Daniel Best: What was your first exposure to comics? Who were your early influences?
DICK AYERS: In the late '20's when I was 3 or 4 my grandmother and my father read the comics to me. Thimble Theater (Popeye), Dick Tracy and Wash Tubbs and Easy were my favorites.
DB: You broke into comics back in the Golden Age Ė what was your first published work?
DA: First published pencil work was a Funnyman story for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. †First lettered, pencilled and inked story was "Doctor of Fate", a western for issue #6 of Magazine Enterprises' "Cowboys N' Injuns.
DB: You also did some work in television . When was this and how did this come around?
DA: It was a half hour story for the CBS TV show Suspense called "The Comic Strip Murder." I did the prop comic strips for the show and the show was "live" and they shot the camera over my shoulder as I lettered the title and credits for the show -- starring Lili Palmer. †I was offered a job as the director's assistant but realized I loved doing comics more.
DB: The Ghost Rider - the original - I understand that it was your creation. Is this true and if so, where did that concept come from?
DA: Ghost Rider was Vin Sullivan's idea, originating from Vaughn Monroe's popular recording of "Riders in the Sky." Vin told me how his costume was to look. †I consider myself a co-creator for I designed and developed Vin's idea.
DB: During the 1960's you returned to Marvel and were part of the original Bullpen. What do you recall about working alongside the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Buscema, John Romita, Don Heck, Syd Shores, Gene Colan, Marie Severin and the rest?
DA: I never worked in any "bullpen." †I work free-lance... still. †I only have met those you named, or others casually on occasions.††
DB: It may be a silly question, but what was it like working on those early Marvels - the Fantastic Fours, the Avengers....
DA: It was a job still in comics when it looked like the industry was "dying." †I enjoyed inking the Monster stories more than the super heroes.
DB: Stan Lee has managed to obtain a fairly (in my opinion unfair) reputation when it comes to writing. How did he write with you as the artist?
DA: Stan wrote full scripts for the Wyatt Earp books ... he started writing and telephoning script synopses with a Rawhide Kid story, "The Bronc Buster."
DB: Did you manage to retain much of the classic Marvel art that you worked on?
DA: I got some original art --- less than half of what I'd done.
DB: The big question - who did ink Fantastic Four #1?
DA: I don't know who inked FF1. Marvel editors evidently thought I did. I never questioned it for I would just ink in 3 hours and get it in the mail by 12 noon so Stan would get the cover by the next day so who's to remember? I relied on Marvel being correct and never questioned it until a fan in London phoned me twice and raised questions enough to get me to get my record book and look it up. †My first inked FF cover is #6. †I don't knew who inked #1.
DB: You're a damn fine penciller and also a very good inker. Do you have a preference for either?
DA: I prefer to pencil and ink my own work, pencilling more because I get to tell the story,† and only inked to survive in comic books and support my family which included my wife, 4 children and mother-in-law. Inking others pencils at that time had me feeling I was being robbed of my developing my style which, at that time, I felt I near to doing what I wanted.† †
DB: Who did you enjoy inking over?
DA: No one.
DB: Your work on Sgt Fury & His Howling Commandos was nothing short of brilliant - both alone and inking over Jack Kirby. What do you remember about Fury?
DA: I remember not liking it when it first had me inking, I didn't like Kirby's pencilling of Sgt Fury and asked off after the 3rd issue. I was in the Army 1942 - 1945 and it didn't connect with how I pictured "army." When Stan put me on to pencilling it, it wasn't until I recalled how it was when, getting into the combat zone, we would exaggerate out combat stories to each other and do anything we could to look different from the others around us. I got a shoulder holster and .45 and wore ski sox and a silk scarf. Then Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos became real to me. †
DB: More often than not when an artist took over a title at Marvel their art appeared to emulate their predecessor a lot (albeit Kirby or Ditko) in order to create a sense of continuity. Were you ever asked to alter your art in order to emulate another artist?
DA: No, I was never asked to emulate another artist. I would note what artist Stan was buying the most from and try to tell my stories with some of that artist's flavor. Getting the character to look the same was just to be as little confusing for the reader as we could.
DB: From Marvel you went to DC . Is there anything that stands out in your mind from those years?
DA: DC is the most professional of the two. I was able to accomplish pencilling 4 books a month. There'd be a script for me every time I delivered my pencils. As a result I think I did some of my best storytelling at DC. I was asked to pencil tight leaving the blacks and tones for the inker. †It enabled me to do some of my best story telling in Kamandi, Jonah Hex and Unknown Soldier and all the other DC books they had me do.
