bronx late one night. So he lost a bunch of penciled pages and time. You know the Green Arrow story, “What Can One Man Do?” I shot the ’stats for him, late at night in the Photostat room. I worked on it until I got something that you could reproduce from and then I pasted it all together for him with high contrast photos that I also did for him. So I was working on some heavy stuff late at night for Neal, gratis. I worked on the Kree-Skrull War, filling in blacks, part of a jam, with Adams, Weiss, a lotta guys. You know the famous story about the sixth finger on Rick Jones? I remember us all standing around, laughing at it, laughing at the originals. [laughs] So, this was at DC Comics, we were making Marvel history on The Avengers. [laughs]
CBA: Did you play Gorilla with Neal?
Alan: Oh, yes. I was there that night. Absolutely, Gorilla Night. That panel in Streetwise that I put in of Neal holding Len Wein over his head is only a *slight* exaggeration. [laughs] It was the most fun I had ever had, up to that point in my life. I mean, all that stuff. To watch Alan Weiss do that stuff on the top of the dam, from that Batman versus the Reaper Hallowe’en story? I was there on top of that dam watching Neal and Denny’s story animate itself. [laughs]
CBA: Did you like Neal?
Alan: I loved Neal, sure. All the young guys were crazy about Neal because he was the most incredible thing around. I don’t think Neal ever liked me much because I didn’t fall for a lot of the crap. I don’t know, I just think he thinks I was a snot. Which I was. I don’t know if he realizes I was one of the people who thought he was a real manipulator, from day one. In other words, I think he was doing it all for himself. I mean, it’s nice that he helped out a lot of people, me included. That’s good, but he was doing it for himself, in my opinion. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you admit it, instead of playing Ghandi. But Neal hurt people. People who never did anything but love him. If he didn’t do anything bad to you, then there’s no reason to hate him. He never hurt me. He was good to me. He gave me more chances than a lot of people did. On the other hand, I have dear friends who are still in great emotional pain over their dealings with Neal. Neal got me work and gave me work, but luckily I was apparantly too dumb to grant him power to hurt me emotionally. In other words, I think the reason Neal got upset when he thought Michael Netzer believed himself to be Jesus (which Mike didn’t claim and didn’t believe), was because Neal knew gee dee well that Neal Adams was Jesus.
CBA: Are we near Atlas yet? [laughs]
Alan: Yeah, I guess we are because Steve Mitchell was there as production assistant, or whatever he was.
CBA: Do you recall hearing about Atlas/Seaboard?
Alan: I remember everyone being very excited before I had anything to do with it when they announced very good rates. I recall a whole bunch of people in a cab, probably Marv, Len, Steve Engelhart, I and who else, I don’t know. We were very excited that this was a new opportunity for some people who obviously knew how to produce comic books (which wasn’t necessarily true--Stan knew how to make comic books, not the Goodmans).
CBA: Did you hear anything about, at least verbally, of creator ownership or co-ownership, and more freedom over at Atlas?
Alan: I seem to remember them bat that around a little bit but, obviously, nothing ever came of it. That stuff, unfortunately for the purposes of our conversation, took place before I was involved so I don’t know about that.
CBA: So were you cognizant of Steve Mitchell’s experience while he was working at Atlas?
Alan: Yeah, he’s doubtlessly the one who gave me the freelance lettering and coloring to do for them. So, yeah. He couldn’t letter or color. As a matter of fact, I was wondering who did the bulk of the coloring for them. Larry Lieber might have a lot of these answers. You haven’t spoken to Larry yet?
CBA: Through third parties, Larry has said he’d prefer not to discuss his Atlas experience. Apparently it was a very unhappy time for him.
Alan: Yeah. Well, Jeff Rovin did not have a lot on the ball as far as I was concerned. I think they chose him because he had reorganized Captain Company for Jim Warren, right? I think he’d been on all the Captain Company stuff, and Martin Goodman really thought he could sell a lot of merchandise through these comics. He was really hoping this would help put it over.
CBA: He was going to use the Warren template?
Alan: Yes. That was at least part of his planning because the offices, when I first came on board, were full of Spider-Man model kits, all those model kits that they advertised.
