TOWER COMICS: YEARS OF THUNDER!
No.14 July 2001
$6.95 In The U.S.
All characters ©2001 John Carbonaro. Used with permission.
WOOD ADKINS BROWN SKEATES IVIE DITKO PEARSON TUSKA STONE JONES
Editor/Designer JON B. COOKE Publisher
TWOMORROWS JOHN & PAM MORROW Associate Editors CHRIS KNOWLES DAVID A. ROACH CHRISTOPHER IRVING Contributing Editors ROY THOMAS JOHN MORROW
LIVES & WORK
GREAT CARTOONISTS, WRITERS & EDITORS
DEPARTMENTS: THE FRONT PAGE: LAST MINUTE BITS ON THE COMMUNITY OF COMIC BOOK ARTISTS, WRITERS & EDITORS Remembering Hank Ketcham, gassin’ up the TwoMorrows’ hype machine for San Diego, and other stuff! ........1 EDITOR’S RANT: THE GREAT SUPER-HERO REVIVAL In the midst of the ’60s Marvel Age and Batmania, Wallace Wood makes an impact on American comics ........4 CBA COMMUNIQUES: LETTERS FROM OUR READERS Wolfman on Stephen King, Kupperberg on Duffy Vohland, Barr on Charlton’s “copyrights,” and more..............6 CBA COMMENTARY: ALEX TOTH—’BEFORE I FORGET’ The master artist discusses the work of the under-appreciated Ogden Whitney ..................................................8
COMIC BOOK ARTIST™ is published bi-monthly by TwoMorrows, 1812 Park Drive, Raleigh, NC 27605, USA. 919-833-8092. Jon B. Cooke, Editor. John Morrow, Publisher. Editorial Office: P.O. Box 204, West Kingston, RI 02892-0204 USA • 401-783-1669 • Fax: 401-783-1287. Send subscription funds to TwoMorrows, NOT the editorial office. Single issues: $9 postpaid ($11 Canada, $12 elsewhere). Six-issue subscriptions: $36 US, $66 Canada, $72 elsewhere. All characters © their respective owners. All material © their creators unless otherwise noted. All editorial matter © their respective authors. ©2001 Jon B. Cooke/TwoMorrows. Cover acknowledgement: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents ©2001 John C. Productions. First Printing. PRINTED IN CANADA.
COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
Proofreader ERIC NOLEN-WEATHINGTON Cover Art WALLACE WOOD, front DAN ADKINS, back Cover Color GRAY MORROW, front SCOTT LEMIEN, back Production JON B. COOKE GREAT SWAMP GRAPHICS Transcribers JON B. KNUTSON BRIAN K. MORRIS SAM GAFFORD Logo Designer/Title Originator ARLEN SCHUMER
TOWER COMICS: YEARS OF THUNDER! FRED HEMBECK’S DATELINE: @!!?* Our Man Fred raves about Manny Stallman’s Raven, T.H.U.N.D.E.R.’s most underrated agent ..........................11 TOWERING ACHIEVEMENT: THE RISE & FALL OF TOWER COMICS New associate editor Chris Irving examines the impact of the memorable—if short-lived—comics company ....12 WALLACE WOOD INTERVIEW: TALKING WITH WOODY A vintage 1982 interview with the artist legend by fan legend Shel Dorf............................................................18 HERO WORSHIP: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS 101 Lou Mougin gives us a tutorial on the history of Dynamo and his fellow super-spy cohorts ..............................22 SAMM SCHWARTZ INTERVIEW: WORD FROM THE TOWER A light but informative 1966 chat with the late editor/artist on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents......................................30 DAN ADKINS INTERVIEW: DYNAMITE DAN’S DAYS OF T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Wally Wood’s onetime assistant (and the real killer of Menthor!) talks about his days at Tower Comics............32 LEN BROWN INTERVIEW: OF TOPPS AND TOWER On being named Dynamo’s alter ego, working at Topps and his tale of two Woodys ........................................40 ARTIST SHOWCASE: JERRY ORDWAY’S T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS CENTERSPREAD Wow! One of our favorite super-hero artists gives us a brand-new double-page pin-up of our fave agents! ......56 BILL PEARSON INTERVIEW: THE OLD WORLD HEROES The Wood friend and collaborator on his T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents work and life with Woody..............................58 CBA ESSAY: IVIE LEAGUE HEROES Larry Ivie discusses his contributions to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents in this 1997 article ............................................64 GEORGE TUSKA INTERVIEW: THE TUSKA TOUCH Mike Gartland talks with the legendary artist about his 1960s Tower contributions ..........................................70 LIGHTNING ROUND: UP IN THE TOWER Tower writer Steve Skeates on his wonky, wonderful script work for Wally Wood’s T-Agents ............................72 RUSS JONES INTERVIEW: A MAN CALLED JONES The Monster Mania Man on his days with Woody, Warren, and Tower Comics..................................................76 HERO INDEX: THE TOWER COMICS CHECKLIST With the help of Dan Adkins and others, a thorough listing of the line’s adventure titles with creator credits....90 TEENAGE TOWER: TIPPY TEEN AND TOWER, TOO! Terry Austin examines the history of the most popular character at Tower Comics ............................................98 ENDGAME: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. STRIKES TWICE! The trials and tribulations of the 1980s revival of Wally Wood’s unforgettable super-hero line........................100 DRAWING INSPIRATION: THUNDERSTRUCK! Jay Stephens, Dean Haspiel, Bill Wray, James Kochalka, and John Backderf render their T-Agent visions ........106 CLOSING SCENARIO: DON’T LOOK BACK IN ANGER! Blake Bell presents a CBA first: fiction depicting an imaginary meeting between Steve Ditko & Wally Wood ..108 FINAL ASSESSMENT: MY GUILTY PLEASURE John Hitchcock on enjoying the work and friendship of Manny Stallman, glorious artist/writer of the Raven..112
Mascot WOODY by J.D. King Issue Theme Song I’M LIKE A BIRD Nelly Furtado Visit CBA on our Website at: www.twomorrows.com /comicbookartist/
Contributors Dan Adkins • Shel Dorf John Carbonaro • Brian C. Boerner Bill Pearson • Larry Ivie Steve Skeates • Russ Jones Len Brown • Bob Layton George Tuska • Dan DeCarlo Terry Austin • Rocco Nigro Jeff Clem • Steve Cohen Michael T. Gilbert • Mike W. Barr Lou Mougin • Mark Evanier John Hitchcock • J. David Spurlock Jerry Ordway • Gary Brown Fred Hembeck • Brian K. Morris John Borkowski • John R. Cochran Alan Kupperberg • Daniel Tesmoingt cat yronwode • John Harrison Jeff Gelb • Bill Schelly • Alex Toth Chris Irving • Andrew Steven Paul Gulacy • Dave Gibbons Jay Stephens • Dean Haspiel Batton Lash • John Backderf Bill Wray • Marc H. Kardell J.D. King • Dave Elliott Roy Thomas • Jerry K. Boyd Ray Kelly & Kelly’s Comics Bill Alger • Mike Friedrich James Kochalka • James Guthrie John Workman • Neal Adams Mike Zeck • Mike Gartland Steve Mitchell • Ina Cooke Emil J. Novak • Buffalo Nickel David A. Roach • Merlin Haas Dedicated to the Memory and Artistry of the Great
Opposite page: Courtesy of Bob Layton & CPL/Gang Productions, Wally Wood’s great Dynamo frontispiece from Heroes, Inc. #2, 1978. Above: Detail from T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents ©2001 John Carbonaro; opposite art ©2001 the Estate of Wallace Wood.
and in memory of
Rich Morrissey Henry Boltinoff Hank Ketcham
All letters of comment, articles and artwork, please mail to: Jon B. Cooke, Editor, Comic Book Artist, P.O. Box 204, West Kingston, RI 02892-0204 Phone: (401) 783-1669 • Fax: (401) 783-1287 • E-mail: email@example.com
COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
Rise & Fall of Tower Comics Chris Irving on the history of the short-lived comics publisher by Chris Irving Below: Courtesy of Larry Ivie, the original splash page to the first Dynamo story, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1, drawn by Wally Wood. Initially writer Len Brown named the character“Thunderbolt,” as evidenced by the logo, but he was subsequently renamed by Wally Wood.
Comic books have survived over six decades by being a resilient medium; despite any downfalls that may plague the industry and often devour whole companies, it seems that more companies sprout up in place once the industry hits another upswing. In the mid-1960s, the Marvel line of comic books made comics a commodity again, as even college students were now enjoying the exploits of super-heroes such as Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and The Mighty Thor. Tower Books, a publishing line most known for
their inexpensive paperbacks, decided that the four-color medium may be worth pursuing. With the efforts of publisher Harry Shorten and editor Samm Schwartz, both formerly of Archie Comics, they started a new line of comics to hopefully cash in on the craze. The Tower paperback line had originally started under the World Publishing Company, a company acknowledged with the first book on Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight (titled Lindbergh, The Lone Eagle) in 1929. World was also the publishers of the Webster’s New World Dictionary. According to the World Publishing Web site, World established Tower Books in 1939, a paperback reprint line cover-priced at 49¢ each. The Tower line continued throughout the ’60s, when World Publishing was sold to Times Mirror in 1963. Although there is little information to be had on Tower Books, it is assumed Tower was part of a package deal with World. Whatever the case, the Tower line joined with Midwood Books, a publisher of mens’ paperbacks, in 1964. Midwood had published male-oriented books featuring scantily-clad women on lurid covers, many of which were beautifully painted by artist Paul Rader. Apparently, many of Midwood’s early novels featured pseudonymous works by established authors, such as Robert Silverberg, Lawrence Block, and Donald Westlake. It is very possible that, with an expanding base, Tower decided to do comic books, or was approached by publisher Harry Shorten. According to longtime Archie comic artist Dan DeCarlo, who worked for Shorten at Tower, the details were never very clear: “[Harry] was very secretive about that,” DeCarlo recalled. “We thought that it was his company and [that] he formed it.” The mid-’60s was also a boom period for comic books, the first one since the early ’50s, fueled on by the “hip” success of Stan Lee’s self-referential Marvel Comics. Tower apparently wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to join in this latest super-hero revival. “They decided to go into comic books in the mid-’60s, when other people decided to delve into them,” the late historian Rich Morrissey said. “With the Batman TV show and the Silver Age comics doing well, people were trying to get into the field. Publishers like Harvey and Archie, who had been doing non-super-hero comics, were trying to get back into the super-hero field. Tower’s superheroes were basically an attempt to combine the super-hero craze with the spy craze: James Bond and Man From U.N.C.L.E., and things like that.” The Tower Comics offices were located at 185 Madison Avenue, New York City, as part of the Tower Books office. Steve Skeates, one of the few remaining people involved with Tower recall the offices as a typical New York office. “There were one or two rooms in this wing of a floor where the Tower/Belmont books were done,” Skeates described. “Just a couple of rooms devoted to the comic book people. There were only two people there: Samm Schwartz, who was the editor of the whole line, and some assistant, a letterer.” Russ Jones, an infrequent freelance writer for Tower’s war title, Fight the Enemy, remembers, “The comics department was at the very end of a long dark hallway. Samm [Schwartz] and [his assistant Bill Vigoda] were the only two there all the time. It was not like any other company. Harry's father worked as the janitor. No kidding. This old guy with a broom and a mop and swab.” Shortly before Tower Comics’ inception, Shorten had served as a longtime editor at Archie Comics, a company formed in the late 1930s as MLJ with super-heroes such as The Shield and Hangman, characters who soon gave way to the company’s current flag characCOMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
ter and namesake, Archie Andrews, “America’s Typical Teenager.” Shorten began his MLJ/Archie career as a writer, churning out hundreds of scripts for such characters as Steel Sterling, The Web, Black Hood, Wizard, and many more. In fact, Shorten co-created the first patriotic hero, The Shield, in Pep Comics #1 (Jan. 1940), with artist Irv Novick. “We met at MLJ, which is now Archie Comics,” Irv Novick said in a recent interview. “Harry was a nice fellow. We were very friendly. As a matter of fact,” Novick said with a chuckle, “he would come to our house and take a shower.... We worked together at MLJ for quite a while. After I came home from the Army in 1947, Harry and I created a syndicated strip called Cynthia. He wrote it, and I drew it and inked it.” Somewhere in this chronology, Shorten wrote the daily newspaper comic gag panel There Oughta Be a Law. How Shorten attained the status of publisher remains a mystery as do the precise identities of the company’s owners. Russ Jones recalls the publisher fondly. “Harry looked like he could have played gangsters in ’30s Warner Brothers films. Everything he did was a knock-off of something. Even his comic panel had a Jimmy Hatlo look about it... a total swipe.” Samm Schwartz joined Archie as an artist in the late ’40s, working on their flagship teenage humor titles. By the 1960s, Schwartz attained an editorial position at the company, but teaming with fellow Archie editor Shorten, the duo jumped ship in 1965 to help helm the fledgling imprint of Tower Comics. “They had been giving Harry Shorten a hard time at Archie,” DeCarlo said. “…Harry Shorten did quit but, in the meantime before that, he had gone into the comic book business with the Tower Corporation. He got me, Samm Schwartz, and [artist] Harry Lucey to work for him. It was funny the way we used to do it: We were all a little nervous about getting caught by Archie and canned. Harry [Lucey] used to do the layouts, and I would do the finishes for a story or two, and then we’d reverse it with my doing the layouts and [Lucey] doing the finishes. Samm was the editor, and the books were coming along good, and expanding…. “Meanwhile, Harry [Lucey] and I were still working for Archie, and they were furious. They knew we were doing something, but we kept denying that we were doing it. [The editor] told me ‘I know you’re tickling the stuff.’ I said ‘Not me, but if you think it’s me, it’s somebody imitating me.’” Lucey, DeCarlo, Shorten and Schwartz worked primarily on Tippy Teen, an Archie-like teen humor comic book that premiered in November of 1965, and its companion title, Tippy’s Friends Go-Go and Animal (debuting in June ’66). While Tippy Teen has become a mere footnote in comics history, it is Tower’s inaugural “Action Series” title that the company is now remembered by: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. While none of the titles would necessarily thrive as well as the Marvel or DC lines, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (and its spin-offs, Dynamo (August ’66) and NoMan (November ’66)) has been considered the resilient and the most celebrated of Tower’s books. This flagship title ran for 20 issues (debuting in the same month as Tippy— November ’65), while Tippy Teen surpassed it to 27 issues, Go-Go and Animal lasted 15, the war title Fight the Enemy (August ’66) lasted three, and Undersea Agent (January ’66) a mere six. Incidentally, except for an isolated filler story appearance in TA #13, Undersea Agent was never explicitly connected to the world of Dynamo & Co., even though its name hints at being a spin-off title. (Dynamo lasted four issues and NoMan reached two.) With neither Schwartz or Shorten versed in the super-hero genre, it was placed upon Wally Wood, the legendary EC Comics and Mad magazine artist, to develop and create a new super-team to compete with Stan Lee’s hipster heroes and DC editor Julius Schwartz’s resolute characters. Wood had only recently left a short but memorable stint at Marvel, redesigning Daredevil and inking Jack Kirby at the House of Ideas, and—when the Tower offer arrived—the artist was working on Harvey Comics’ newly-revived adventure comics, but Wood ran into editorial disagreements at Harvey. “Harry Shorten called me when he started to publish comics, and I had a dream setup,” Wood wrote J. David Spurlock. “I created all the characters, wrote most of the stories, and drew most of the covers. I did as much of the art as I could.” July 2001
COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
The agents of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. were a cross between conventional super-heroes and Cold War spy television (the most commonly attributed spy inspiration is the then-popular The Man from U.N.C.L.E.). The long-winded acronym T.H.U.N.D.E.R. stood for The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves. When a scientist was killed by armies of the villainous Warlord (who, by no doubt, happened to be a Communist), three secret weapons were found by the non-descript, machine-gun toting T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: A belt to increase one’s molecular density, an invisible stealth cloak, and a helmet that gave the wearer telekinetic powers. The three weapons were given to costumed agents Dynamo, NoMan (who also possessed android bodies he’d trade off when one was killed), and Menthor, respectively. The non-super-powered espionage team, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad (a crime-busting quintet riddled with stereotypes) took the thankless role of second-string players. Costumed characters Raven and Lightning would soon join the ranks. A line-up of then-established artists were recruited to draw the features, including Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky, John Giunta, Ogden Whitney, Chic Stone, Paul Reinman, and even Blackhawk legend Reed Crandall, with most of the stories apparently by Wood himself. According to DeCarlo, Tower offered better rates than Archie, yet not as high as those of Marvel or DC. The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents were conceived primarily by Wood. While serving as Tower’s art director in
Above: Pencil rough by Wally Wood for the cover of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #13. Courtesy of Andrew Steven. Art ©2001 the Estate of Wallace Wood.