DB: How has the industry changed since you broke into it?
DA: Very much. The industry changed with the over use of color, the collage type page layouts and confusing rendering of panel layouts. †Computer lettering is too small and boring. The artists are quite talented but most are weak in story telling.
DB: If you had to look back and pick one single piece of art Ė one piece of work that you could truly say ďYep, that one I nailed perfectly.Ē What would it be and why?
DA: A story Stan plotted, a 5 pager called "And Not A Word Was Spoken." It is told in pantomime where a bully comes in to a bar and cowers everyone except a small guy dozing at a corner table so he bullies him and challenges him to shoot it out. The little guy outshoots the bully and rides off. A poster proclaims him a trick shot artist of a circus that's just come to town. Those 5 pages are framed and hanging in the hallway to my studio.
DB: What are you currently doing these days?
DA: Currently I do commissioned drawings and am lettering and pencilling a "monster" book and also inking a "monster" book" and doing an autobiography. Now letís get down to talking comics.
DB: People like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, what were they like?
DA: I admired them and I was quite honoured when Joe Shuster got friendly with me when I was going to school at nights with Burne Hogarth and I gravitated down to his studio and did some pencilling for him and he was nice to work with. And Jerry would come in once in a while because he was the writer naturally.
DB: Where you aware of their stature? These were the guys that created Superman.
DA: Oh yes. Sure I was, yes. I guess I was in awe of them. They created a word that got into the dictionary and they had all this popularity as Superman was really flying high. When I worked for them they were in the process of trying to get ownership of it back from DC. And they got this book Funnyman and they had me pencil it for them.
DB: I donít think I ever saw Funnyman, what was Funnyman?
DA: Well Funnyman? He was a dressed in a clown suit and he was more humour in the way he battled the bad guys and he patterned on, do you know Danny Kaye the comedian?
DA: Ok, that was the model.
DB: AhhhÖDanny Kaye as Superman almost.
DB: IncredibleÖ because it just fascinates me that you worked with them and you knew them. Itís an impressive thing. And when you worked on the Jimmy Durante comic, did you ever meet him?
DA: No, unfortunately. I wish I could have, and I hoped for a chance to do it because Vin Sullivan that was publishing the book and hired me to do it, he had met Jimmy because he had done himself a newspaper strip called Schnozzle in the Ď30ís which was based on Jimmy. So the closest I got to him was playing his records while I was working <laughter> and my English got kind of disintegrated.
DB: Again, you worked with Kirby.
DA: He came much later. He came almost ten years later.
DB: What was he like?
DA: Well I never really saw him personally, I talked to him on the phone to him a little bit and he was very good because heís the same type as me in that heís always on time, he was. So I could count on his work coming at like 7:30 in the morning special delivery by the mail and that way he had me working those newspaper strips like Skymasters and then Stan Lee had me doing just about everything that was in sight at that time.
DA: And at the same time that I was inking Kirby I was working for others. I worked for Joe Simon doing work for his Sick magazine that he called. That was more a copy on Mad, it was more outrageous humour and I had romance stories that I was doing, and then the westerns that Stan Lee himself had me doing all the pencilling and inking on the westerns.
DB: You seem to prefer the westerns; youíve told me that you prefer the monster stories though.
DA: Yes I do.
DB: The humour stuff, other than Sick did you ever do any? What did you think of the humour magazines?
DA: Well Charlton had me do a book called ĎEh! Dig This Crazy Comicí. And that ran for about seven issues.
DB: Did you ever warm to it? Did you ever sit there and think I might go work for Mad?
DA: No, I didnít. I tried to get in there but I never saw the right man. And I met him, Al Feldstein, but he said, ďGod, if Iíd had gotten to meet you, you would have been hired.Ē And so thatís the way life is. That and westerns are my favourite things to do. I like to do the humour, Mad type humour.
DB: Youíre underused in the humour department
DA: I could never make enough to support my family. You know Iíd only get a short story a month or something and then there wouldnít be enough to carry me.
DB: With your westerns, and I have to say this, Iíve not seen too many people that could draw a horse as well what you draw a horse.
DA: Oh, the horses? <laughter>. A funny story that I love to tell is that I was very proud with my first Ghost Rider. And I had spent my boyhood at my aunts and uncles farm upstate in New York which was like going back to the wild west, false front buildings and all of that and so I sent my cousin this first book, and my cousin wrote back ďDick, your horses look like they belong on a merry-go-round.Ē <laughter> So I had to concentrate on how I made my horses run.