CBA: All the Aurora super-hero models, right. [laughs]
Alan: The place was full of merchandise until they cleared it out to another location. I thought it was ironic that he was really depending on Spider-Man to support his books, if only in the form of a model kit.
CBA: Do you think that Atlas/Seaboard was created as an act of revenge against Marvel because Marvel booted Chip, Martin’s son, out of the company after giving promises to Martin that his son would remain as President?
Alan: I may have heard that, years later. I don’t remember when I heard that but I obviously heard that as at least a rumor.
CBA: Did you guys think about this? How come the former publisher of Marvel Comics is starting up a company that would stand in competition with his former company?
Alan: Well, it didn’t seem like any mystery. He was hoping to make a lot of money. And I guess he wouldn’t have minded teaching Marvel a lesson on how to sell comics.
CBA: You were doing some lettering and coloring for Steve Mitchell?
Alan: Yeah, and I don’t remember why he left, unless he was loyal to Rovin and split when Jeff did. Or maybe he was purged.
CBA: Did you go to the company? Did you visit?
Alan: Oh, yeah, Steve and I had lunch all the time at the Burger Ranch on Madison Avenue. Waiting for Steve to pick up a lunch check is like watching a fly walk up a drape. Steve and I went to the old Copacabana nightclub to see Don Rickles. What a ball. You’re a hockey puck, Steve.
CBA: What was the Atlas office like?
Alan: There was the bullpen, with the receptionist in there too, looking through a little window into a small waiting room. There were three offices with windows, radiating off the bullpen, facing the outside of the building that were, from left to right, Chip Goodman’s office, a two desk freelancer’s office in which I worked freelance sometimes. Karen Flashner, the editor of True Confessions magazine, did occasional work in there too. Then there was Martin’s office on the right. Across from that was, I think, two other, windowless offices. From left to right was Jeff Rovin, and then Larry Lieber. That’s what it was, six rooms, plus the storage room with the Xerox machine in it. So it was like six or seven rooms there.
CBA: Like the small Marvel offices of the late ’60s, pretty small?
Alan: Yeah, comparable, but that Marvel office was more like a railroad flat and Atlas was laid out like a hub. But we didn’t have a Photostat machine, like Marvel had. We used to send everything out to Findley Stats.
CBA: Did you know Jeff Rovin?
Alan: Sure, I knew Jeff. I don’t remember an awful lot, I just thought all his efforts were off the mark.
CBA: From talking to the other freelancers who were contributing to the company?
Alan: No, just my own opinion about his books. At the time, I just felt they were just a little bit off. He didn’t really have the knack. You know, these books were not magic. That’s what was missing, magic. They never really did attract the right top talent, at least to any good effect.
CBA: Did you think that they were trying to emulate Marvel Comics?
Alan: I don’t think Jeff wanted to, though I don’t know what Jeff’s intentions were. I don’t think I came on board, on staff, until after he was gone. Jeff had some good artists working for him. Russ Heath, Ernie Colon, Jack Sparling, Mike Sekowsky, Al Mc Williams, Ditko, Woody, Pat Boyette, the titanic John Severin -- really splendid folks. And one of my favorite people of all -- Howie Nostrand! God, what a guy. First artist I ever met that was always perfumed with booze, no matter what time of day. I was fascinated by him, and a little scared, too. I think I had a few drinks with him. I always thought of him as the poor man’s Will Eisner-by–way-of-Jack Davis. But he was a slick artist. He ought to be remembered more. And of course, Martin Goodman really thought, justifiably, that Chaykin’s book would be the breakout of the bunch.
CBA: Yeah, The Scorpion seemed to be an interesting book and even Sal’s The Phoenix. But the rest of them… for instance, if you look on the surface, The Brute was a knock-off of The Hulk and The Destructor was a Spider-Man copy. It seemed to be obvious that they were working off a Marvel template, so to speak.
Alan: Yeah, they tried. Larry was able, naturally, to get a lot closer to it than Rovin. By the time Rovin left there seemed to be quite a rebellion brewing among some freelancers. There might have been some feeling that Jeff was high hatting them -- perhaps being arbitrary, rather than profesional. When Archie Goodwin says, “Please do it my way,” one is more apt to say “yes sir,” than when Rovin did. And Archie is writing the Destructor for him.