title, Wood is universally considered the de facto editor for most of the TA material. But most freelancers still dealt with official editor Samm Schwartz at 185 Madison. One of those freelancers was none other than future comics innovator Jim Steranko who had just broken into the field in editor Joe Simon’s titles at Harvey Comics. According to Peter DePree in his article “Steranko: Narrative of Blood and Dreams” (Comic Book Marketplace #28), in 1966 the artist pitched a new title to Tower— Super Agent X—received approval, and subsequently delivered a 20page origin story and cover roughs to editor Samm Schwartz, who “savaged page after page, finally stating that he didn’t even like the shape of a female nose! (The woman scientist was patterned on Kim Novak; short platinum hair, straight nose.) Schwartz insisted it be
Above: Pencil rough by Wally Wood for an unused Dynamo cover, courtesy of Bill Pearson and J. David Spurlock. Art ©2001 the Estate of Wallace Wood.
bobbed like Archie’s Veronica.” The young creator then grabbed Samm’s hand in a “paralyzing tight grip,” took back the pages, and promptly left the Tower editorial offices to make his visit to Marvel Comics, home of his most highly-regarded comic book work. (Ah, what could have been! The story, “The Exordium of X,” reportedly remains unpublished.) Comics historian Mark Evanier recalls cartoonist Manny Stallman “did the work with no contact with Wood and that he never saw the Tuska story that introduced the character [Raven]. He was called in by Schwartz and shown some sketches of the Raven.
They had in mind a Hawkman imitation, he said, but he asked if he could take the strip in different directions… and that was it. He wrote all the ones he drew.” Evanier remembers acclaimed artist Mike Sekowsky told him of a similar experience with the publisher. “His recollections were pretty much the same thing as Manny's. He didn't deal with Wood and was under the impression that Schwartz was assigning him work because Wood's studio was not delivering the quantities of work they were supposed to. Lightning was, of course, intended as a Flash imitation and Sekowsky drew a few pages (never printed) of a script that he said might as well have been a Flash story. He said he was thinking of quitting the strip because he was afraid DC would get mad at him but then Tower stopped him on that script and gave him a new one (by Steve Skeates, I think) that took the character in enough of a different direction.” But the super-hero best identified with Tower, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and Wally Wood remains Dynamo, a joint creation of Wood and moonlighting writer Len Brown, who then worked as assistant creative director for Topps Chewing Gum Company. “Dynamo was a mutual creation,” Brown said. “I named the character because of the belt. I was going to call him Thunderbolt, and have him wear a ‘Thunderbelt.’ I came up with the name T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and Wally liked it a lot. The reason I know… [is that] when I was a kid, I was in love with this Gene Autry serial called The Phantom Empire. The bad guys in it were called the Thunder Riders. I thought that was a great name, so I remember maybe even suggesting Thunder Riders, and Wally suggested T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. My hero’s name was Thunderbolt, and Wally changed it to Dynamo, who was originally the name of the villain.” (Interestingly, Dynamo is mistakenly referred to as “Thunderbolt” in one panel of the character’s debut story.) [Please refer to Larry Ivie’s article on pg. 64, which presents a different version of the “origin” of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents—Ye Ed.] “He was such a gentle guy,” Brown said of Wood. “He talked so softly that, when you were on the phone with him, you would almost have to strain to hear him.” “Nice guy,” inker Mike Esposito said. “You thought he was John Wayne, he talked with slitty eyes, real cool. I met him a couple of times at parties and at Joe Orlando’s house. He was there, Wally Wood, and he had his girlfriend with him. He played the guitar, he loved to play. I don’t know how good he was… I was pretty drunk at the time.” Wood often met with artists at his 74th Street studio, where he did a majority of the work, editorial and creative, on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and its spin-off titles, NoMan and Dynamo, with the aid of his numerous assistants and studio-mates Dan Adkins, Bill Pearson, Ralph Reese, Tim Battersby-Brent, Tony Coleman, Roger Brand, and Richard Bassford, among others. As for the non-super-hero books that Tower did, Judomaster creator and artist Frank McLaughlin has recollections of doing an aborted job on Tippy Teen. “I penciled a job for [Schwartz], and had just worked with him over the phone,” McLaughlin remembered. “I didn’t get paid for the thing. I called him up, and we tried to track it down. It was a complete fiasco. I finally got a hold of him, and asked him ‘What happened to that Tippy Teen story?’ He said ‘Well, somebody who worked here left it on the cutting board and, guess what? It got cut up.’ If I recall correctly, he paid me a cut-rate price that we settled on. I didn’t do any more work for them.” “Hilarious,” was the word DeCarlo used to describe Schwartz. “You never could have met a funnier guy. He had a very dry sense of humor, but everything was fun to him.” “Nice guy,” Russ Jones recalls. “Dark hair, heavy black, hornrimmed glasses. There was another guy at Tower, [who had been] the artist of 'Super Duck.' He was Samm's assistant, Bill Vigoda, who always had a smile on his face, the only grin in the office.” It seems that other Tower freelancers had little interaction with the Editor-in-Chief. “I maybe met [Schwartz] one time,” Brown said. “Harry Shorten was the publisher, and I never met him. I got the feeling that he didn’t get that involved with the editorial content of the book.” COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
An Interview with Woody Shel Dorf’s 1981 talk with the master comic book artist Conducted by Shel Dorf
Above: As artist Mike Zeck related in his CBA #12 interview, he was a frequent photographer of the master storyteller Wally Wood. An uncropped version of Zeck’s picture appeared in Alter Ego #8. (We’ll try not to be redundant with the images in A/E, but believe you me, pix of Woody are hard to come by!) Courtesy of Roy Thomas and Richard Pryor. Below: CBA’s mascot by J.D. King was designed and named for Woody in homage to the renowned artist. ©2001 J.D. King.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview by comics fan legend Shel Dorf appeared in The Buyer’s Guide #403, August 1, 1981, scant months before the death of Wallace Wood. While a mere two questions deal with our issue’s theme, a Wood interview is as rare as a honest comics publisher and we are delighted CBA compadre Shel Dorf contributed this most welcome piece. Shel’s original introduction follows. This interview is ©2001 Shel Dorf. “This interview with Wallace Wood is long in coming because every question and answer had to be carefully extracted from a very poor quality tape. My regular typist missed every other word in ‘Woody’s’ replies. Therefore I had to replay the tape myself, electronically strengthening the volume. It was of great importance to get every word, because I’d promised Woody it would be accurate. So with loving care I present what is an exclusive (he told me that his only other printed interview was in Marv Wolfman’s old fanzine) and I hope informative visit with one of our most admired craftsmen in the world of cartooning. “Wally Wood himself is very quiet-spoken and modest about his status in the field. He almost seemed embarrassed to speak about himself. Perhaps this prevented me from really probing, but we both enjoyed the interview. It was made the last day of the 1980 San Diego Comic-Con, and Woody was about to leave. He agreed to a 15-minute interview, but we stretched it to 45 minutes. I hope I have the chance to speak with him at greater length next time. There are always those ‘Damn! I should have asked him…’ thoughts. “So here it is, dear reader… just for you!”—Shel Dorf Shel Dorf: Thanks for coming to the San Diego Comic-Con, Woody. Did you enjoy it? Wallace Wood: Oh, it was nice. It’s the best convention I’ve been to! Shel: Were the fans polite? Woody: A couple of them asked for drawings. I told them I wasn’t doing any, and they just went away. Shel: I’ve never read much about your background, your early influences. Were there any artists in your family? Woody: My Uncle Wallace was an artist, but he was just a natural. Shel: Did he encourage you to draw as a youngster? Woody: I don’t remember. I think so. Shel: Where were you born? Woody: I was born in Minnesota, but I grew up in Wisconsin and Michigan. I’ve been living in New York now for about 25 years. Shel: How early in life did you show talent as an artist? Woody: I discovered cartoons when I was six years old, and I drew them. Shel: Which cartoons did you copy? Woody: Always liked science-fiction.
Shel: When did you start drawing in ink? The pros always called the kids “blue-inkers” because they used fountain-pen ink in their early attempts. Woody: Well, I did use a fountain pen! And without pencil—direct pen. Shel: Wow, that’s confidence! Did you impress your instructors in school? Woody: No, I always got bad marks in art. I always had the attitude toward art teachers that if they were such hot shots, why were they teaching art in a jerkwater high school? I guess it showed. Always got a “C” in art. Shel: Really? Well, I guess it’s true that, a bad art teacher can do damage to a budding career. Do you remember your first professional job? Woody: The first professional job was lettering for Fox romance comics in 1948. Shel: Did you have to move to New York for that? Didn’t you sell any work in your hometown? Woody: I came to New York right after I got out of the Merchant Marine. Shel: While you were in the Merchant Marine, did you do any drawings for the camp newspapers? Woody: Yeah, I did drawings for a couple of Army papers. Mimeograph stuff. Sexy gals. I still have a copy around somewhere. I got in trouble with my boss. Every issue in the camp was suppressed by the authorities. Shel: How long did your lettering work last at Fox Publishing? Woody: About a year. I also started doing backgrounds, then inking. Shel: And this was for the romance type of comic? What did it pay? Woody: Most of it was the romance stuff. For complete pages, it was $5 a page. Shel: Could you live on that? Woody: I was sharing a double room for three bucks a week. Shel: Did you develop speed at that point, so you could earn more money? Woody: Oh yeah. Twice a week I would ink ten pages in one day. Shel: When did you start doing the more creative work, where the Wood style came through? Woody: It wasn’t until EC with the science-fiction. Although I did finally get to draw some romance books for Fox. Shel: What was it like working for Bill Gaines in those classic days? Woody: It was always pretty good. Got paid right on the spot, got a check right away. He gave us presents at Christmas time. I remember once he gave us a movie camera and projector set, which I’m still using. Shel: I know Gaines kept all the original art, which Russ Cochran eventually used for his EC reprint volumes. Do you get a percentage of those book sales of your early EC work? Woody: Yeah. Shel: Then Gaines continues to be a great boss to his talented crew! It seems he’s always been a terrific publisher to work for. Too bad the comic book artists of recent days don’t have a better shake! Do you think you’d work for Gaines again? Woody: No, I don’t want to work for anybody else now…. Shel: Why not? Woody: I just do my own stuff. Publish it myself. COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents 101 Lou Mougin’s history of Tower’s comic book heroes by Lou Mougin This fine overview of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and the Tower comics line appeared in slightly different form in The Comic Reader #197 back in 1982. Please note it contains some personal opinions some may not agree with—Ye Ed takes exception to Lou’s characterization of Manny Stallman’s delightfully bizarre artwork—but it is a clear and thoughtful retrospective of the high points (and low) of Wally Wood’s glorious super-hero comic books.—JBC
Above: Thundermakers. Panels from the first T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents story, “First Encounter,” from the debut issue, depicting the respective gadgets of Dynamo, NoMan, and Menthor.