DB: All of your western material looks great, I was looking at some of it last night I was thinking Ďtoo goodí.
DA: I was just looking at it too because I had this story framed, I just hung it on the wall, ĎNot A Word Was Spokení Ė did you find that one?
DB: Not yet, Iíve not been able to find that one anywhere. Where was that published?
DA: That was published like 1962 or 3, something like that. I never carry in my memory, I can never remember the books, or the number or the issue.
DB: Iíll track it down eventually <laughter>
DA; It was in a, itís been, no Ė Iím wandering off. I think it was the Two Gun Kid, a filler.
DB: Now when you were working you would have worked at the time of the senate hearings .
DB: What was that like, because Iíve always read about them and the effect on the publishers but I rarely read about the artists or writers.
DA: That was a horrible time. When it first started, when it was a senate investigation?
DA: Well first came a magazine, a parentís magazine, somebody called my attention to it. They would take it upon themselves to rate the different books as being Ďobjectionableí and all that. And like I was doing Bobby Benson and they rated that as Ďobjectionableí. Now Bobby Benson is about a boy cowboy that was very popular on radio, Bobby Benson and his B-Bar B Riders.
DB: Why was that objectionable to them?
DA: I donít know. I tried to figure that out. And then Jimmy Durante Ė they complained because he didn't speak kings English. <laughter>
DB: Obviously they never saw him.
DA: Yes. Probably whoever said that didnít even know who Jimmy Durante was. That was the type of stuff that they would, and then it got getting worse. And then it got the point where my three sons and daughter were in their grade school when I was young and they were under ten. And they had that show and tell thing where the child is supposed to tell what their father does for a living and all that and they didnít want to say. They wouldnít tell. I was a bad guy, for drawing comics.
DB: Did you every sit there and contemplate a career change?
DA: Not very seriously, no. I had my uncle visiting me and he was sitting there while I was working and this is way back in, oh í60, 1960 or something like that and I complained. I said ďGee I wish Iíd learned something else so in these hard times I could go out and get a job and do a little bit better.Ē My uncle looked and me and smiled and said ďIf you knew anything else you probably wouldnít survive at this.Ē. So this is it and thatís the way itís been. I thought about it but I throw it away because I want to stick with, I love my comics. Even now.
DB: Iím glad you did stick with it.
DA: Yes. Iím busy now with doing my autobiography as a graphic novel.
DB: Now when is that coming out?
DA: That comes out when I get it done and Iíve got a long ways to go. Actually just while weíre talking about it Iím at the point where Iím drawing Jimmy Durante, and
thatís the beginning of comics. Iíve been all through growing up and through the war that I was in and all that bit.
DB: What was the war like.
DA: Well, as one old soldier told me when we had a reunion, he says ďDick, you only remember what was a good time, you donít remember the bad ones.Ē And I guess thatís the truth. You know when Iím telling my biography, anything I talk about or tell in a story with a slightly whimsical twist. In other words I wonít go into gore or anything I just put a little whimsy into it. But when I was going through it I was scared to death. But now that I look back I can laugh at it. Like Sgt Fury.
DB: Ahhh the Sgt Furyís. As I said in my email my brother and myself grew up on thoseÖyou ruined us for English <laughter>. Now something that my brother pointed out to me was that he always thought that the insults that Fury and co threw around, the Ďchicken stratchiní paper hanginíí stuff were merely euphemisms for stronger words.
DA: Oh, you have to clean up the dialogue a little bit? <laughs> Yes, you did. I wouldnít want to use what we said anyway, <laughter> I used that enough in real life.
DB: And you didnít want to do Sgt Fury Ė you wanted off after the third issue.
DA: Yes, well I didnít like it. The first few issues I didnít take to it at all. I didnít like what Kirby did and I was a soldier myself and that wasnít GI, that wasnít, it was not real to me. And then it wasnít until I quit it and Stan called me and put me back on it as a penciller and also working from his method, where we worked from synopsis and, as I put it, I only got to be really able to do it when I realised when I got into combat it was like that. I mean the orders, the regulations werenít so strict. And so, in the combat area I got a shoulder holster with a .45, and I got ski sox and I got a silk scarf just to be a little different. And naturally when you come back off a mission or you come back from whatever your story is bigger than it really was. So that made Sgt Fury easy for me. Because we never would come back and say ďOh we had a great time with one girl.Ē Weíd say we had a great time with four girls. <laughter> You follow me? <laughter>
DA: Gotta exaggerate you know, make it really sound good. So that made me kind of adapt to Sgt Fury. I could accept Gabe with the bugle. And in that department I was drawing Sgt Fury one day and a friend of my mother-in-laws had come up and she had a chauffeur, and the chauffeur was Oriental, Japanese. And so I was working and he came in to watch me work and he said ďAh-so, beautiful, beautiful.Ē And that always meant something to me because you know how they use the brush all the time like that. Oh, and then another guy came in and heíd been a paratrooper. And this was at a different time. And he was watching me work and there I was drawing them bailing out of a plane and I had Gabe blowing the bugle and he said ďOh my God, we had a fellow in our outfit that used to do that every time we jumped!Ē.