CBA: Steve Mitchell said that there was so much interference from the Goodmans, that apparently Chip didn’t know comics from anything. To Jeff and Steve’s point of view, it was mindless interference. How did you hear about there was a position open? Was it Steve’s position that you filled?
Alan: Yeah, I guess so. I don’t even know exactly what he was called at that point.
CBA: Production manager. You had a credit in the indicia of the books as production manager.
Alan: There was another guy who worked there named John Chilly. Nice Irish guy, very mellow, had been in magazine production forever. The bullpen was two desks in the middle of the office there, and Steve was with his back to the front door there. And the guy facing the other way was John Chilly, whose name is on the credits of some of these black-&-white magazines as production. He was a nice guy. I really enjoyed him. Shelly Lefferman was also a great deal of fun to be with. I liked him, even though he wasn’t above spoofing me, some. He’d point to the Hawkman story in Jules Feiffer’s book on comics. The story is signed Shelly. Lefferman claimed he’s that Shelley. I was green enough about comics history to not be 100% sure he was having me on.
CBA: How did you hear that there was a position open over at Atlas?
Alan: At Atlas, I think Chip was aware that I could do all these things a lot better even than Steve Mitchell. The only time they could use him, besides trafficking with the colorists, engravers and printer was with pasting up. I could do that, of course, as could anyone who could hold up a T-square. As a matter of fact, Sol Harrison used to yell at me, “Use a T-square.” I used to eyeball everything and was generally right-on, but you’re still supposed to use a T-square. [chuckles] So I could do art corrections, lettering and coloring. So I was a good buy for them.
CBA: Your job was to get the comics ready to be sent out to World Color Press in Sparta?
Alan: Yeah. John Chilly did a lot of the paste-up, at first. Then he seems to have disappeared. In other words, everything that DC’s 1971 eight person production department did, I did by myself at Atlas.
CBA: Except for making stats, right?
Alan: That would have been a ninth person. I used to run the stat machine often at DC Comics, but Atlas didn’t have one. Wayne Seelal was the main stat guy at National when I was there. So we sent our stat work out at Atlas. I used to make some of these textured prints for Neal. I did a lot of work for Neal in the darkroom. I remember when I first started working for DC. In order to let the artists and production people know what was necessary for the production and engraving, they organized a bus trip up to Chemical Color in Bridgeport. That was fascinating to watch them sit there, these women, fat Italian women with big, fat arms, sitting in long rows at tables, just opaque-ing out with red paint on acetates, doing these hand-color separations. The smell of the engraving chemicals and metal plates, everything. It was very interesting.
CBA: Would you package the material at Atlas for the color separators and later the printer?
Alan: I used to deal with Chemical Color, who did the color separations and engraving in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and I also used to deal with the printer, World Color Press in Sparta, Illinois. Every day at about three o’clock, a guy named Eddie, who I’d known since day one at DC in ‘71, who worked for Chemical, would show up and pick up a package for Chemical. I think Chemical also had an office or a drop-off point on 42nd Street, Third Avenue. In the morning and in the afternoon, Eddie would pick up and deliver the stuff for Chemical. He would just make the rounds of the different comics companies and drive back and forth to Connecticut every day in a paneled station wagon.
CBA: And what about World Color?
Alan: I remember I’d speak to Eddie Whitbread, I think. I don’t remember if Eddie was with Chemical or Sparta, but I’d talk to them. I’d get these proofs of the comics on newsprint, a kind of crudely cut-up black line of the book and you’d go over that for what they used to call “fly sh*t,” little specks all over the place. You’d circle them with a red pen so they’d clean up the black plate, rout out the specks, and then later, that would get approved. Later on, we’d get make-readys, which were just unbound, untrimmed books, without a cover.
CBA: They still had the crop marks on them, they weren’t trimmed?