Let us turn back the clock to that Wonderful Year, 1965. A new comics company was about to be born. DC had, for the past nine years, shown that super-heroes were once again a viable market. Marvel Comics had sparked a revolution that made their books prime college-age reading fodder. Archie had retooled its Adventures of the Fly title to feature an Avengers-like team of revived heroes. Best of all, news had leaked about a new TV show to debut in early ’66, featuring Batman. Nobody knew if it’d be a hit yet, but the fact of its existence proved that attention, favorable attention, was finally being paid to comic books. Considering the fact that the industry had almost gone belly-up ten years earlier and were only saved by the advent of the Comics Code, that wasn’t bad news at all. So, in this era of the Beatles, Sean Connery’s James Bond, Lyndon Johnson, and early renewed commitment to the Vietnam War, a paperback publisher named Tower Books decided to hit the racks with a new comic series. Its publisher was Harry Shorten and its editor was Samm Schwartz, both of them veterans of the Archie comics group. For a chief artist, they hired away a mainstay of the EC/Mad bullpen from Marvel, where he was winding up a short but acclaimed run of Daredevil. Given the freedom to write and design characters, Wally Wood came over, and brought others with him. And the product of their labors soon became available on spinner racks across the country, in a hope of challenging Marvel, DC, and the competitors who were shortly to flood the market with new super-hero books as soon as the Batman TV show debuted. Its title was T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents # 1, dated November 1965, hit the
ground running. With a 25¢, 64-page package of six superbly-drawn tightly-plotted stories, the book packed in three new super-heroes, a horde of secret agents, mystery men, super-villains, monsters and action, action, action! One look at the book and the reader could tell that here, indeed, was the king of the backseat comics; it was the only mid-’60s title to successfully compete with Marvel and DC super-hero fare. It set the pace for two years of giant-sized comics that most fans of that period recall as fondly as anything from the two major publishers. Basically, Tower Comics, which published T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and the several spin-offs, boiled down to one person: Wally Wood. As creator of the series, major artist and writer and self-admitted freelance editor, Wood produced his best commercial comics work of the ’60s while at Tower. The nearly twodozen books he worked on during the 196668 period showcase some of the finest superhero art of the Second Heroic Age, particularly his numerous Dynamo stories. As a result, Tower became the only third-force publisher to equal, and at times, surpass Marvel and DC in art quality. Others who wielded the pencil and brush at Tower were equally renowned. Gil Kane, Reed Crandall, Steve Ditko, Dan Adkins, John Giunta, Al Williamson. Few super-hero books would ever boast such a distinguished crew. “I was not only Tower’s top artist, I created the characters, and wrote most of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents stories,” admitted Wood. “As to why Harry Shorten (head of Tower Books) decided to publish comics, I don’t know. But he came to me and asked me to work up a super-hero book. I then functioned as a freelance editor and did as much of the art as I could.“ The concept of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. was a skillful blending of two separate genres that had each, in 1965, been proven sure-fire successes. Secret agents had ridden a wave of popularity since the first James Bond films of the early ’60s, and the Bond/Flint/Solo cult was never bigger. (The popularity of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in particular seemed to have the greatest impact on this book.) And superheroes were the rage in comic books; that went without saying. Well, then, why not a cloak-&-dagger type who wore a costume beneath the cloak? That line of thinking resulted in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1. The cover, drawn by Wood, introduced a triad of new arrivals to the super-hero biz: a blue-clad Superman-type lifted an armored villain overhead, surrounded by a complex of machinery. He was flanked by a cloaked, transparent man on his left, and on the right was a latecomer who apparently had ripped off the Atom’s uniform. The cover, colored only in various shades of red, blue, and yellow,and devoid of any blurbs, was perhaps less flashy than it should have been. Compared to Marvel’s slam-bang broadsides of the period, it looked positively static. But it served to showcase Dynamo, NoMan and Menthor for their first public appearance. And the greatest backseaters of the mid-’60s were born! Page one opened with a battlefield scene as we glimpsed a squad of landing UN paratroopers through shattered glass. A caption informed us: “A team of special U.N. agents lands at a remote mounCOMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
tain lab…“ In the space of two pages we learned that the unit was on a rescue mission, intent on saving the life of Dr. Emil Jennings, the greatest scientist of the Western world. As fate would have it, the bad guys escaped unharmed in a helicopter, and Jennings was cold meat on his laboratory floor. “This has to be the work of the Warlord!“ muttered a squad leader. “Just who is this Warlord, sir?” asked a soldier, thus allowing us to be introduced to the villain of the piece. The Warlord proves to be the mysterious leader of a SPECTRE or THRUSH-like organization, with every available criminal and spy at his beck and call. His objective: The theft of every scientific development on Earth. Masked by a purple hood, the weird spy-chief held congress only with his top lieutenants, and not even they had seen his true features. “Now he’s gotten to this experimental station and our most advanced research, and since the professor never kept notes, all these devices will be his sole property… we can never duplicate them!“ finishes the officer. “They didn’t have time to get everything, sir,” says another crewman. “Look at these!“ The scene immediately shifts to a high-level conference room in New York. A wall is decorated with a figure of the Western Hemisphere and the words, “The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves.” T.H.U.N.D.E.R.’s Inner Council stands assembled, considering the three recovered devices from Jennings’ laboratory… a metallic belt, a blue-black cloak, and a rigid helmet in the form of a headmask. “The first is an electron molecular intensifier belt which will make the wearer’s body structure change to the consistency of steel!” says a speaker, holding up the belt. Next, he gestures to the cape, and explains its ability of becoming absolutely black, reflecting no light and rendering the wearer invisible. “And this one we’re not sure of,” he says, fondling the strange helmet. “It seems to be a cybernetic helmet… it could be dangerous, but it could amplify a man’s brain power many times over...” Quickly, the heads of the free world’s greatest semi-secret defensive organization come to an agreement. A full-scale assault must be led against the Warlord, spearheaded by three agents who will employ the inventions of Dr. Jennings against the man who ordered his murder. “…And so the search begins,” reads the final caption. The four-page introductory sequence fairly breathed clichés, from the doomed scientist who creates super-heroes to the opposed agencies locked in global Cold War conflict. But the plot was solid, the concepts didn’t stretch reality to the breaking point, and, of course, Wood’s art pulled the entire thing together. It set several conJuly 2001
COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
cepts that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. would follow to their final issue: Tight, pulp-like plotting, an economy of dialogue (word balloons were kept to two per panel most of the time) and believability. The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, rather than gaining power from radioactive spiders or gamma bomb explosions, were human beings whose abilities were augmented by mechanical devices. It was a welcome touch of conservatism in a comics universe already top-heavy with sorcerers, omnipotent entities, parallel dimensions and heroes with every super-
Above: A quartet of pin-ups from T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 featuring the title’s main characters. Clockwise from top left: Dynamo, NoMan, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad, and Menthor, all drawn by Wally Wood and Dan Adkins.
From the Archive
Word from the Tower A brief 1966 interview with Tower editor Samm Schwartz by Angel Marcana & William Bracero Below: Contributed by CBA pal Steve Cohen, the splash to the second T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad story (TA #2), beautifully delineated by Mike Sekowsky and Frank Giacoia. Many thanks to Steve for his hospitality and great submissions!
The following interview was originally published in the fifth issue of Bombshell, a 1960s fanzine and it features a talk with Tower Comics’ official comics editor (and resident Archie-type cartoonist) Samm Schwartz. Thanks to CBA pals Jeff Gelb, Bill Schelly, and Mike Friedrich for helping us track this one down. The article was original-
ly titled “We Face Tower!” and included a prologue and epilogue which we include below. (While this piece is 35 years old and assuredly in public domain, if anyone knows the whereabouts of Angel or William, please contact us so we can send ’em complimentary copies and our thanks!) PROLOGUE: When we reached 185 Madison Avenue at noon on August 19th, we were almost dead on our feet. We had gotten on the wrong train, took the right train to the wrong station, walked dozens of blocks in the wrong direction, and finally gave up and took a taxi to the place! Oh, how we fans suffer for our cause! But it was worth it all! Our fatigue left us as we entered the office of Tower’s editor. True, the place was not the bridal suite, but it was our goal, and we had reached it. There was the usual conglomeration of paper, ink bottles, T-squares, drawing boards, bulletin boards, finished and unfinished strips and the smell of ink everywhere; but it all reflected the energy and devotion of comicdom’s biggest new offspring. Schwartz, the man whom we would interview, motioned to us to sit down, then sat down himself. He was of medium build, white, with thinning black hair and glasses. He looked like a man in his late thirties, or early forties. He had a low, deep voice and a rather easy-going manner. Perhaps that’s why he wasn’t bothered by our being two hours late. “Fire away!” he said. Here’s what followed: Bombshell: How did Tower get started? Samm Schwartz: Well, Tower was in the publishing business for a while, then last year we decided to go into the comic book field. That’s all there is to it! Bombshell: What inspired you to create T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents? Samm: Inspired? No, that’s the wrong word. We didn’t need inspiration to create the characters. All we do is kick around some ideas—that’s all. We aren’t inspired to do anything. Bombshell: Who were the artists and writers on the first TA? Samm: The first T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents? Weeell, let’s see: There was Wally Wood, Mike Sekowsky, Lon Silverstone—they were all artists. Leonard Brown was our writer. Bombshell: We know that most of your staff is freelance, but are there any of them that have favorites? Samm: Well, Wally Wood writes and draws Dynamo. Beyond that, everyone does whatever’s handed to him. Bombshell: Besides Dynamo and NoMan, are there any more characters slated to appear in their own mags within the year? Samm: No-o-o. Bombshell: Are there any new characters on the horizon along with new artists and writers? Samm: Well, we’re always on the lookout for new artists and writers. Bombshell: Will Menthor be back? Samm: No. Gee, we got a lot of reaction in the mail to that. A lot of them wanted to bring him back while others wanted him to stay dead. Bombshell: What did the majority want?
COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
Dynamite Dan Adkins On his years at Tower and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. contributions EDITOR'S NOTE: Don’t miss Dan’s interview in the upcoming book (co-edited by yours truly) THE WARREN COMPANION, due any minute now from TwoMorrows Publishing! In this massive 288page tome, you’ll find spectacular Adkins art on some unfinished Warren assignments, as well as a lot of talk regarding Wallace Wood by Dan, and another former Wood assistant, NICOLA CUTI. Be there, comics fans!
Inset right: Dapper Dan and his future vivacious bride Jeanette (Strouse) in a 1956 photo, courtesy of Dan Adkins.
Below: Courtesy of Sata co-editor Bill Pearson (by way of Roy Thomas), Dan Adkin’s cover to Sata Illustrated #5. ©2001 Dan Adkins.