DB: So Sgt Fury possibly did exist.
DA: Yes. And then so Junior (Juniper) was killed, I think Kirby killed him off. Why? Stan needed a new character. So I said well letís make him an Englishman. So that brought in Percy. So that Englishman to me meant, weíd always go to London or something and we didnít have umbrellas so we carried our raincoat all rolled up in a little kit bag but you were smart if you had an umbrella. So I put it to use and had Percy really swing with it and do things.
DB: I always saw Percy as being David Niven.
DA: Yes. And so recently, because you know the bit with the Rawhide Kid where Marvel went and made him come out of the closet so to speak, or whatever they call it. And they interviewed Stan and he said ďWell that wasnít the first one, Pinky was.Ē. Well I took offence to that and I emailed Stan and I said ďStan, what do you mean? Percyís an Englishman for crying out loud and your wife is English too. <laughter> What are you doing?Ē And he said ďDick, I donít hedge my bets.Ē. In other words it was an opportunity so he took advantage of it. Certainly it was not meant to be that, I thought of it being that, but I never thought of Rawhide being different.
DB: I think they did that with Rawhide just to be different <laughter>. As I said, I always looked at Percy and saw David Niven.
DA: Thatís one thing that Stan injected Ė make him like David Niven, with the little moustache and all that.
DB: Now when you worked at Marvel in the Ď60ís, itís got a very romantic image now that obviously wasnít there for you.
DA: In what way?
DB: Well I guess that the more I speak to people the more Iím learning that a lot of what I thought I knew wasnít always the case. The Bullpen and the image that came with it, with everyone pitching in and helping each other with workÖ
DA: The Bullpen. Most of the time when I came in the 60ís there was no such thing. I mean we all worked at home. But then as they got to getting more books out and got successful they would gradually add a couple. And I know that some, like Johnny Romita, heíd like to work in the office. I would be delivering my work sometimes before nine oíclock in the morning and there would be Johnny working. And I said why donít you work at home and he said no, I like it here. <laughter>. Too many side issues probably, they always said do this and do that type of thing so you had to be pretty strict in order to work at home.
DB: I can see why they let you work at home because everything got turned in. Now that brings me to something else thatís really amazed me Ė your work ethic that you have, and that you had back then.
DA: I would pencil, over at DC I was pencilling four books a month, one a week.
DB: How did you manage to do that? Because the books themselves, I look at them and theyíre very high quality art.
DA: Over at DC I got complete scripts. To me thatís letting me be the director, the cameraman and the actor and the whole smear like making a movie. To work from a synopsis that makes you be part writer while youíre thinking up the continuity. You have to write in a little bit to pad the story and make it fit the number of pages that the writer or editor has asked me to do.
DB: And that was Stanís method of working? To phone you up and say Iíve got an idea, or this is what I want to happen in the next issue.
DB: It does surprise me, and I donít know why it surprises me, that people with work ethics such as yours who put out a large number of quality pages in such a short time, yet people now canít produce a monthly book on time. Why do you think thatís changed?
DA: Well itís a matter of loving what youíre doing for one thing, so enjoying all the time. And I would start work, Iíd get up at 5 and Iíd start work at 5:30 say and Iíd try to get through at suppertime, and we always ate at 6pm. You know, to keep everything in routine, 6 in the evening we ate. Then after I ate Iíd go back if I had work left over (usually did), letter the two pages for the next day, I did my own pencilling, inking and lettering, or to finish up. So I might work to nine oíclock, ten at the latest.
DB: How many pages could you get done in an average day? Starting at 6 and finishing at 6 Ė the twelve-hour block.
DA: When I was lettering, pencilling and inking, like Wyatt Earp and all that, back at when I was at my own self, Iíd do two pages a day. Thatís why I would start at say 5:30 in the morning and by the time lunchtime came Iíd have finished one page. And I ate for ten minutes and go right back to work and then Iíd have the other done like I said. Iíd try to get it done by six oíclock.