Alan: Yeah, more or less. But just in the black line form. We called those flats. There were four pages on a flat. I guess the equivalent in publishing would be signatures. I’ve still got a ton of silver prints, which were the first contact prints that were made by Chemical Color from the black plate negatives. They’d provide two sets of silvers to the companies on which to make color schemes. DC used one for the colorist, and I took the extra set home, after publication instead of trashing them. So I always had a lot of Fourth World in black and white, some great Severin, Toth, you betcha. Marvel seldom colored on silver prints because they were always working closer to deadline than National. I’ve held onto them silvers so long, they’ve turned brown.
CBA: Did they offer you good money to come on board?
Alan: I can look in my account book but I doubt it was good money. I used to be able to turn it out so I’d make it on volume.
CBA: Were you able to freelance at the same time as working?
Alan: I did plenty of freelance. Lots of coloring and lots of lettering for Atlas. I did all the mastheads for all the letter pages.
CBA: You came on board was for the third issues, right? Did you choose the letters?
Alan: No, that was editorial’s job. I did all the art direction on those text pages, such as it was.
CBA: Did you come up with the names of the letter columns?
Alan: Larry and I might have talked it over. Either Larry came up with it all himself or we talked it over. Maybe I gave him a list of suggestions. You know, it’s not that hard: “Dark Dispatches”, “Send it To Stryker.”
CBA: Do you recall when you first went in for your interview?
Alan: I don’t even know if it was anything formal. I had probably been doing some freelance in the office there. Perhaps a meeting with Chip, to settle things.
CBA: So they were aware of your abilities?
Alan: Yes, and I was always agitating for art jobs, so I was actually given my first book pencil assignment there for The Cougar #3. Somewhere, I still have the pages that I started doing the layouts on. But, of course, there was never a Cougar #3. I very, very quickly ran up against my limitations with the job and was well aware that I was having a great deal of trouble making good pictures. I hadn’t learned composition or storytelling yet and that can sometimes get you past bad drawing. Or dazzling drawing trumping bad storytelling. But I didn’t have either. So, they’re very tentative, faint scribbles on a page.
CBA: Did it feel like a sinking ship when you came on board?
Alan: Probably. I never thought there was a great promise to the company once it was up and running, because there were very limited people running the thing. Larry Lieber does what he does very well but he’s not a groundbreaker. He’s not a creative genius. And he doesn’t pretend to be. He’s just very good at what he does, because he’s sincere and he works very hard. To sell a whole line of comic books, you’ve gotta have something special. There’s got to be a magic spark somewhere and Jeff Rovin certainly wasn’t it. Let’s face it, he had set all these titles in motion that Larry wound up responsible for later. In other words, Larry didn’t create The Brute and Jeff’s other books.
CBA: There was a 180-degree change in the content of many of the books. Morlock 2001 suddenly became Morlock and the Midnight Men, and Phoenix became The Protector. I mean, they just seemed to be discarding things left and right.
Alan: That was great. Panic had set in with upper management – Chip and Martin. And Martin wanted to change Phoenix to The Man from Mars. Phoenix, The Man from Mars. So I said to Martin, “You know, NASA just sent a spaceship up there and they say there’s no Man from Mars. Maybe we shouldn’t call it that.” [laughs] They just proved there’s never been life there. [laughs] So I made up a list and he chose “The Protector” from that. So that title’s my creation. I lettered the logo, too.
CBA: Did you recall Larry calling in Gary Friedrich to pinch-hit?
Alan: No, I don’t remember him calling because I guess Gary was back home by that point at wherever it was he was living, because I don’t remember Gary in New York at that time at all. I loved Gary. I used to see him all the time in the late ’60s at Marvel Comics. He’d come in from lunch, squiffed, and I’ve got an interview I did with him and he’s drunk as a skunk on the tape and it’s funny. [laughs] He’s really talking about E. Nelson Bridwell, who apparently spilled a drink on him and really, really pissed him off. Gary was always one of the Good People in the business and treated this kid with respect. I’d love to hear from Gary.
CBA: How long were you at Atlas?
Alan: Until they folded.
CBA: That was pretty quick?
Alan: Yes, it couldn’t have been more than a month or two, altogether, because… they were bi-monthly issues, so it could have been three or four months, then.
CBA: What was Larry like?