Conducted by Jon B. Cooke Transcribed by Jon B. Knutson Daniel Adkins really went all out for CBA this issue and we extend our profound appreciation for his back cover illustration, Tower checklist consultation, and participation in yet another interview for our magazine (hot on the heels of his Alter Ego #8 cover and interview!). While we talked to the artist about his Marvel Comics tenure for our seventh issue, here we zero in on his experience working in Wally Wood’s studio during the 1960s, specifically his contributions on Tower’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. This conversation took place by telephone on January 11, 2001, and Dan copy edited the transcript. Comic Book Artist: Do you have any idea how Tower Comics came about? Dan Adkins: I don’t know exactly how Wally learned that they wanted to put out comics, but I assume he heard and took up a package to them. I don’t think he’d just approach them out of the blue. So, he must’ve heard they were looking to put out comics. CBA: Who was Samm Schwartz? Dan: He was a previous editor of Archie Comics, I believe, and he was the editor of the Tower Comics line. Samm was the guy I had to deal with. If Wally was busy, it was me that had to deal with Samm. “Well, Samm, I don’t know, Wally’s doing something. I think he’s taking a nap.” [laughter] Anyway, Samm called me up after the death of Menthor and gave me a dressing-down for killing him. I said, “Sam, you okayed the idea!” But he had a bunch of kids down there in the office that were after me, and he wanted to know what to tell them! “Tell them to get out of your office, Samm!” [laughter] CBA: They marched into his office? Dan: Yeah, they were gonna do something. They wanted to know who’s the guy responsible for killing Menthor! [laughs] CBA: Did you deal with the guys at the Tower offices? Dan: I was the freshman on the block, a kid working with Wally and the
guys in his studio, so I didn’t know any of the people at the editorial office. I never met Harry Shorten or Samm Schwartz in person. CBA: You just dealt with Samm over the phone? Dan: Yeah, I never met the guys at Tower. I was just Wally’s assistant, you know? I was never working for Tower. CBA: So you just worked for Woody? Dan: When I first got there, Wally was putting out the first issue, and the last story wasn’t done. It had been penciled, and Wally was redrawing it. I don’t know who that penciler was. CBA: Was it Larry Ivie? Dan: No. [laughs] It wasn’t Larry Ivie, but Larry was to blame for the mess at the beginning! We had to do the first four pages over. The last story, I never did find out who that penciler was, but it didn’t look like anything like Larry Ivie. It looked more like John Giunta, but I knew it wasn’t. Dick Ayers penciled “The Counterfeit Traitor.” It ends up looking like Wally Wood, but it was penciled by Dick Ayers. He didn’t want credit, because I guess he was still doing Sgt. Fury for Marvel. So we didn’t tell anybody Dick was working on the Tower stuff, and he wasn’t quite as bad as the guy who penciled that first Iron Maiden story. Anyway, I had to redraw it all over and did a little inking on it. The first story was messed up by Larry Ivie—the first four pages—the so-called “Introduction.” Larry had been down at the offices, and saw Samm, and Samm gave a call and told Wally about Larry. But Wally did not know Larry at this time, he never met him, so I don’t know how that fits in with the Creepy stuff, but I guess the Creepy stuff came later. Right? Creepy wasn’t along until about six months later, I guess. But I don’t think Larry Ivie and Wally Wood ever met, you know? I think all that stuff was done through Samm. Anyway, Larry was given the four-page script and the breakdowns by Wally for the first four pages. They were sent over to Samm, and Samm gave them to Larry. Larry gave the stuff back to Samm, but it came back to Samm penciled and inked! Well, the book was supposed to look like Wally Wood had drawn it, so we had to fix it up, you know? And we did it completely over. There was nothing left of the Larry Ivie in that story. CBA: I’ve seen Larry’s version which he sent to me. They were completely done, even lettered! Dan: He did the inking, but he wasn’t asked to do the inking! [laughs] He also did a cover of three of the characters running towards you, which we used later on. But there wasn’t anything new in that idea, because Mac Raboy and everybody had done covers of heroes running at you at that point. So, Larry took credit for that cover later on. On the layout he did of the first cover, he had a little banner across it that said “Crandall/Ivie/Wood.” We didn’t use the banner. COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
CBA: Did Larry come into the studio later? Dan: No, he was never at the studio. He wrote scripts which were given to Samm. CBA: I read an essay by Ralph Reese, and he was describing a time when Wally Wood was inking “Captain America”—which I ascertain must’ve been when Woody was inking The Avengers—and Larry Ivie took it upon himself to ink Cap as the Golden Age Captain America, without the stripes down his back. [laughs] Apparently, Woody was not too happy about that. Dan: But that wasn’t done at Wally’s studio. He was never up there. There’s only one room in the studio, and I had a desk there. CBA: Samm Schwartz was point central for Tower as editor of the books? Dan: Well, he was like the manager of Wally! [laughter] Wally was basically the editor of the book. CBA: Artists came to the studio with their finished assignments? Dan: Well, no... they dropped the stuff off down at Samm’s all the time or mailed it to Wally. Nobody came up to the studio! [laughs] Nobody bothers Wally. Ditko dropped stuff off down there, and Samm called up and says, “This guy is terrible, Wally! He draws weird stuff!” CBA: [laughs] Good old Samm! Dan: Yeah! And Wally says, “This guy’s got a great following; he’s very popular!” CBA: Ditko was never better than at that time! [laughs] Dan: Yeah, that’s true. It was real good stuff. In fact, we inked a couple of Steve’s jobs just to please Sam. CBA: Oh, really? [laughs] That was a beautiful job! Dan: Hell, Ditko drew “The Death of Menthor”… he’s the one that killed Menthor! CBA: [laughs] It’s all Steve’s fault! Dan: Wally and I just wanted to ink it. Of course, we wrote the script, too. CBA: But Wally would do breakdowns for Steve at times? Dan: Wally would for almost everybody, because he did a lot of the storytelling, so he did all the breakdowns. He would draw the breakdowns on this 81/2" x 11" typewriter paper. For us in the studio, he’d do the breakdowns on big sheets. We had to job a few stories out sometimes. The one about China is inked by Chic Stone, one of the stories we never had a chance to ink, but it was originally penciled by me. It’s the only story in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents that I penciled and somebody else inked. Wally did all the breakdowns on all the other ones. I don’t think Wally liked my layouts very much, and that was the reason we kept putting that story aside! [laughs] We finally needed a story, so we sent it to Chic Stone to ink. CBA: As far as you recall, did Steve Ditko immediately come over to Tower after he quit Marvel? Dan: Well, the reason he worked for Tower is Wally Wood asked him to. Samm insisted on seeing his work, so he went down to see Samm. [laughs] Samm didn’t like the art! But he gave him work, anyway. It was real good work, too. CBA: Did Gil Kane visit much? Dan: When I was up there—I don’t know who visited when I wasn’t there, you know—but the only people who ever came was Al Williamson and Leo Dillon, the science-fiction illustrator. CBA: If Woody was editor of the books, when did he see the final work? Did Samm send the finished pages over to him for approval? Dan: No. We didn’t see the finished work when Ditko would hand in a job, for instance. We did most of the jobs because we inked them. We inked Crandall, Dick Ayers, even Orlando did a story we inked, and we inked our own stories... there wasn’t a hell of a lot that was not touched by us. CBA: Oh, I see, all the stories came through the studio anyway. Dan: You know, we depended on Gil Kane. He would sometimes drop off a story. [laughs] It was a five flight walk up to Wally’s! You could take an elevator up to Samm’s, you know? So, I don’t think those other guys wanted to walk up five flights. [laughter] We talked to Crandall by phone—he lived out in Kansas—and we’d get his stuff in the mail, so that came to us first. CBA: Sometimes Reed would pencil and ink? Dan: Oh, yeah. CBA: Do you know what happened to the original art after the job July 2001
COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
was printed? Dan: Well, I don’t know what happened to the art, but I used to own some pages which I sold for peanuts—ten or fifteen bucks a page—but I don’t know where I got that stuff from. Anyway, I inked two Crandall stories that I can remember. The first one was where the story took place in the desert—Iraq or someplace—do you remember that? With dinosaurs in the front? The other was where they were under the Earth; where there were railroad cars. That’s the second one I inked. I remember being inhibited inking Crandall’s pencils. CBA: Those are your inks? Dan: Wood and me. Wood did the better stuff! [laughter] He did all the main figures. That doesn’t mean I didn’t do some of the muscles on them, like Dynamo, which I did. But I was mostly doing the guy’s hats! [laughter] Weed’s or something, or a train. CBA: Did you chat at any length with Reed? Dan: No, I didn’t. CBA: It was just pretty much it’s in the mail? Dan: Well, Wally had a whip, and if I talked long... crack! [laughs] Actually, I don’t even think we had music on in the studio, you know? CBA: Was he a taskmaster? Dan: Well, only by example. He constantly worked! That’s all he did was work. Geez, besides eating, that’s all he did.
Above: Splash page recreation (sans verbiage) by Dan Adkins of the Reed Crandall, Wally Wood and Adkins drawn story, “The Return of the Iron Maiden,” from T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4. Commissioned by John Harrison and courtesy of Dan.
Len Brown, Dynamo! The Topps guy on his career and THUNDER experience EDITOR'S NOTE: CBA certainly hopes this interview isn’t the last word we get from Len Brown as we’d love to devote at least a flip-book section to the great comics-related art of Topps’ legendary trading cards (never mind their 1990s run of bona fide comics). If Jay Lynch is up for it, it’s a go, fair reader!
Below: Len Brown—the writer, not the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent—at age 18 (1958), just prior to his long tenure at Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. Courtesy of Len.
Conducted by Jon B. Cooke Transcribed by Sam Gafford Although you may recognize the name of Leonard Brown as the alter ego of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Dynamo—you may not know there’s also a real human being with the same name, a guy who contributed to kid culture mightily from 1960 up to the ’90s. Only recently retiring from Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., where he spent over 30 years as a major creative force at the monolithic trading card company, Len worked on any number of series, from Mars Attacks to Wacky Packs to Garbage Pail Kids. Plus he had a brief and memorable career as a comic book writer. The following talk took place on April 23, 2001 via telephone and Len edited the final transcript. Comic Book Artist: Where are you from? Len Brown: I was born in Brooklyn, New York, back in 1941, but I’ve lived in New Jersey the bulk of my life. We moved down to the Austin, Texas, area about a year ago when I retired from Topps. So I’ve lived here for almost a year in a town called Dripping Springs. Great place to live! CBA: Why Texas? Len: I love the music. Over the last ten years, I’ve had a radio show in New Jersey playing traditional country music. I’ve also done a little radio down here and hope to do some more in my retirement years. CBA: Hank Williams, Sr.-type music? Len: Yeah, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, ’50s and ’60s kind of stuff. I don’t care for the current music but I love the old stuff. CBA: You grew up in New York City? Len: Yeah, in Brooklyn and I lived there for almost 30 years of my life. CBA: What kind of neighborhood was it? Len: Oh, it had a very nice kind of community feel. A small town kind of neighborhood. I grew up in an apartment building where you’d know everybody. You’d walk down the block and everyone would say hello. The block was almost like living in a small town even though it was in a big borough in a big city. CBA: Were you into comics at an early age? Len: Oh, boy, I loved comics from the earliest I can remember. I can clearly remember being six years old and discovering an issue of World’s Finest Comics that sold for 15¢ and being amazed at how thick it was, 98 pages for 15¢! I loved comics. Superman, Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman were my three favorites. CBA: Did you draw yourself? Len: I tried. Whenever I got white paper I would try and draw. I never had any talent but I can remember doing a Dick Tracy-kind of strip when I was a little boy and thinking it was terrific. CBA: What were your
aspirations as a kid? Len: I always thought I’d want to be a journalist more than a writer, you know? Working on newspapers. I grew up in a time when there were seven dailies in New York. Into my early teen years, there were three or four that I’d want to get every day but I couldn’t afford it. Each paper had their own collection of comics and I loved comic strips. I used to cut and collect them for years, you know? Li’l Abner, Prince Valiant Sundays and all that. CBA: That’s dedication! Len: Yeah, I loved it! I always thought it was a little weird because I didn’t know anyone else who did it. When classmates would come over I’d show them these stacks of strips and they weren’t really interested. I had Joe Palooka, Steve Canyon, all the big strips of the day and I always thought it was a strange hobby. Then I read this article on Ray Bradbury when I was in my teens and it turned out that Bradbury used to do that, too! Vindicated! [laughter] My family used to get one daily newspaper and I would really look forward to Saturday and Sunday. The New York Journal American used to have color comics on Saturday, 16 pages of tabloid comics. Then, on Sunday, they’d have the full-size big comics section. They ran almost every King Features strip and in those days there were some great ones: Buck Rogers (which wasn’t King Features), Lone Ranger, Popeye and they’d run them full-page on the tabloid which was wonderful. The New York Daily Mirror was another of my favorite papers. CBA: What kind of strips did they run? Len: Steve Canyon, Joe Palooka, Li’l Abner… When I was very young, they carried Superman on Sundays which I liked. And then in the early ’50s they had Tom Corbett for a couple of years. CBA: Did you ever dream of doing your own strip? Len: Oh, yeah. I think at some point I thought that writing a comic strip would be just fabulous. Actually tried it once with Al Williamson. This is jumping ahead now into the ’60s. At one point, Woody Gelman who worked at Topps was the Above inset: Detail of Len Brown—the inspiration and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent, co-financed a not the writer—as Dynamo strip by Al from the Wood/Adkins and me; pin-up in TA #3. Woody COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
paid Al to draw a couple of the sample Sunday pages which I wrote. We did a pretty ornate two-page strip which has appeared in print a number of times over the years called Robbie. It was a takeoff of Little Nemo but it was prime Al Williamson work. We shopped the samples around to the syndicates and a couple of them held them for a while and acted like they were considering it but who knows? Basically, the feedback was that they weren’t interested in a Sunday strip, they wanted a daily, which we didn’t want to do because we wanted big panels to show off Al’s artwork. CBA: Did you consider the grueling schedule involved with doing a syndicated strip? Len: No. I was blind to reality! First of all, the writer’s work is a lot easier than the artist’s on a daily basis. I could probably write a weeks worth in two-three hours and the artist would have to slave for the other six or seven days. This was before Al was doing his own syndicated strip [Secret Agent Corrigan]. CBA: Did you have favorite artists when you were growing up? Len: Oh, yeah. I guess it wasn’t until I was 12 years old that I realized specific artists worked on these comics. I was a huge EC fan once I discovered them, and the artists from EC were the greatest, in my mind. Wally Wood, Al Williamson, Reed Crandall, George Evans, Jack Davis—what a company! What can I say? CBA: You were the perfect age for that, right? You were ten when they first started coming out with the New Trend stuff? Len: Yeah. I don’t think I got into it right away. I remember discovering EC when I was in fourth grade so I guess that would be 1953, a couple of years later. A friend was telling me about the great science-fiction stories that were in these comic books and that was, of course, Weird Fantasy and Weird Science. So I latched onto those and then found out about the horror stuff and got those, too, and then Mad… oh, I thought Mad was the greatest! CBA: Did you get into the war material, too? Len: I wasn’t interested in the war stuff. I am now but I didn’t get into the Kurtzman books at the time, just his Mad and the EC horror and science-fiction. I wasn’t even picking up Crime SuspenStories or Shock at that time. It was just the three horror, two sci-fi, and the humor book and then Panic, of course. CBA: Because the artists were able to sign their work at EC, you were able to recognize their work? July 2001
COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
Len: Yeah, exactly. Whereas of the DC books, which I did read… I read a lot of comic books, I even read Dell from time to time, and there were Quality and Fiction House comics that I loved. I was around for the tail end of Plastic Man. CBA: Was Jack Cole still doing it? Len: I don’t think so; not at that point. It seems like he got involved with Playboy and once he got involved with that he left the books. I just know that I loved the character of Plastic Man and the look of it. A strip I loved—I don’t know if you know it—was in a comic called Big Shot and there was a strip in there called “Sparky Watts.” I forget the name of the artist who did it which I’m really ashamed about because I really love his work. Years later, when I met Art Spiegelman, he mentioned that he was a big fan of “Sparky Watts” and I couldn’t believe that anyone else knew it. In fact, Art got the rights and reprinted one of the “Sparky Watts” stories in Raw because he thought so much of it. CBA: Did you become an official EC Fan-Addict? Len: You know, for some reason I never joined but, boy, my heart was with them. It seems weird when I consider how much stuff I sent away for when I was that age. I guess money was tight when I was growing up. CBA: So were you non-discriminating in your taste? Did you like funny animal stuff as well as super-hero and other genres? Len: Yeah, absolutely. I hate to say “non-discriminating” but I loved comics! I loved the books that would reprint newspaper strips like Tip-Top and Sparkle, you know? They would do four weeks of Tarzan Sundays and other strips… I just loved the medium. CBA: How do you recall the Wertham era as a kid? Did you feel inklings about what was happening? What did your family think of your interest in comics? Did they care? Len: They never really encouraged it. When I was about ten or eleven years old, they found out that I need-
Above: The only picture Len Brown could find of his mentor and father-figure Woody Gelman is from the Topps’ magazine oneshot Soupy Sales. From left to right: Young Len Brown, goofy Soupy Sales, and stoic Woody Gelman. Courtesy of Len. ©2001 Topps.