DB: And on the inking side, if Iíve read it rightly, a cover in three hours.
DA: Oh yes, Iíd ink a cover in three hours. Stan loved it. Heíd send me the cover Friday afternoon, heíd put in the mail special delivery, and 7:30 in the morning the doorbell would ring and there would be the mailman. So Iíd have to sit right down and have that done, because the post office closes at noontime here, and Iíd run to the post office, put it in the mail and heíd have it Monday.
DB: Again, that amazes me, because the covers that you inked...
DA: They were strong, those monster covers were beautiful.
DB: And the other thing that amazes me is that you didnít like inking.
DA: No, I didnít like inking other peopleís pencils. Not that Iíd do handsprings over it. <laughs> But Iíd do the best. Whatever Iím working on I try to do the best I can.
DB: Which again comes back to your work ethic. There are some people who if they donít like what theyíre being asked to do, will turn in a bad job, deliberately, in order to never be asked to do that again. You never did.
DA: At the time I was going through that nobody would do that I think, because there were only two companies you could get work with. There was just Marvel and DC. Archie was more, just doing Archie comics, no adventure. So it wasnít, you really produced what the editor wanted.
DB: But then, oh Iím flogging a dead horse <laughter>. Needless to say Iím exceedingly impressed by the way you worked.
DA: It takes discipline yes. But that was it. I mean others that Iíd loved to had inked my Sgt Fury couldnít keep up with that monthly book. The one book, they couldnít keep up with it. Well thatís what one person told me, yes. <laughter> I was begging him, well címon ink Sgt Fury for me, and, you know Dick, I canít keep up with it.
DB: I wonít ask who it was <laughter>. And, again, you werenít too fond of the superhero stuff, yet some of the superhero stuff you did was some of the best that Marvel produced.
DA: Yes, I know. Not even Superman. When I was a kid I didnít go for that. I went more for Slam Bradley that Joe Shuster did. Like the name says he was a crime fighter named Slam Bradley and he wasnít a superhero, he was more like a private eye. Bt that impressed me more than Superman. †It was a little more down to earth. Thatís why I like cowboys.
DB: Just as an aside, did you ever get a shot at Superman?
DA: No. I didnít get to do Superman, not even when I worked over there.
DB: Did you ever want to?
DA: I wouldnít have enjoyed it, yes.
DB: What characters were there that you would loved to have done?
DA: I donít know, I think the only one that I liked, that I saw, was the Punisher. Iíd liked to have drawn him over at Marvel. But I was more or less retired from Marvel at that time, when the Punisher was so big.
DB: What appealed to you about the Punisher?
DA: I donít know. Heís a rough and tumble guy. I donít know what heís like now, Iím talking about when he first started.
DB: Because I always had himÖout of everything that I saw of Punisher I thought that he got about four decent stories, mainly the Grant/Zeck issues, but now?
DA: Iíve got enough Iím reading about, the critiques about it.
DB: A bit too gory I think now.
DA: Itís a lot like what they did to the Hulk. They turned him, because Herb (Trimpe) was saying, Herb felt the same way I did, in the beginning, that the Hulk was really a loveable guy. And when anybody at the shows asks me to draw the Hulk I ask them Ďdo you want the loveable Hulk?í. <laughter>
DB: Now, Fantastic Four issue 1. Youíve stated that you had nothing to do with that issue, but you still get the credit for it. When Marvel reprints it do they still pay you for it?
DA: No, no. I never got paid for that.
DB: So even now with the reprints?
DA: Sometimes when it sells to a certain number, I donít know what it is, just like Herb mentioned you get an Ďincentive bonusí. They donít call it a royalty anymore. So they send you a bonus, which is nice, a nice little check. Nothing to rave about. <laughter> But itís something. So mostly the reprints that were good were the Masterworks because they sold good.
DB: Has anyone at Marvel asked you to do anything in recent times? With the Rawhide Kid when they did that recently they had John Severin do it.
DA: No. In fact a fellow that called me from Arizona last week, he asked the same question youíre asking because he had heard or read that theyíre doing the Two Gun Kid in a mini-series form. The only thing that comes to my mind is that I just recently read, it was an interview in CBG or something, where the editor said that they would hire nobody over thirty. So that leaves me out, Iím way past that.
DB: Which is a shameÖ
DB: Öbecause if I were there Iíd hire you.
