Pete Morisi, Man of Thunderbolt Talking with PAM about his long brilliant career in comics Conducted and transcribed by Glen D. Johnson Pete Morisi is one of the most prolific artists of our time. To the best of my knowledge, he worked for all the major comics publishing outfits. I have corresponded with Pete since 1964, when Ronn Foss first made me aware of his work. At this time I was editor of the fanzine The Comic Reader, having taken over from Jerry Bails. Ronn showed me a sample of art from an issue of the Fawcett Lash LaRue comic and asked if I could identify the artist. It required only a quick glance to confirm that the artist was Golden Age great George Tuska. “Wrong!” Ronn said, and he proceeded to show me the initials “PM” on the splash page. Ronn told me the artist was Pete Morisi. During our interview, Pete proved both very knowledgeable about the field of comic art, and helpful when asked about his own background. —GDJ Glen D. Johnson: Pete, today it is very common to have comics fans break into the profession of comic book writer or artist. Weren’t you a fan before you became a pro? Pete Morisi: I don’t think there were any comic book fans when I was growing up. I was the only one on my block who saved some of those early titles. I loved comic books and newspaper strips. So I guess the answer is, “Yes, I was a fan before I became a pro.” Glen: I’ve noticed that you have a few nice pages of original comic book artwork. One is a Silver Streak cover by Jack Cole, and another is a Simon & Kirby cover featuring The Guardian from StarSpangled Comics. How do you happen to have such rare pages of Golden Age artwork? Pete: You got that wrong, kiddo. The Jack Cole original is a Claw vs. Daredevil splash page, done in colored inks, and it is a beauty. Probably done for Silver Streak Comics. I was working part time as a delivery boy in Manhattan, when one of those deliveries was next door to Lev Gleason Publications. After my delivery I knocked on Lev Gleason’s door and told him I was an art student, and did he have any old originals he could give me. He said, “Sure, son,” and gave me the Cole original and a costumed hero strip called “13.” I think that was drawn by Jerry Robinson. As for the Simon & Kirby Guardian cover, I traded a fellow student for it, but don’t remember any details. All three of those originals are gems. Glen: As a youngster, did you like to draw? Pete: I can’t remember not having a pencil or piece of chalk in my hand. I’d draw on paper bags, the cement ground of alleyways, and sometimes make up my own strips in my school copybooks. Glen: Who were your early influences? Pete: Caniff, Sickles, Robbins (although I didn’t know Sickles was doing some of Terry and the Pirates). My family couldn’t afford to buy the higher-priced Journal-American newspaper, so I never got to see Prince Valiant or Flash Gordon. August 2000
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Glen: When did you decide you wanted to be an artist? Pete: Somehow, I guess I always knew it, but the thing that pushed me over the edge was Superman. I was ten years old in 1938 [when Action Comics #1 hit the stands], and the thought that a man could fly, leap over tall buildings, and have bullets bounce off his chest fascinated me. I wanted to be a part of a business that could capture my imagination like that. I had to be part of it. Glen: As a young fan interested in comics, who impressed you the most? Pete: In one word: Kirby! I liked Blue Bolt, but not the Simon version. It was the Kirby art that drew my attention to the strip. I knew, even then, that I was seeing something special. I’ve been a fan ever since, although I don’t always agree with some of the stuff he did. To me, Captain America will always be Kirby’s most interesting art. Lou Fine could draw a superb figure, Reed Crandall could draw it with power, Will Eisner could tell a fantastic story with art that was his style… but only Jack Kirby could draw action. Raw, wild, boisterous action that would splash across the panel borders and make you say, “Wow!” When I look back at those Captain America stories, I see a lot of bad art, a lot of faking and bluffing; but the action, the mood, and the comradeship were there. A new concept in comics had been born. Simon and Kirby went on top of the world. I also enjoyed The Guardian [in “The Newsboy Legion”], “Sandman,” “Manhunter,” Stuntman, and Fighting American… but not as much. Also, The Boy Commandos and The Boy Explorers. I spoke to Simon once and asked him who inked Kirby years ago. He said that he was involved in everything… which means I wasn’t going to get a straight answer. And I didn’t. Glen: When you say you didn’t agree with some of the stuff Kirby did, what didn’t you agree with? Pete: I liked the lean, mean, and sleek look that Kirby created for his costumed heroes. That look was meant for action, and Kirby delivered
Above: Often the only clue as to the identity of a Morisi-drawn story was the initials “PAM,” leaving many admirers wondering just who the heck the artist was! Opposite page: Great T-bolt commission piece by the master! ©2000 Peter A. Morisi. Left inset: Couple of issues of Pete’s memorable Charlton series, Peter Cannon–Thunderbolt, a character the artist owns the rights to. ©2000 Peter A. Morisi. Below: The Staten Island resident still finds time now and then in his retirement to knock out some of his handsome artwork. Courtesy of Pete Morisi.