Below: Photo of happenin’ bubble gum card writer Leonard Brown in the 1970s. Courtesy of Len.
The Old World Heroes Peerless Bill Pearson on Wally Wood and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Conducted by Jon B. Cooke There’s a romantic element to aspects of comics fandom and the post-Wertham rebirth of comics, all linked to the glorious EC era of comics. Imagining the late-’50s/early-’60s get-togethers of “Big Name Fans” John Benson, Archie Goodwin, Larry Ivie, and our next interview subject just seem, well, cool. While today serving as executor of the Wally Wood estate, Bill has had a long history in comics, as Nicola Cuti’s successor as Editor George Wildman’s assistant in Charlton’s last years; working as an occasional writer (notably at Warren); letterer extraordinaire at Gladstone and DC; and most significantly as editor of the lauded prozine witzend since the late ’60s (about which we implore readers to check out Bill’s interview in the eighth issue of our sister magazine Alter Ego). Bill was interviewed via e-mail on April 24, 2001.
Below: Bill Pearson shared this partially-inked Wally Wood preliminary drawing, apparent an unused cover design. Art ©2001 The Estate of Wallace Wood.
Comic Book Artist: When did you first start to appreciate Wally Wood’s art? Bill Pearson: Avon and EC comics. CBA: Were you a fan of the EC comics? If so, what influence were they on you? Bill: Major EC fan. I had been reading science-fiction for years, along with all kinds of comics, but when EC came along, they offered
well-illustrated, well-written science-fiction, and one particular artist that simply blew my young mind. CBA: The first instance I’ve found of your involvement in organized fandom was your publication of Sata. Were you involved in fanzines prior to that? Bill: There was nothing organized about science-fiction fandom. Individual young outsiders from all over the country were getting acquainted. Dan Adkins started Sata and I contributed to his ’zine first, I believe. CBA: Can you describe your first meeting with Dan Adkins and subsequent relationship? Bill: Dan was in the Air Force, stationed at a base not far outside Phoenix. He saw a letter of mine in a science-fiction magazine (Fantastic, I think) and wrote me, hoping I might know some girls. His interests paralleled mine, he had access to a ditto machine, and it was inevitable we’d meet and become buddies, I guess. I was just 17, still living with my parents, but I had a job as a mechanical draftsman, making pretty good wages, and I had a car. On his own, Dan met twin sisters, aged 15, who lived about halfway between the base and where I lived. So from age 17 until 19, he and I dated the twins, produced Sata, and contributed material to many other fanzines as well. CBA: How did your acquisition of Sata come about? Any anecdotes? Bill: Dan was rapidly becoming the most popular artist in sciencefiction fandom, and was trying to fulfill the many requests he got for artwork from dozens of fanzine editors. I was becoming more and more interested in publishing. Designing pages, doing logos, assembling and presenting material creatively. Our roles reversed, and it just evolved naturally. CBA: Did you meet your goals with Sata? How long did it last and what was Dan’s involvement throughout the history of the ’zine? Bill: First I bought my own ditto machine, and Dan and I got quite expert at preparing the plates (that’s not exactly the word, but as close as I can come right now) and acquired a reputation as having the best quality printing by that now antique process. Later I went offset, digest-size, because I very much admired a couple of fanzines produced in that very professional way, and could reproduce artwork photographically from the original art. I was proud to publish the first work of George Barr, for example, who had a beautiful stipple technique that was heavily influenced by the legendary Virgil Finlay. I published several issues in that format into the early ’60s, even when I was in the Army. Dan did less and less as time went by. He was busy with other interests. CBA: When did you meet Archie Goodwin? Larry Ivie? (Any anecdotes would be welcome) and any other significant personalities? Bill: The easiest way for me to remember is to go at it chronologically. The company I was working for in Phoenix lost a big government contract and I was laid off with dozens of other draftsmen just about the same time Dan was released from the Air Force. We went to New York together in 1958. A few months later, when she turned 18, Dan’s girl got on a bus to New York and they got married. I didn’t send for my girl. At 19, I was in no hurry to get married. It’s hard to believe they’ll be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in just a few years. When we first got to New York, Dan and I shared a hotel room in a flophouse hotel on 45th street, one block from Broadway, one of the roughest areas in Manhattan. One night a guy was murdered on the steps of the building, which was in real distance just a few feet from where I was sleeping! We were young and COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
Ivie League Heroes Larry Ivie on his T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents contributions by Larry Ivie The following remembrance by Larry Ivie on his participation in the development of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is abbreviated from its first appearance in Scary Monsters #23, 1997, where it served as a chapter in his essay series on the history of American monster magazines under the title “Larry Ivie’s Monsters and Heroes: The Prolog Tales.” Larry slightly edited the text for its appearance here and we thank the writer for permission to reprint this fascinating insight into the origins of the celebrated comics line. Article ©2001 Larry Ivie.
Above: Larry Ivie, who in the 1960s had an impact on the development of a number of projects, including The Justice League of America, Creepy and Eerie magazines, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Castle of Frankenstein, and, of course his own Monsters & Heroes magazine. Photo courtesy of Larry Ivie. Opposite page, right: Larry’s cover design for his T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents proposal. Opposite page, bottom right: Larry Ivie memo sheet featuring a rough layout of the proposed T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents comic book. Courtesy & ©2001 Larry Ivie. Inset right: Larry’s fully-finished “First Encounter” splash page Courtesy & ©2001 Larry Ivie. Below: Scrap sheet featuring Ivie’s thoughts on the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. acronym. Courtesy & ©2001 Larry Ivie.
An over-worked Stan Lee was offering me a co-editor position at Marvel Comics, and Jim Warren, publisher of Famous Monsters, was making wild offers for me to produce a new title for him (as detailed in the curious story of Creepy #1 in the 1997 Scary Monsters Annual), but I didn’t want to present Monsters & Heroes (or some of the ideas with much greater financial potential) to anyone who hadn’t been tested first with other ideas, ones I felt I could leave behind, if not satisfied with the company, as would turn out to be the case with Warren. I had already given away so many ideas, with little or no income to me from most of them, one editor called me the “Johnny Appleseed” of the comic book field, and another, by coincidence, without knowing that, extravagantly told someone else I was the “Johnny Appleseed” of publishing in New York City! I thought he was going overboard until I realized there wasn’t a day without at least one story idea, title, or titles on the stands that had come from me, without pay to me… from 1960 until today! Making the feeling stranger was to see some of the weakest of those “throw-away” story ideas, after publication, being adapted to movies and TV… although none of the best ones ever have been! One of the calls I received, in 1965, was from the publisher of a new comic book company, still in search of a major title idea. It was another of those curious conversations typical of the larger companies: “Is this Larry Ivie?” “Yes, it is.” “I’m publishing children’s stories.” “Comic books?” “Yes. Have you had experience with humor?” “Some people have considered my writing humorous, I’m sure, but usually it hasn’t been intentional!” “I’d like to meet with you in my office tomorrow, okay?” “All right.” “Well, I’ll see you then.” “Wait! What’s the address?” (I wrote it down, along with the company name, Tower, which wasn’t familiar, and again, he seemed ready to hang up.) “Wait! What time? And what’s your name?” (The name, Harry Shorten, was familiar. I’d seen it daily, as a child, on a newspaper cartoon panel.) My anticipation, as I arrived at the Madison Avenue building, was that I would be giving them the name and address of the individual I would convince them would be best for producing a humor
title, Archie Goodwin. Shorten’s office, at the end of a short hallway, had the only furnishings—a desk, couch, table, and chairs. His editor, Samm Schwartz, sat on the couch, while I sat in a chair on the other side of the low table, and Shorten, a very pleasant personality, stood as he explained he would like me to create, write, and draw a new comic book horror title! (I know he said “humor” on the phone!) A full-color variation of the title I had created for Warren. I said I could, but would prefer a three-story format in which other artists would draw two of the three stories I would write each issue. They might be some of the ones who had been working on Creepy, since Warren’s pay rates were among the lowest. Although I was told to go ahead, I said I would bring in something to show them on Monday, to make certain they were satisfied with what I would do. They saw no problem, but I did. The horror comic book field had fallen a decade before, because of time-consuming problems with the Comics Code Authority (a censoring board created in an attempt to limit or end “harmful” comic books). It was the reason I had conceived Creepy as a black-&-white magazine not governed by the Code. Surprisingly, Shorten didn’t seem to know of the Code. Samm had heard of it, and said he would get in touch with them the next day. I suggested they might not be open on Saturday. “Monday then,” he said. After setting the time for my return, and getting Shorten’s office phone number, in case of problems, I left to begin thinking of ways to avoid problems. Even the mild titles of the day were delayed by the unpredictable Code board. At least one issue of The Incredible Hulk had been held up because he was shown taller than others in COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
scene panels, which they said could “frighten” young readers, even if he was friendly! One of Wood’s “Help” calls had been to do a Daredevil cover, while he would “hack” out the story. As it turned out, I had to do about a third of the story also, to get it in on time, as did another artist, Bob Powell. Before I inked the cover however, Wally added a woman being kidnapped, and the Code bounced the cover because scenes of kidnapping could only be shown inside. On the whole, however, super-hero titles— which were selling well at that time—were not as bothersome to the Code as “horror” comics had been: so, as I walked along the slush-covered sidewalk toward the subway entrance, my thoughts turned toward trying to talk them into a super-hero title instead. The major chance, I thought, would be if I had a solid idea to discuss by the time I reached my apartment, and phoned to ask them. By the time the train arrived, I had settled on the title T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and had mentally written a twopage introduction that would link three characters, who would then go their own way for at least several issues. Two would have complete stories each issue; one would have a continuing story. As soon as I was seated on the train, on the way uptown, I pulled a notebook, with attached pen, from my coat pocket, and began a small cover sketch. I doodled three names for the middle character, but realized they had all been used before, so I crossed them out. I would think of the others later. As I neared my apartment, I saw the familiar figure approaching of a young artist named Tim, carrying his latest drawings to show me. First however, I made the call to Shorten, and found my planned presentation unnecessary. As soon as I asked if he might consider a super-hero title instead, he said, “Okay! Show me what you can on it Monday!” I then phoned Wally. For months, he had been saying he would someday like the challenge of finding interesting ways to show an invisible character, like The Shadow. I had been involved with The Shadow’s final days on radio, on post-network episodes heard only in the West, sponsored by a publication I later did art for—Astounding Science Fiction—and some of the old episodes were now being re-aired. I told Wally about the appointment on Monday. and suggested one of the new characters could have an invisibility cloak, but, he said, “What I’m really in the mood to do right now is a war title!” confirming my suspicions that Wally’s interests were primary on things he wasn’t doing at the moment (or, in this case, had a chance to do). I suggested he spend July 2001
COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
the weekend developing whatever character he would most want to do, and join me on Monday. I would call him then to see if he was ready. I then turned my attention to Tim’s work, which was progressing impressively, but said I had to get to work immediately on the Tower project, to finish at least several sample pages of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. to show on Monday. “It might be interesting,” I said, “if I can make the letters in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. stand for something.” (I had written the story for the first issue of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. magazine.) I wrote the letters in a vertical line, and was able to write in something for the first five 65
That Terrific Tuska Touch George Tuska on his wonderful Tower Comics work Conducted by Mike Gartland While the great George Tuska may not remember all that much of his Tower material (as revealed below), we’d be loathe to exclude the artist from this retrospective as he contributed a number of fine T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents stories, among them the humorous “Weed” tales. Look for a comprehensive, career-spanning interview with the artist in an upcoming “Marvel Heavy-Hitters” issue. Mike Gartland visited George in May, 2001.