Alan: I love Larry. I had lunch with him a couple of months ago at the Society of Illustrators and it was great to see him again. He took one look at me and… see, I told you about those days, how I was?… he says, “Ah, every time I see you, I get like the Inspector from the Clousseau movies.” [laughs] He says, “You give me a twitch every time I see you. I turn into Herbert Lom every time you’re around.” [laughs] But Larry knows his business. I don’t know how to put it because nothing I say about Larry is intended as an insult, because I respect and admire him. But work is agony for Larry. Comic book drawing is agony for him. He suffers and I don’t think it’s a natural part of him. He goes through hell to draw, so you have to give him a lot of credit. I don’t know why someone would choose that in life. To Stan Lee, I assume life is just like rolling off a log and for Larry, life is difficult.
CBA: Did you hear an edict to make the Atlas comics like Marvel Comics? Was that implied or was that explicit?
Alan: Well, it was seen as Marvel was the winner. In other words, nobody was saying, “Let’s strike out and break new ground and be magnificent.” They were saying, “Follow the winner.”
CBA: But they missed something, perhaps, in the equation. Atlas may have had his brother, but they didn’t have Stan Lee, right?
Alan: Obviously, yes, and they obviously failed with that tactic.
CBA: Did you have any intimate conversations with Larry at all, like, “Where are these books going?” or, “This ain’t too cool”?
Alan: Not really, not about the books. I think he was annoyed, for instance, when he would give me the corrections to do. Now, I’m always the guy who’s always trying to figure out the easiest, most effective way to do it. So I’d say, “Well, if you ask me to do it this way, Larry, then it’s a lot of work, bum-bum-bum-bum. But we could also do it *this* way and it will work out just great.” So if it made sense, then he’d say okay, but I don’t think he needed that, for him, extra step. “So why isn’t this guy just doing what I asked him to do instead of bringing this back to me? I already made up my mind.” So I don’t think he needed that.
CBA: And how far along were you with the fourth issues of the titles?
Alan: I don’t remember fourth issues, except for the ones that were published, being drawn. My memory might not be accurate on that, but I don’t remember them being drawn. I don’t even remember scripts being commissioned for a lot of them. Again, this is just my memory and I was not in editorial, per se, though I assisted Larry in whatever way he requested.
CBA: But you were working on the third issue of The Cougar, for instance.
Alan: I was. Well, there you go, you see? I just contradicted myself. Yes, I was working on the third issue of The Cougar.
CBA: Do you remember who wrote that?
Alan: No, though it might have been Gary Friedrich. And I don’t remember collecting a dime on it, either. I don’t even remember expecting to. I didn’t expect things to fold because on most issues, if you notice on the third issues of books, subtlely, the Atlas logo had changed because I had rejiggered all the things I had to do for the cover paste-ups, to make it easier for myself. I guess I didn’t expect it to fold.
CBA: Did you see other covers, other stuff that was unpublished?
Alan: I don’t recall any unused artwork, I don’t recall too much stuff that wasn’t printed. It was probably tons of that, what was it, Andrax that they picked up from Europe? I remember tons of that stuff in the office, Photostats from Europe. He had a lot of stuff in the office as Photostats that he picked up from Europe and I relettered all that. And the Tippy Teen stuff from Tower that we did as Vicki. I “modernized” all those reprints.
CBA: Did you have any interest in any of the material that was coming out, did you think any of it was cool?
Alan: Conceptually, I was not crazy about the books. I thought the genre books that they were doing were far more interesting than the super-hero stuff. Lomax and Luke Malone, Sgt Hawk, Kid Cody and The Comanche Kid in Western Action. Jack Abel and Milgrom cared about that work, and there’s a Doug Wildey story. Milgrom and Jack Abel were hot to work together and that was an interesting story. Milgom tried to be John Severin on that job. No cigar. I’m assuming that Morlock was Milgrom’s first pencil work.
CBA: Did you meet Mike Fleisher?
Alan: I knew Mike Fleisher from DC Comics in 1971 when he was working in their library, compiling the Superman encyclopedia. So I knew him before he’d written his first comic book story. That’s how he got a break, because he was hanging around the office. He was a very strange cat, man.
CBA: What did you think of the stories he wrote?
