Friday, June 3, 2011

Autobiography Pt. 13

       Can’t remember my most special times at the place, but it was always good times.
       I remember that a so-called picture of the Loch Ness monster came into the studio, and as usual, it was just Neal and I. We were talking about what this obscure image really represented. Neal pulled a small tear of tracing paper, and doodled what he thought was the face of the creature.
       “No, I see it this way.”
And offered my doodle on the same shred.
       There was a quiet silence for a moment.
       Neither Neal, nor I, could pick a favorite. We revealed to each other that we’d created a scene, and another creator balanced it out with a balanced version.
Hard enough to come up with a pleasing and functional composition, but two of the same thing is very hard to do. When two artists offer theory, and both participants agree that they can’t really pick one over the other, that’s when two artists are really talking, and on a very difficult wavelength to find.
(Lundgren and I used to do it all of the time.)
 It really wasn’t comic art, and it didn’t have to be. It was just two artists coming up with equal compositions. And when you can do that with your hero….what do the credit cards commercials call it?
       And if you get to, it is.

       1978 was a time where the Rock Opera was possible, like so many other things in our culture. Our parents expected a certain regularity in their lives, after a Depression and a Second World War. What we wanted wasn’t that at all. We wanted to consider how it could be different. Guys like Kirby, Adams, and Steranko were certainly making their mark in the Comics that way, at that time. And it resonated throughout millions of teen-aged boys. The Who changed things for us, as did the Beatles, and the Stones, and earlier, The Beach Boys. What the Hell: Buddy Holly.
       This was a time of unexpected cultural evolution, and I was doing my best to ride its coattails. We all were.
       Continuity Associates, at 9 East 48th street was a Mecca for any kid who had the balls to hit New York City, sold comic collection, portfolio in tow.
       Screw success. I just want a chance to be a contender.
       I was one of many of them, and saw many pass through the front door, and out, during my time there.
       I got in pretty early.
       Early on, Neal only rented part of the floor from another studio, and as a newcomer, I wasn’t quite certain about which invisible line I shouldn’t cross.  I may have been at Continuity before, but the first thing I remember about it was an emergency call for all available artists in the spring of 1972.
       I was vacationing there with Lundgren at the time.
       Stars fall perfectly.
       Sweet introduction.
       First published comic art assistant job.
Seems Alan Weiss was due to submit his first John Carter of Mars story to Joe Orlando, on Friday, the day before.
       Weiss had a stigma attached to him: Every time late.
       Not so much, this time, as he attempted to defy his sign (Pisces, the procastinator). The job was presented to an empirical desk on time.
       Or not so.
       Orlando informed Weiss that the job was due that day, pencilled and inked!
So, on an early spring Saturday, the call went out.
       “Gotta job due on Monday, anybody who can assist is called out, right now. Work with your peers and idols! For NOTHING!”
       We buzzed the buzzer to the second floor with great anticipation.
I’d read about such things in Jules Feiffer’s THE GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES, but this was my first face-to-face with a group effort to make a deadline.
       So, Lundgren and I arrived at Continuity, or as much of the floor as the Neal had a claim to. 3/4 of the way back, we found a cast of dedicated men, doing a good turn for a friend. Jim Starlin had done his bit, and was almost out the door. Evidence of the now missing Berni Wrightson’s inks on the pages were like footprints in the snow. There one moment, gone the next, gone, gone like the snows of yesterday. Still, Larry Hama, Adams, Ralph Reese, and Weiss were all on hand for the Comic Rock concert. Pages rotating at an alarming rate, Virtuosity complimented by my feeble backgrounds. Alan was very kind with me, instructing what was needed.
       “More organic line-work.”
       On the flip-side, Neal remarked, “Who inked the dug-out canoes?”
       “Do all of the canoes.”
       My first order from my boss-to-be.
       Is it possible to be drunk on ink?
Neal kept referring to Crusty Bunkers, and seemed to be a joke cracked minutes before, that I wasn’t privy too without an explanation.
Adams loved language and loved to play with sounds. He was very uninhibited at this, and when you’ve worked a twelve-hour shift with a person you are inclined to see them in very lucid states. Neal got glazed right along with his students. Fried, tied, and fully-stupefied. When somebody asked what the inker credit was going to be Neal chose The Crusty Bunkers.
       Alan delivered the inked story to Joe Orlando on Monday, finished, and with no explanation as to how it came to be, except for the instruction that the Crusty Bunkers should be credited with the finishes. And as a guy who was up at DC a lot, Alan knew the place down to the production room.
       For the next three weeks, he charted the lack of progress on the job. No proofs for coloring for twenty-one days. The things which seemed SO urgent three weeks before, certainly weren’t.
       DC is notorious for having editors who were huge dicks.
       Orlando high on the list.
       Well, I guess the whole industry included, short of Mike Carlin.
       An early lesson: Editors will lie to you about the deadline.
       Comic book editors, mostly old-school will make you feel bad, at every turn, even if you are on deadline.
       It’s stuff like this, which kept me out of Comics for the better part of my life. When I finally gained entrance into the kingdoms of Marvel and DC, I finally got to see how the business worked from week to week, from the inside. It was a transition period for Comics, with the old-timers out the door and the new-timers trying to stay afloat without instruction. A strict system, invaded by mammals ready to eat the reptile eggs. Simply a matter of evolution where the non-thinking was about to be replaced by the hardly-thinking. And, at twenty years of age, it pretty much crushed my dreams of being a Comic book artist.
       “I have to work with THESE people?”
       Huge dicks identified.
       The domains of the paperback publishers were far kinder, and true. When the A.D. at some other publishing company offered you a job, it was a done deal. The backing-out thing rarely seen. They said ‘Yes,’ I did the job, they cut me a check. Not a whiff of politics involved at my level. Men whom I felt confident working with. Unlike the down and dirty world of Comics. None of my illustration clients ever tried to make me feel bad.
       And so, I drew a line in the sand, and didn’t make many friends in doing so.
       Carl and I would arrive at some party, and some catty, snot-nosed Comics artist would say “Who invited THEM?”
       Not really part of the Comics community, but not far from it.
       And I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around it at the time. “We love Art, we love Comics, what’s the problem?”
       I think, in part, it had to do with the big fishes from America’s small Comic Art ponds disapproving of the idea that two guys who hadn’t had to deal with snotty-nosed Comics editors got entrance to a Comic creators party.
       Jeff Jones understood the prejudice, and always made us feel welcome at his invitation. And I even recall calling-out the guy who said with a very-pointed-call-out finger. “Who invited THEM here?” I repeated to Jeff, in retribution.
       In his very kind, and gentle way, Jeff whispered, “They just don’t understand.” And, Carl and I finally felt invited to the party.
       Joke on Jeff.
       New Years Eve, at The Studio, with Barry Smith trying to be a rock god (l.c.) on the guitar, as well as being a Rock God of the pen, was trying to get a jam-session together. Disinterested, Carl and I gravitated to the outer walls and came upon a mess of bones tied together with string. A note next to it pleaded, “Please don’t mess with this. J.” because he was drawing or painting it. For the next hour, everybody who passed, touched and rearranged it.

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