Below: Arriving just in time to accompany this interview, contributor Jerry “The K.” Boyd sent us this lovely Tuska commission drawing of Len Brown and the Invisible Agent! Thanks, JKB!
Comic Book Artist: How did you get the Tower gig? George Tuska: I was freelancing work at that time while working on the syndicated Buck Rogers strip, I really don’t remember who told me about it. CBA: Did you deal with editor Samm Schwartz at all? George: His name rings a bell, but I don’t believe I ever met him. CBA: Do you know anything about the Tower Publishing background and why it decided to get into comics? Do you remember the types of paperbacks the company produced? Did you know of Harry Shorten? Any anecdotes?
George: I guess Tower was just jumping on the super-hero bandwagon, along with the other publishing houses that devoted some of their space to superheroes at that same time. Harry Shorten I don’t know of, sorry. CBA: Did you visit Wally Wood’s studio with any frequency? George: Believe it or not, I never knew Wally Wood nor visited him. I knew Bob Wood when I worked at Lev Gleason, but I don’t think they were related. CBA: Who wrote the stories you drew? Did you write any stories? Were the scripts Marvel-style or fully written? George: I don’t recall who wrote the stories, I may have contributed some 70
stuff, but without having the books to refer to, I couldn’t tell you. I think the stories were full scripts; I only remember working Marvelmethod at Marvel. I liked Marvel method because it allowed you more of a free reign to move the plot your own way. I’m really sorry, but without the books I couldn’t recall any anecdotes of interest; at the time it was just fill-in work, you understand. CBA: Favorite characters? You drew a few “T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad” stories, did you enjoy the strip? Was Weed based on Woody? George: Didn’t really have a favorite character, they did remind me of the X-Men though. If Weed was based on Wally Wood, you’d have to ask the writer, as I really don’t know. CBA: Do you recall what your page rate was? How did it compare to Marvel and DC at the time? George: I think it was something like $20 a page, Marvel was less; I didn’t work for DC at that time so I don’t know what their rate was; probably higher. CBA: What did you think of the Tower material? George: Same as the Marvel stuff, super-hero stuff, you know. The Tower stuff had a James Bond kind of touch to it, though. CBA: Do you think the Tower comics were developed to capitalize on Marvel’s success? As far as you recall, was the Batman craze in full-swing when the books were coming out? George: At that time I really wasn’t fully into Marvel; that didn’t happen until the Buck Rogers strip was over. I remember when Batman was very popular, but I was just freelancing, doing pick-up work for places like Marvel and Tower at that time. It didn’t occur to me that the TV show had any effect on all of comics. Some said it was bad for comics. CBA: What do you think of super-heroes? You’re renowned especially for your ’40s crime stories for Crime Does Not Pay. Did you wish genres other than super-heroes were popular during the ’60s and ’70s? George: I liked the action in super-hero books, but preferred doing the Crime Does Not Pay material. The stories were more thrilling to me because they seemed more based on real life. I would’ve like to have seen the Crime stories make it to the ’60s and ’70s, but those Kefauver hearings put an end to them in the ’50s, shame really. CBA: Did you consider Wally Wood a tragic figure? George: Tragic figure? I think that he felt he had to take his own life was a tragedy, he was a very talented man. CBA: Did you socialize with other comic book artists in the 1960s? Where did you live in the ’60s and what was your family situation? George: Since I was freelancing, I didn’t really see many artists; sometimes I’d run into someone at the office if I was bringing in or taking out work. I lived on Long Island (in Hicksville) at the time with my wife, two daughters and son. I liked to golf and still do as often as I can. I did golf with Stan Lee on several occasions. CBA: What was the story behind your brief Marvel foray—drawing “Captain America,” for one—in the mid-’60s? Why didn’t you stay longer? George: The Buck Rogers strip was very time-consuming, and you always had to be on top of it; it’s like that with many syndicated strips. You also had to get and pay for the letterer and inker. Also, Marvel’s rates for a penciled and inked page didn’t give you enough incentive to stay, although I did prefer doing comic book stories to the syndicated stuff. CBA: When and why did you return to Marvel? COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
Up in the Tower The T.H.U.N.D.E.R.ous real-life adventure of Steve Skeates! by Steve Skeates While my esteemed associate editor Chris Irving did conduct an interview with the writer, Steve Skeates felt that perhaps an essay would best express his fond memories of working on various strips for Tower’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents books. The following was written exclusively for this issue of CBA and our thanks to the award-winning writer for this delightful flashback to his days of T.H.U.N.D.E.R.!
Above: Dramatic rendition of Lightning by Mike Sekowsky & Frank Giacoia. From T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4, the speedster’s first appearance. 72
So, who was that resourceful madman, the one who (for a while at least) took NoMan out of the game simply by placing this monumentally powerful android, this socalled “invincible” agent, in captivity, tying him down within a locked room, a veritable vault? I suppose a number of you are already well aware that this seemingly impossible happenstance transpired within a taut and tightly-knit tale aptly entitled “The Trap!” A mere ten pages in length, this minor epic wormed its way into the consciousness of its fairly limited audience via the eleventh issue of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents comic book, way back in March of 1967—a tale which still stands as my own personal favorite among all the various yarns I had a hand in spinning for the Tower publishing group. But, to return to my original inquiry here, the one concerning the identity of this particular
entry upon NoMan’s long list of maniacal adversaries—the truth of the matter is, in my youthful enthusiasm, eager to get this story written and sold, to see it drawn, to have it published, I never even gave the dude a name. Still, said crazy person did possess the relatively disconcerting habit of referring to himself as “The King of the World!” At least that’s something. Furthermore, artist John Giunta was gracious enough to provide this unnamed character with a very distinctive visual personality! Dressed regally but with an insane overblown edge to his outfit, a surplus of pretentiousness, as though we were being confronted by a doorman with definite delusions of grandeur at some posh uptown apartment complex rather than by an actual king. Tall and lanky and with a pencil-thin mustache—those aspects making him look rather like a Snidely Whiplash that we were all taking a tad too seriously. Actually, though, this apparently silly appearance was more than minorly befitting, especially considering the stilted melodramatic dialogue I had a tendency to employ back in those crazy days. Just listen to him: “You see, NoMan! You can’t transfer your mind! The mento-barrier disc prevents that! And those solid steel bonds make it impossible for you to get free! You’ll never escape… nor will anyone be able to save you… for, once I close this door, this cell will be automatically sealed for all time! Even I will be unable to re-enter!” The villain departs, loudly slamming the door behind him, and NoMan, obviously caught up in the moment, his dialogue strangely mirroring the pomposity of his captor, says to himself: “I must not give up hope! But I’m afraid that… this is the end! And worst of all, since I’m the ‘immortal agent,’ I won’t be stuck here for simply a normal lifetime, but for a lifetime of lifetimes! I’ll be doomed to spend the rest of eternity, trapped! If only I hadn’t been so foolish as to walk right into this….” Ah, an “if only…”! Obviously, then, this opening scene is but a framing device, and we (as I now adroitly become one with those readers way-back-when) are about to enter a flashback, about to see how NoMan got himself into this predicament, about to view this awesome adventure through the eyes, the mind’s eye, the very memory, of this hero himself. No wonder I have such affection for this particular tale! I’ve always loved framing devices, became enamored of them via reading those great old Spirit stories written and drawn by that master of the comic book form, Will Eisner. Highly polished, gem-like, totally self-contained six- and seven-pagers. No huge and ungainly story arcs belaboring the inner-workings, every minor psychological glitch, to be found within one highly neurotic super-hero or another (or, more accurately, someone who calls himself a hero, yet more often than not acts more like a villain himself)—seemingly endless, nit-picking, basically unstructured pseudo-stories that somehow became quite fashionable in the eighties and the nineties and beyond, bloated repetitious overly-violent nonentities that only someone every bit as neurotic as the “heroes” of these sick constructs could possibly get into, could possibly enjoy. Nope, none of that! But large ideas, huge concepts, handled economically. And, that’s what I was striving for here as well—an actual story with an actual beginning, middle, and end, with even the villain of the piece accidentally perishing once his nefarious scheme had been foiled. Eisner, though, wasn’t the only hero of mine whom I attempted to emulate. There are (that is to say) certain flowing passages within certain Tower tales of mine in which I sought to display a sort of pacing similar to that which the great Jack Kirby would employ within his wondrous Fantastic Four output. Also, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent I COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
A Man Called Jones Talking with Tower scribe & monster maniac, Russ Jones Conducted by Jon B. Cooke Transcribed by Brian K. Morris The following interview with writer/artist/editor Russ Jones was originally intended to appear in the currently-available book by Ye Ed and David A. Roach, The Warren Companion, but due to certain complications, it appears here. Russ wrote for Tower Comics during its brief life and we feature a career-spanning look at this multi-talented man. Though T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, et al. are only briefly discussed here, Russ was associated with Tower art director Wally Wood for a number of years. This interview was conducted via phone on January 17, 2001 and was approved by Russ.
Above: Russ Jones at Chiller Con this past April. Check out Russ’s Website at www.horrorbiz.com where you’ll find Jones merchandise for sale. Courtesy of Russ and Dave of Horrorbiz.
Comic Book Artist: Russ, where are you from? Russ Jones: Ontario, Canada. CBA: What year were you born? Russ: 1942. CBA: When did you start developing an interest in art? Russ: As a kid. Back in those days, it was the wonderful Sunday comics and we had all the great stuff like the Alex Raymond strips and Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant. My favorite was Dick Tracy by Chester Gould. CBA: Did you read comic books as a kid? Russ: Yeah, I was very interested in them. CBA: You were just in time for the ECs, right? Russ: Oh, yeah. I bought those on a regular basis, as soon as they came out. CBA: What particularly attracted you to EC Comics? Russ: They were different. They felt different, had a very different look and, of course, the work inside was unparalleled, as far as I was concerned. It was just knockout stuff. I had no idea, of course, what Craft Tint or Zip-A-Tone was or anything like that at the time but I would look at this and, with a kid’s wonderment, say, “Wow.” It felt like special effects make-up or something. It was unlike anything I’d really ever seen. CBA: Were there any particular artists that you really liked back
then? Was it Wally Wood? Russ: Well, yeah. Woody would be right up there pretty much on the top of the list, I’d say. Of course, all of them were very good. I liked George Evans and Reed Crandall and, of course, Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta. CBA: So you were more attracted to art than the stories? Russ: Oh, no. You see, the story and art amalgamated so well. It was the perfect combination. CBA: Did you collect them all? Russ: No, I didn’t. I was never really a collector. CBA: Did you pursue an art education? Russ: No, my education was in the United States Marine Corps. CBA: When did you join the Marines? Russ: I started out in Second Recon and went to Korea for 18 months and came back to the States in Quantico where I was with Criminal Investigations and went through most of the FBI academy. From there I went to Marine Corps headquarters. CBA: What years were you in Korea? Russ: I was there in 1959. I did some work for the Marine Corps magazine, Leatherneck, out of Penderson Hall in Arlington. CBA: Did you have a vocation in print production? Russ: Yeah. As a matter of fact, that’s what my MOS turned out to be. It was a 1461 MOS but, of course, your primary in the Marine Corps is a grunt. CBA: Did you encounter any action at all? Russ: Yeah, but I had to take an oath on that. The outfit that I was with was running what they would call today Black Ops. But we referred to it just as Search-&-Destroy or whatever. CBA: This was during your time overseas? Russ: Yeah. CBA: What did you do for Leatherneck? Russ: Illustrations. CBA: Did you want to pursue a career in comic books or comic strips? Russ: Yeah, that had always been my goal but I didn’t know, exactly, how to get there, and I met this wonderful old timer that no one on Earth had ever heard of. His name was Wood Cowan and Wood had taken over the Our Boarding House strip from Gene Ahern. Wood was doing editorial cartoons out of Connecticut, I met him and he invited me out to his place. He was quite a character. He must have, like, been close to 80 at the time, wore one of the worst rugs I’ve ever seen. [chuckles] He was very funny and in his studio, he had this wonderful portrait that James Montgomery Flagg had done of him. So I said, “Gee, this Wood Cowan guy must have had some real history.” He taught me some tricks and introduced me to the people at McNaught in New York. That’s really how the whole thing got started. CBA: What did you do at McNaught? Russ: I did some work for some of the different artists. Oh gosh, I worked with Mark Bailey. Through Mark, he was doing stuff for Lank Leonard. They had another strip called Dixie Dugan… just some odd stuff here and there. CBA: Doing assists, backgrounds, and the like? Russ: Yeah, and learning. I was going to start my own historical strip, and I knew Jack Davis. I wanted that EC look. Jack was very busy. This was back in about 1962 or ’63, I guess. Jack was keen on working on it but at that time he was actually making the big bucks. He just started getting into the movie ads and the TV Guide stuff and he pointed me in the direction of Wally Wood and that’s how Woody COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
and I got together. CBA: Where was Woody at the time? Russ: He was at 74th Street in Manhattan. CBA: Did he have assistants working for him at the time? Russ: No, he did not. CBA: Were you his first assistant? Russ: You know, I really don’t know. I think prior to me, I think it was probably Joe Orlando. CBA: Joe goes back, obviously, to the late ’40s. Russ: Yeah, and Woody, of course, had worked with Harry Harrison. CBA: You must have met a lot of people through Woody, right? Russ: Quite a few, yes, indeed. CBA: Who’d come by that you recall? Russ: Well, there was a guy by the name of Leo Dillon who was an illustrator who worked for Galaxy magazine. Quite remarkable guy. Leo and his wife, Diane, would come visit with Wally and often I would be, sort of, the odd man out, partially in the conversation because we had so much work piled up. [chuckles] I mean, it was this incredible factory going on, most of it through Vinnie Colletta. CBA: Oh, yeah? Did Vinnie have his own thing in town? Russ: Yes, Vinnie had a studio in the West 40s which was quite a place. You’d walk in and there would be Vinnie, no shoes on, sitting July 2001
COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
at the board; his little protege, Laida Edmond Jr., frumping around the place merrily. Joe Orlando was working there a lot and Maurice Whitman was there, a fellow by the name of Bob Simon, and there were just people just trundling in and out all the time. Vinnie had an incredible factory. CBA: Was most of the work for Charlton? Russ: There was a lot from Charlton, a lot from Dell, a lot from Marvel. CBA: There’s a legend about Vinnie that he would get his work done very early and then would scoot out in the middle of the day to do glamour photography. Do you know if that was true? Russ: He did a lot of photography, yes he did. Vinnie was very underrated. If you’d ever seen any of his earlier work, he almost could rival Stan Drake, and that’s no joke. I knew Stan very well and I saw some of Vinnie’s early stuff. Vinnie was really remarkably good but he got on this treadmill. I remember we were working on, I think, Lawrence of Arabia for Dell—the movie tie-in book—and I did a lot of penciling and had this incredible scene with all these camels and I think it was at Prince Feisal’s camp, or something, with these Bedouin tents. Vinnie decided that was a little bit too much to ink so he put a huge rock in the foreground. [laughs] And so 90% of the panel was a rock. CBA: [laughs] That sounds like Vinnie.