Alan: I was aghast that the Spectre was cutting people in half with a pair of scissors. The Spectre don’t sciss. The only worthwhile Spectre stories I ever read were the wacky ones Neal Adams wrote and drew for Julie Schwartz.
CBA: Especially in Ironjaw, there was a real misogynistic, anti-woman aspect to the stories. They were brutal books.
Alan: I haven’t read them, not since then. And I should remember as, I think I lettered almost every issue of Ironjaw.
CBA: Did you deal with the Comics Code at all?
Alan: Oh, sure. I did everything to do with trafficking the lettering, the coloring, the art to the code and on to the engraver and the printer.
CBA: Was there any problems with the Code?
Alan: Don’t recall any. Obviously, they let us say “hell” and “damn it” and stuff. “Damn it” in “Son of Dracula.” I knew Leonard Darvin, the administrator, since my National Days. I think they had just liberalized the code for the first time since it was adopted in the fifties, and Rovin took heavy handed advantage of that, in my opinion.
CBA: In Ironjaw, there were a number of double entendres that were going on about sexual intercourse.
Alan: I don’t remember. Atlas seemed to be pretty good for the gratuitous female from-the-rear nude shot. [chuckles] I noticed a few places where bras were painted on, especially. I was going through Planet of the Vampires and I noticed a couple places where they painted clothes on Russ Heath’s naked women in there.
CBA: Did you get any creators into Atlas?
Alan: Yes, I brought Alan Weiss in to do The Brute. That’s one of my favorite books because I brought in Weiss and put Jack Abel on it to ink. I liked it just fine. I was just looking at it before and I have no problem. Chaykin and I did think Alan’s Brute was a little prancey. I think we started calling him “The Fruit Brute”. [laughs] Larry Lieber did not like that pencil job at all, at all. [laughs] I had big fights with Larry over that.
CBA: He didn’t want to run it?
Alan: Oh, I don’t know that he had a choice but he did not like Alan Weiss’ women. He said, “Look at her, she’s not pretty.” And I said, “Larry, in my opinion, she’s a drawing of a real woman.” He said, “Yeah, but she’s not pretty. This is comics.”
CBA: [laughs] “Give me a Vinnie Colletta girl.”
Alan: Yeah, we didn’t use Vinnie. And of course, Jack Kirby was always the true touchstone to Larry. Vinnie might have been art directing up at DC at that point, I don’t know. Again, I don’t remember who was coloring, besides me, and I certainly did not do the majority of the color work there. But I called Tatjana Wood, at one point, to see if she’d be interested. And shortly thereafter, I got a very angry call from Jack Adler, saying, [excitedly] “You know damn well she’s my girl. She works for me.” Because she said to me, “No, thank you, I’ve got an exclusive deal with DC.” I said, “Well, okay, thanks very much. I think you’re the greatest and if anything changes, give us a call.” So Jack called, very ticked off that I was trolling in his shoals.
CBA: Steve Mitchell received a similar call about Gaspar Saladino.
Alan: Oh, yeah? But Gaspar, apparently, was very free to do it. Because he did all the logos at Atlas, and lettered Cougar #1, among other things. Good old L.P. Gregory. That’s Gaspar. You see the lettering credit in old Marvel comics that says “L.P. Gregory,” that’s a pseudonym for Gaspar. I think one early Hulk story in Tales to Astonish is by Scott Edwards and L.P. Gregory. Sometimes people fail to point out that Scott Edwards was Gil Kane. A real early DC shift at Marvel. Shelley Lefferman was, of course, one of the main letterers at Atlas.
CBA: What was Chip like? Was he around with any frequency?
Alan: Sure, he was there almost all the time. You know, I think he mostly wanted to see the books when they were finished and I think he worried more about Swank, the men’s skin magazine they purchased. Somebody packaged Swank for him, I’m fairly certain. But he’d go over the nude photos and stuff like that with a fine tooth comb. ‘Cause Chip was a horn dog. But Swank production was done outside of the Atlas office.
CBA: Was Swank bought when Atlas/Seaboard started?
Alan: I don’t know if he started it or if he picked it up somewhere. I had color artwork appear in there that I did years later for Paul Laikin, probably after Chip was gone. After Chip sold it, probably, I did illustrations for it. Oops. Nope, that was in Genesis magazine.