Above: What the heck does this Dan Adkins rendition of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Dynamo have to do with Russ Jones? Not a goldarned thing, but it sure is a nice piece by the Dapper One! This originally appeared on the cover of the fanzine The Comic Artist #3, Winter 1970. Courtesy of John R. Borkowski.
Tower Comics Checklist The complete index to Wood & Co.’s adventure comics line
The Tower Comics line was published by Harry Shorten and edited by Wally Wood and Samm Schwartz. Writers for specific stories are not generally known (though we’ve credited those identified by the writers), but contributing scripters include Wally Wood, Dan Adkins, Len Brown, Steve Skeates, Larry lvie, Bill Pearson, Russ Jones, Roger Brand, and Tim Battersby-Brent. The following index was adopted freely from one originally compiled for APA-1 by Gene Reed and The Comics Reader #197 by Mike Tiefenbacher. Corrections noted in TCR #198 and 199’s letter columns—from Mark Evanier and Steve Skeates, respectively—were also added. Thanks to Mark, Steve, Larry Ivie, Bill Pearson, and Len Brown for giving the list one final going-over. The art credits were verified and corrected by Dan Adkins. Special thanks to Jeff Clem and Al Gordon. We haven’t included reference to Tower’s teenage titles, Tippy Teen, etc., of which much was drawn by editor Schwartz. If you have any corrections, please send ’em in!—Ye Ed. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS 1 November 1965 Cover: Wally Wood THUNDER Agents: “First Encounter” 4 Art: Wally Wood Story: Larry Ivie Dynamo: “Menace of the Iron Fog” 12 Art: Wally Wood Story: Len Brown/Larry Ivie NoMan: “THUNDER Agent NoMan” 10 Art: Reed Crandall (w/Wood) Story: Larry Ivie Menthor: “The Enemy Within” 12 Art: Gil Kane & George Tuska/Mike Esposito
(pages 2-7 penciled by George Tuska) THUNDER Squad: “THUNDER Squad” 10 Art: M. Sekowsky/F. Giacoia Story: Larry Ivie Dynamo: “At The Mercy of the Iron Maiden” 10 Art: Wally Wood & Dan Adkins/Wood & Adkins Text: Larry Ivie 2 2 January 1966 Cover: Wally Wood & Dan Adkins Dynamo: “Dynamo Battles Dynavac” 13 Art: Wally Wood & Richard Bassford/Wally Wood Story: Len Brown NoMan: “In The Warlord’s Power” 10 Art: Dick Ayers/Wally Wood & Joe Orlando Menthor: “Menthor” 10 Art: Mike Sekowsky/Frank Giacoia Dynamo: “D-Day For Dynamo” 13 Art: Wally Wood & Dan Adkins/Wood & Coleman THUNDER Squad: “On The Double” 10 Art: Mike Sekowsky/Frank Giacoia Text: “Junior THUNDER Agents” 2 Illustration by Mike Sekowsky 3 March 1966 Cover: Wally Wood Dynamo: “Dynamo Battles the Subterraneans” 10 Art: Wally Wood & Dan Adkins/Wood & Coleman NoMan: “NoMan Faces the Threat of the Amazing Vibraman”10 Art: John Giunta/Wally Wood & Tony Coleman Story: Bill Pearson
Dynamo: “The Red Dragon” 10 Art: Wally Wood & Dan Adkins/Wood & Coleman THUNDER Squad: “Invaders From the Deep” 10 Art: Mike Sekowsky/Frank Giacoia Dynamo & Menthor: “Dynamo vs. Menthor” 10 Art: Wally Wood & Dan Adkins/Wood & Coleman Pin-up: Dynamo 1 Art: Wally Wood & Dan Adkins/Wally Wood Pin-up: NoMan 1 Art: Wally Wood & Dan Adkins/Wally Wood Pin-up: The Thunderbelt 1 Art: Wally Wood & Dan Adkins/Wally Wood Pin-up: Menthor 1 Art: Wally Wood & Dan Adkins/Wally Wood Pin-up: THUNDER Squad 1 Art: Wally Wood & Dan Adkins/Wally Wood Letters 2 4 April 1966 Cover: Reed Crandall/Wally Wood Dynamo: ”Master of Evolution” 12 Art: Wood & Adkins/Wood, Adkins & Coleman Story: Len Brown NoMan: ”The Synthetic Stand-ins” 10 Art: Sekowsky/Giacoia Story: Steve Skeates THUNDER Agents: “The Deadly Dust” (Lightning debut) 10 Art: Sekowsky/Giacoia Story: Steve Skeates Dynamo: “The Return of the Iron Maiden” 10 Art: Reed Crandall/Wally Wood & Dan Adkins
COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
Tippy Teen & Tower, Too! Terry Austin on Tower’s most popular comic book character Inset right: One of Tippy’s spin-offs was the comic/prose magazine Teen-In. Courtesy of Steve Cohen. ©2001 the respective copyright holder.
Above: Samm Schwartz cover art to the first issue of Tippy Teen. Courtesy of Terry Austin. ©2001 the respective copyright holder.
SPECIAL THANKS: To CBA pal ROCCO NIGRO for sending us a nice unused Tippy’s Friend Go Go Special cover which we just couldn’t fit in this issue… we’ll try and use it in the letter col next time. 98
by Terry Austin Ah, the ’60s… if you’re like me, thoughts of those far-flung days bring back memories of mini-skirts and go-go boots, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Batman on TV, sweating out the lottery when your draft number was picked, sweaty Richard Nixon, stunning Barbara Feldon and Diana Rigg, that pair of bright blue corduroy bellbottoms you bought but only had the courage to wear a time or two, and of course, “America’s Swingingest Teener,” Tippy Teen! Wait a second!! Who!? Nope, doesn’t ring a bell with me either. I was too enthralled by the action-packed exploits of Woody’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. crew to acknowledge the very existence of Tower Comics’ most popular character, the aforementioned Miss Teen. That’s right, Tippy and her pals racked up at least 35 issues at Tower; the boys and girls of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. managed only 26. Tippy had a fan club with a membership card and a keen button, and even had a groovy coloring book; et tu, NoMan? Still, you argue, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents would be revived a time or two at various companies years later; five years after Tower folded, Tippy would sashay from Madison Avenue over to Fifth, change her name to Vicki and enjoy life with her chums at Atlas/Seaboard comics for four more issues. News to you? Me too, until a couple of years ago… One night at dinner with the world’s champeen cartoonist, Dan DeCarlo (Betty & Veronica, Millie the Model, Josie, Big Boy, Sabrina to name but a few), he mentioned having designed the characters for a book published by Tower Comics called Tippy Teen. As a Big Time Fan of Dan’s work, this threw me for a loss. Pinhead Perkins I’ve heard of—who the devil was Tippy Teen? I soon found out. Tippy Teen ran for 25 issues (Overstreet says 27 but I haven’t run across anyone who has #26 or 27), cover dated Nov. 1965 to Oct. 1969, followed by a no-number reprint one-shot dated Nov. 1969. A spin-off, Tippy’s Friends Go Go and Animal ran for 15 issues from Aug. 1966 to Oct. 1969 (although Animal is dropped from the book’s title for #12-15). A second spin-off titled Teen-In (subtitled “A Tippy Teen Swingin’ ’Zine”) lasted four issues in 1968-69. In addition, a Tippy Teen coloring book was published by Saalfield in 1967. Finally, Atlas Comics’ Vicki appeared for four issues from Feb. through Aug. 1975. These are Tippy reprints where her friends retain their original names but sideburns have been added to all the men’s
hairstyles, which, of course, makes all the old stories fresh and new again (snort!). The Tower issues are giant 25¢ books, mixing comic book stories, pin-ups, photos of rock stars, advice columns, actor profiles, fashions designed by fans (such as the party dress contributed by little Craig Russell in Tippy #5), pen pal pages, and Tippy Teen P.A.L. (Phi Alpha Lambda(?)) Club pages (where Linda Medley won a $3 second prize for her poem in Tippy #12). Tippy Teen (yes, that’s her last name, not a description) is a shapely but slightly ditzy high schooler with long blonde hair. She is prone to chase the latest fad or fashion and generally perplex her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Teen (told you so) and the adult world around her. Her steady boyfriend is Tommy Trippit, a rather bland young man whose major accomplishment is to get a new haircut in Tippy #5, that he’d keep for the rest of the run, inspired by actor David McCrakum of The Man from A.U.N.T.I.E. TV show. Tippy’s best friend is a cute, short-haired brunette named Go Go West who sometimes uses her guitar to compose songs that comment on the plot of the story. Go Go’s boyfriend, Animal Barnes, is large, hungry, dumb, and inadvertently mysterious, since due to his sheep dog haircut, no one has ever seen his eyes (which is the plot of the lead story in Go Go #4) . Their friend Egghead Eggers is slight of build, bespeckled and requires no further explanation. Ditto Tiny, once you’ve said she’s corpulent, female and man crazy. As for the grain of sand in the eyeball department, those roles are mostly filled by Peggy Fleagle and Ashley Hartburn. Peggy (whose hair changes color a lot) wants Tommy, hates Tippy and has no discernable redeeming qualities. Ashley, on the other hand, wants Tippy, hates Tommy and is rich and evil. Finally, there’s perpetually put-upon Principal Phineas Phogg who, for some reason, becomes angry when the kids continually wreck the school. If I understand correctly, Tippy’s four-color birth was presided over by Samm Schwartz, an artist who had bounced around Archie comics in the 1950s until coming to rest on Jughead late in the decade. Over the next several years we would hone his remarkable sense of design, balancing an exquisite ink line with juicy, flat slabs of black, often disposing of panel borders to open up space within the page. He also had an extraordinary grasp of body language. Simply put, his characters were some of the finest pantomime actors in comics history. Additionally, as a writer, Samm introduced subtle shadings of character to Archie’s hamburger craving pal. Under his tutelage, Jughead became a multi-faceted character, a sly trickster even to his COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Strikes Twice! The revivals—and troubles—of Wally Wood’s super-hero line Below: Though the inked version appeared as a background image in OMNI Comix #3, I wonder if anybody has seen these great pencils by Dave Gibbons drawn for the Penthouse comics title? Thanks, Dave. Art ©2001 Dave Gibbons.
by Chris Irving Even though the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents title was cancelled in 1969, the characters have come back on numerous occasions, each one generating varying levels of interest. Despite their status in comics history as relatively minor characters, the 1980s brought about not only their first major revival, but also a major deal of controversy surrounding ownership of the trademark.