CBA: What did you think about Chip?
Alan: If the thing had no sparks, so obviously, no one in charge really knew what they were doing, beginning with Chip. Hey, look. I know I felt if that if I was in charge, it would be a great company. I didn’t doubt it. I’m sure I thought I knew better.
CBA: [laughs] Besides you, who would have been good in that job? Do you think Archie Goodwin would have been?
Alan: Honestly, I don’t have any idea. I mean, you can point to Archie as doing some great things but he never went anyplace and started something. Not that I’m saying anything is wrong with that. I’m just saying that he always came into an existing situation and did great work there. I don’t know if he had what it’d take to come in on the ground floor and create magnificence.
CBA: Did the axe fall immediately?
Alan: I don’t recall but it must have. We must have been informed at some point that as of Monday, this ain’t here any more. But I don’t remember being traumatized at all.
CBA: You don’t even recall if the books were put on hiatus or were they just outright cancelled immediately?
Alan: I don’t recall.
CBA: Because it seemed to be quite expensive in the sense that Second Class permits cost a lot of money and there was a lot of logistics there, where they just threw it away, just forget it, we’re not going to do it any more.
Alan: Well, I assume they kept the magazines going, True Confessions and Swank, but I don’t know.
CBA: Was there any word around the office about Kable’s effectiveness as a distributor?
Alan: I don’t remember that either because I’ve still got multiple sets but they all came from the office. I don’t remember if I saw them on the newsstands effectively, or not.
CBA: Did you regret leaving Atlas at all?
Alan: I probably made okay money, so I guess I missed that. It’s always nice to be part of something, so you have the best hopes for it.
CBA: Where did you go from there? Did you stick with Larry?
Alan: No, I don’t think Larry was crazy about me. We had dinner a couple times back then and we’d have a few belts and he’d start telling me about life with Stan Lee as a kid, you know, his family and all that. That was very interesting. Larry’s a nice man. Sincere.
CBA: Was he a lot younger than Stan?
Alan: I think he’s nine years younger, so he didn’t particularly grow up with Stan.
CBA: You worked with Larry again, working on the black-&-whites for Marvel U.K., right?
Alan: You know, that wasn’t intimate contact. Then, of course, Larry and I worked together in the early ‘80’s on The Hulk syndicated comic strip for a long time.
CBA: He was writing and you were drawing?
Alan: It kind of bounced around there. I think, just before I first started, Rich Buckler was penciling it for him and it came and went. Sometimes, Stan was scripting the thing, and sometimes Larry was, and in the end, I was.
CBA: And you’re drawing on a syndicated strip right now, Little Orphan Annie.
CBA: How is the syndicated life? Is it tough?
Alan: No. It’s a grind, but as far as work goes, it’s as much fun as I’ve ever had. I’m left alone, I get my script, and I really enjoy working with my partner who’s the writer, Jay Maeder. At first, he asked if he could see the pencils and I said, “Oh no, I never would have taken this assignment if that was part of the deal.” [laughs] And I don’t even know if that was clear with anybody at the syndicate. No, anybody can second guess you and there are as many opinions as there are people, but I know what I’m doing and what I do is just as good as anybody else’s arbitrary idea. Any outright mistakes I make, I’ll certainly admit to and rush to redraw, but everything else is just taste.
CBA: Did you have a varied career after Atlas? What were the high points?
Alan: Oh, the high points? Well, there’s the wonderful Obnoxio the Clown Meets the X-Men number one. I don’t know if that’s a high point. Script, pencils, inks, lettering and color. Or to quote Peter David, “Untouched by human hands.” Peter, take a long look in a mirror and consider the possible power of words to hurt. All the work I did for Marvel was a great deal of fun. The more control I had over it, the more fun I had.
CBA: You worked at Marvel during the Shooter era?
Alan: Oh, yeah. As a matter of fact, when Shooter left, I was one of the people they wouldn’t look at any more. It’s funny because, again, I don’t think I was Jim Shooter’s favorite person but I was certainly looked at as one of his gang by the following administrations.
CBA: And so that was it?
Alan: Yeah, pretty much.
CBA: That was freelancing for Marvel when you were there?
Alan: Oh, yeah. Always freelancing. I mean, one year, I actually qualified for medical. Then when Marvel tapered off, in the immortal words of my new best friend, the great Irwin Hasen, I went “into advertising.”
CBA: Did you ever benefit from Marvel’s royalty program?
Alan: That just kicked in just before I left and I got a couple of nice little checks there when I was doing Spider-Man. There was one month there where I was doing all three Spider-Man books. So, yeah, that was more fun. But I’ll tell you, I always had the worst inkers in the world. Not always, but I had so many inkers that I didn’t care for at Marvel. But a couple of good ones, like Jim Fern on Spider-Man. That was nice. Jim Fern does good work.
CBA: Do you prefer inking your own work?
Alan: Depending on what it’s for, but yes. You know, unless I know who’s going to ink it. A lot of people will complain about Vinnie Colletta but I was so unhappy about the inking I was receiving on my run on Thor that I begged for Vinnie and I was pleased that I finally got him on the last issue that I did.
CBA: Did you like working on super-hero books?
Alan: Yeah. That might not be what I’m best suited for, but it’s always what I aimed to do.
CBA: You did a bit of work for National Lampoon, right?
Alan: Oh, well, quite a bit. I’d say between me and Frank Springer, we might have been two of the more prolific guys there. Yeah, I did a lot of stuff for Lampoon. I enjoyed it a lot.
CBA: You worked for Michael Gross?
Alan: Uh-huh. At the beginning, yeah.
CBA: What was he like?
Alan: I don’t know. He always did what he was supposed to do but his head always seemed to be someplace else, on bigger, better things, I think. I remember one time, I was working for him, especially on this one book, and he had outside offices from Lampoon at that point, so he was just packaging this thing for them. I’m standing there and the Monty Python guys are standing next to me. I was real impressed. [laughs] I said something to Eric Idle about, “great flocks of soiled budgies flying out of peoples lavatories, infringing on their personal freedoms,” or something. [laughs]
CBA: Did you visit the offices with any frequency?
Alan: Yeah, quite a bit. I used to hang out. I knew most of the people there.
CBA: Did you know O’Donoughue? Was he there or was this later?
Alan: Actually, I was there later, under Sean Kelly’s regime and after, until almost the bitter end. Of course, Lampoon and Marvel were in the same building on Madison Avenue in the beginning.
CBA: Yeah, Marie used to say that she used to go into the offices of National Lampoon and everything was really quiet and somber. And then she would go to the Marvel offices where everything was loud and insane and a lot of laughter going on.
Alan: Yeah, it was pretty quiet at Lampoon. It was never a crazy place. They were just a bunch of Harvard guys, sitting around, yakking. [laughs] The art people were always kind of friendly, you know. The art staff was nice.
CBA: Did you get to write your own stuff there?
Alan: No, I never wrote anything for Lampoon. Most of the writing I did, probably, was for Marvel, I suppose.
CBA: Did you like it?
Alan: You know, I think I can dialogue like a son of a bitch. But as far as plotting and coming up with interesting stories, I don’t think I’ve got anything unique or wonderful to say. As a matter of fact, I’ve discovered that half the stories I’ve written are knock-offs of Spider-Man #14, in one way or another. [laughs]
CBA: You can’t get it out, huh?
Alan: Yeah, you know. And it made some kind of indelible imprint on me.
CBA: What was the highlight of your comic book career?
Alan: [pause] My comic book career… [long pause] I don’t know.
CBA: Was it the people or the work?
Alan: Well, it was all of it because it was something I considered magic and I managed to weasel my way into it. I’m kidding. But, I mean, there I was. It’s what I wanted to do and how many people, think of the entire world, get to live out their dream? Not only have I walked with giants, but in the end, I’ve been granted the same magic powers they had -- I get to sit down in front of a blank piece of paper and create an entire world every day -- and it’s the best time I can think of having.
(c)2006-2008 Copyright Alan Kupperberg
Interview (c) copyright 2007 Alan Kupperberg & Jon B Cooke
Images are copyright 2006-2008 their respective owners