The Players JOHN CARBONARO got his start in comics when, in the 1970s, he co-published the prozine Phase with friend Sal Quartuccio, an alternative magazine featuring such contributors as Neal Adams, Rich Buckler, and Frank Brunner. After taking a ten-year leave from comics to pursue an accounting degree, Carbonaro decided to first pursue obtaining a licensing agreement for T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents on a lark. “I was an accountant at an advertising firm,” Carbonaro recalled recently. “A young lady, Vicki Blum, dropped in to visit an artist on staff, and I discovered she had worked at Tower Paperbacks in the past. She made the introductions for me.” Meeting with Tower president Jeffrey Proctor in late 1980, Carbonaro obtained an oral agreement to license T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents by June 1981. Taking advantage of the rapidly growing direct sales market, Carbonaro gathered together former Warren editor Chris Adames (serving as scripter and consulting editor), writer Richard Lynn, artists Lou Manna and Mark Texeira, and Archie Comics editor Pat Gabriele (as editor and artist) to produce the first appearance of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents in nearly a dozen years, publishing the b-&-w magazine JCP Features #1, the only appearance of the title (which oddly had a cover date of February 1982, but dated December 1981 inside). The one-shot featured crude but enthusiastic T-Agent stories, drawn in a Jack Kirby-style. According to Carbonaro, Tower received a $1000 check on April 28, 1981 for licensing the characters. Soon after, Carbonaro found both a home for T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and an editorial job at Archie Comics, helping to reintroduce the Red Circle line of super-hero comics (reviving characters from the Golden Age and the shortlived Mighty/Radio Comics run of the 1960s). Carbonaro said his plan at Archie was to merge the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents with the Red Circle characters in a shared universe, a notion that fell apart for a variety of reasons. “I was working with [artist] Mark Texeira, and [Archie editor] Pat Gabriele,” Carbonaro explained, “[but] unfortunately some money was diverted, and I was upset about that, since it was payment money for the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents books we put out, the black-&-white comic that Pat Gabriele had edited [JCP Features #1]. I disassociated myself from Gabriele and, unfortunately, about 20 pages of Mark Texeira artwork,” of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents meeting The Mighty Crusaders remain unpublished. Carbonaro’s position with Archie apparently changed when he brought artist Rich Buckler in to draw the T.H.U.N.D.E.R./Mighty Crusaders story. Archie soon decided to only focus on the Mighty Crusaders portion for a regular-length comic book, and to replace Carbonaro with the artist as editor of the title. “They wanted to be fair to me and said, ‘Why don’t we do a joint venture with you and the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and we’ll work on that?’” Carbonaro recalled. “I went right over to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and did a few reprints, and started up a TA comic book with new stories. They were shipped and billed over the Archie administration.” The new color T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents books featured a “JC Comics” imprint. Two issues (with stories continuing from the b-&-w magazine) were published, featuring art by Mark Texeira, as well as three issues of Hall of Fame featuring the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. All were printed between 1983 and 1984. The only Red Circle appearance of the Agents was in 1984’s Blue Ribbon Comics #12, which concluded the JC Comics’ series, which Carbonaro attributes to Archie’s needing the story for what Carbonaro refers to as a “blown deadline.” COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
DAVID SINGER was a fan-writer for such comic fan magazines as Amazing Heroes and his own short-lived Comic Times, and was hired by Archie as a Red Circle editor in the early 1980s. He and Carbonaro had met sometime in ’81 through Red Circle editor Pat Gabriele. Having obtained a law degree (though reportedly not yet passing a bar exam), Singer was qualified and hired to serve as legal consultant to Carbonaro. Singer received a check for $450 on May 6, 1982, for drafting written licensing agreements with Tower and Archie, as well as other companies that were approached by Carbonaro. “In early 1981, Carbonaro told me he needed a contract to be negotiated with Tower and asked if I could handle it for him,” Singer wrote in The Comics Journal #101 (August 1985). “He and I were already friends at that time… I agreed to represent him (not as an attorney, but as his appointed representative) and agreed to take only $450 for my expenses as well as my time.” Singer had denied acting as Carbonaro’s lawyer, claiming it was an informal relationship, for which he did not receive financial compensation for acting as a legal representative, as he “was not an attorney.” Meanwhile, Tower Books was undergoing a bankruptcy assets sale and, on August 18, 1982, Offset Paperback Manufacturer’s, Inc. gained rights to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, which were in turn sold to Dorchester Publishing Company a week later. Dorchester orally agreed in December 1982 to sell the characters to Carbonaro, allegedly for $2000. Carbonaro feels that the turning point in his relationship with Singer was the result of a business proposition the latter was interested in. “David wanted to get involved in a deal with some buddy in San Antonio [who] convinced him that they would be able to sell comic books to the Armed Forces [through PXs] on a non-returnable basis,” Carbonaro said. “That would give them a fortune. Singer wanted to get into that [deal], and they told him that if he had something viable, like the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, he could get into this company. Wanting to make a fortune, David contacted me, and I refused. I thought it was a scam, and one of those too-good-to-betrue things. David said that he was going to go to Tower, based on information I gave him, and purchase the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, rather than licensing them from me.” Singer, after failing at his attempt to purchase the Agents from Carbonaro, apparently threatened to purchase T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents from Dorchester while Carbonaro was still in a transitional period before his purchase. “Even though [Singer] had worked as my legal rep and knew the confidential information that I gave him as a legal rep, he said, ‘You gave me information as a friend over a hamburger and a Coke. I did that contract for you years ago, so I shouldn’t be held to a fiduciary trust,’” Carbonaro recalled. “He also gave another reason later on, that he told people: He believed he was underpaid as a legal rep, although he was paid what he asked for. So being underpaid, he should not be held to the fiduciary trust, even though he was fully paid and paid what he had requested.” Carbonaro offered Singer a chance to license the Agents for $65,000, an offer Singer brought down to $50,000 and 3% cover price royalties, according to a Comics Journal article. Carbonaro agreed to a letter of intent, which stated his willingness to license the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents to Singer, so that Singer could use the letter to help secure investors. Carbonaro, however, claims to have not received an advance deposit on the licensing fee, causing him to send Singer a letter breaking off the letter of intent. Singer claimed, in a reply, that he was about to receive a loan to pay the initial payment to Carbonaro but, after the dissolution of the letter of intent, cancelled his loan. “[Singer needed to pay] timely payments for the rights, and he blew that,” Carbonaro recalled. “[N]ow that I owned the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and [had] given him the chance to make the payments—and his not making it—I felt in a business fashion, of disengaging from David. It had gone too far; he had threatened me and, in my mind, [that] violated a business trust as well as a friendship (a fiduciary trust); he was trying to force me into something I didn’t want to do. He could have satisfied the conditions if he made the payments. He had excuses for that; he could have borrowed the money, if only he’d asked somebody, but he didn’t do it, so I July 2001
COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
told him I’d take it to Marvel instead.” Upon his arrival at Marvel Comics on June 19, 1984, Carbonaro learned that Archie Goodwin of Marvel Comics was interested in licensing T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents for the Epic Comics line, which Goodwin edited. Goodwin had been contacted by Singer, who claimed sole ownership of the property. Carbonaro said, “[Marvel] told me David Singer had been there a few days ago, and [they] showed me a copy of what he showed them, half of a letter of intent, not earmarking the payment he would have to make,” Carbonaro claimed. “He told them that this letter of intent was a contract (which by law it’s not, it was just intent to contract). It was also to help David get investors’ money to form a company.” “Marvel, being cautious, said to clear up the legal differences between David and I, and then come back,” Carbonaro continued. “They wanted to license the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and incorporate them into Marvel’s world.”
Public Domain The relationship between the two men had, needless to say, completely dissolved. Matters were further complicated when, in November of 1984, Singer’s Deluxe Comics began publication of Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, featuring work by the likes of Steve Englehart, George Pérez, and Keith Giffen. At that time, Singer claimed that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents had been in the public domain since Tower hadn’t correctly copyrighted the series in its original incarnation. In order for material to be properly copyrighted, the publisher must include, somewhere in the publication: the © symbol, the word “copyright,” year of publication, and copyright holder. While
Above: Mark Texeira’s painting graces the cover to the first T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents revival, JCP Features #1, Dec. 1981, a b-&-w magazine.
Below: Keith Giffen art for a Deluxe Comics house ad, showing the unaltered George Pérez cover for Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3. Note that in the final version, Menthor was replaced by another character. Courtesy of Brian C. Boerner, the art director for the Deluxe Comics run.
Don’t Look Back in Anger A fictional surmise of an imagined 1969 Ditko-Wood meeting Below: Totally out of the blue, cat yronwode, renowned “Fit To Print” columnist, Eclipse co-publisher, and Eisner expert, sent CBA a pile o’ rare material from her vaults. You go, cat! Amongst the goodies was this stat of Steve Ditko’s pencils for the cover of John Carbonaro’s Hall of Fame #2.
by Blake Bell
Steve glances back down the five flights of stairs leading up from the entrance facing out onto West 76th Street. Wiping his brow, he “Calm down, Woody… stop bouncing… off the walls,” begs the withholds his comments concerning the perilously narrow stairs, so as broken breaths of the wheezing man. In the doorway he teeters, not to agitate his friend any further. propped up only by the studio’s door handle. Any movement by Steve towards the middle of the room brings Wally slams shut a drawer to his filing cabinet before noting his down mounds of dust upon his shirt. The model airplanes hanging visitor’s presence. “Jeez, I’m in better shape than you, Steve. I’ll be from the ceiling are caked in a coating that suggests abandonment. wearing an oxygen mask in a minute, if you’re gonna suck the air out “Where are all the grunts?” comments Steve. of the room like that.” “They haven’t been here for days,” says Wally, shaking his hand vigorously in the direction of the window facing across the street to Central Park. With his back still facing him, Steve notes in Woody’s response a hint of seething desperation unheard to his ears since ’65. “There’s enough paper on the floor for a Yankees’ ticker-tape parade, Woody,” says Steve pointing verbally at the overflowing trashcan beside Wally’s drawing table. “What demands such perfection from you this time, my friend?” The comment finally stops Wally’s pacing, as Steve knew it would. Wally makes the slow walk to his chair, slumping into same, a sigh of air releasing from the foundation. Supporting himself with the legs of his desk, Wally speaks without glancing up, moving a piece of paper from the corner of his drafting table to the center. “It’s my obit, Steve.” Steve never knows exactly the depth of seriousness in moments like these with Wally. He waits to be handed this now foreboding document, but Wally just keeps rubbing his temples. IF YOU ENJOYED THIS PREVIEW, “I don’t understand this,” said Steve, holding a page of text in CLICK THE LINK TOhisORDER THIS lettering. hand in Wally’s ISSUE IN PRINT OR DIGITAL FORMAT! Wally’s tired eyes look up at Steve. Hesitating for a moment, he speaks in a weary drawl. “This is the splash page to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #20, cover-dated November 1969—you know, like a year to the day after #19—and it says if the readers buy enough of #20, there’ll be a #21.” Steve drops the paper on the desk. Although it falls like a feather, its landing resonates like a bomb. “It’s happening, isn’t it? This is the end.” Wally pushes himself away from the table with such force his chair, and himself, fling five feet backwards against the studio wall. “It’s a damned disgrace is what it is,” finally looking up at his companion. “How the hell am I going to convince anyone to buy more when this issue is virtually a reprint book? Look at it! 48 pages and four reprint stories!” Steve stands, morose, at the edge of the table. “Well, we saw this coming for a year-and-a-half, Wally. January 1968 for #17, #14: TOWER COMICS & WALLY WOODSeptember for #18? A whole year between #19 and #20… ” Steve’s Interviews with Tower and THUNDER AGENTS alumni WALvoice trails into the distance, the stillness only giving way by Wally LACE WOOD, LOU MOUGIN, SAMM SCHWARTZ, DAN ADsuddenly KINS, LEN BROWN, BILL PEARSON, LARRY IVIE, leaping GEORGE out of his chair. TUSKA, STEVE SKEATES, and RUSS JONES, TOWER Wally COMICS paces quickly up and down the room, firing off sentences CHECKLIST, history of TIPPY TEEN, 1980s THUNDER AGENTS REVIVAL, and more! WOOD cover! like bullets from the gun in the holster at his left side. “I begged Shorten (112-page magazine) $6.95 to shore up his crappy distribution! And 25¢? 64 pages? 10 (Digital Edition) $3.95 issues a year? Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” http://twomorrows.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=98_56&products_id=530 His hands moving much faster now, the words speed up. “I didn’t want to resort to the kiddie crap our ‘former employer’ was schlocking out. I mean, I killed two of the original heroes in the first seven issues! That’s reality. And when I killed villains, they stayed dead! There was real tension in that writing, no glib, web-slinging B.S.” The moment ends and Wally’s fingers are back at his temples. “I mean, it was what we always wanted, Steve. I go for a more mature audience, I have the Code’s heads spinning, killing guys left and right, and still this is how it ends.” COMIC BOOK ARTIST 14
COMIC BOOK ARTIST #14 presents TOWER COMICS: YEARS OF THUNDER! It’s a celebration of the great ’60s comics of WALLY WOOD & Company, as we lo...
Published on Apr 23, 2013
COMIC BOOK ARTIST #14 presents TOWER COMICS: YEARS OF THUNDER! It’s a celebration of the great ’60s comics of WALLY WOOD & Company, as we lo...