DA: Yes, you get better and better as far as I can see. Iím still drawing.
DB: And itís still just as good.
DB: The industry now is so much different from when you were going through it.
DA: Oh yes. Like when I was going through it life was simpler in that you had one editor. And so you could read the books and they didnít have that many out, you know, you could see what he was buying for your competition. So with Stan Lee I saw that he liked Joe Maneely and so for a while, in my horror stories, Iíd try and do a little extra backgrounds and stuff along with what Joe Maneely was doing. Never trying to imitate the personís style but you see these certain things in the stories where they interpreted and youíd say ahhh thatís what Stan was looking for, or whoever the editor happened to be. But nowadays, how you going to do that? The editors, thereís so many of them. You donít know who to please.
DB: Youíve just raised an interesting point, because again, whatís been reported down the years is that Stan would say Ďdraw like this, or draw like thatí and the interpretation was that he wanted his artists to copy the likes of Kirby or whoever Ė
DA: No, I wouldnít say that. Itís a misinterpretation. The way he would put it would be oh, you see the way so and so puts his blacks, how he spots his blacks in the drawings, or how heís dramatic and does this and does that and gets more story into it. Heíd coach you that way. But I never had the feeling that he wanted me to, in fact I knew he didnít want me to work like Kirby. One day I did exactly what you said. I drew it exactly the way Kirby pencilled it, and it was a Rawhide Kid I think, and I took it in and Stan looked back and he says ďI donít want a love story for Godís sake.Ē He says ďIf I wanted you to trace, or if I wanted somebody to trace Kirbyís drawings then I could hire them off the streets.Ē. He says :ĒI want you to put stuff into it.Ē And then he went on into a long story about what he wanted here and there and said ďIf Kirby only puts a figure in a panel with no background or anything then you can take your brush and throw in some background or something and make it a little bit more dramatic.Ē And so that was how I got intoÖmaking itÖreleased and made it look my way and type of stuff where I could touch the inks and touch the pencils and make it look a bit more realism into it.
In fact Kirby himself when he gave me his Skymasters newspaper strip gave me some samples of what Wally Wood had done and said this is the way to work it. So when youíre an editor youíre trying to feel what people are buying and so at that point, in the 50ís and 60ís, just even looking at the newspaper strips they were going for much more realistic drawings. Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, all that stuff. So they figured that the reader, the buyer, wanted realistic drawings so that was the trick.
DB: Was there, and is there still, someone whose artwork you admire above all others?
DA: Yes. I loved Milton Caniff because of his storytelling. And itís the same with Buzz Sawyer and Roy Crane. Their storytelling was terrific. The Flash Gordon was pretty and everything, and I followed it and I liked it, and Prince Valiant, well that was beyond me of even thinking to be like that. I could never do that. So I more or less thought in terms of being like - and thatís not in the drawing itís in the storytelling Ė keep the action moving so that the reader will want to turn the page, or want to buy the next issue.
DB: Youíre a fascinating man <laughter>
DA: Oh, hereís one, because knowing that I love Caniff. I had a neighbour down the way that worked for the airline, the port authority in New York. So he was in charge of a luncheon engagement at the National Press Club in New York and he stopped by and said ďDick, Iíve arranged for this particular artist and I know you love him very much, heíll be there to give a talk, and you can come on, Iíll have you down and Iíll introduce you to him.Ē So it was Milton Caniff. Oh boy, oh man, I know the feeling. So I got all dressed up and went down to that luncheon and I met my friend Bud. They got me on the elevator and they got me up to where the banquet room was and when the elevator doors opened there was the bar and there was Milton Caniff standing at it. And Bud said, ďDick there he is. Go say hi.Ē I couldnít move my feet. <laughter> Bud had to drag me over to him and introduce me to him. I couldnít speak. So I finally got to meet him, have a beer with him and all that and then I knew him through the years afterward. The National Cartoonists Society. I always was in awe of him.
DB: Now youíre aware you have this same effect on people now?
DA: Yes <laughter>. Itís hard to accept. But thanks to the Internet and email that has brought that to me. Working the fifty years or more that I went through it I didnít know anybody was looking at me. I always got told oh the books are awful, theyíre not selling. Look at what we went through, what we were talking about before with the investigation and censorship, you thought nobody was buying the books. Nobody read them. Turns out with the Internet you find out <chuckle> they read them alright and they saved them <laughter>
DB: Did you save, I mean your artwork Ė you said that you didnít get back as much artwork as you did. Why was that?
DA: Well itís a misinterpretation. You canít point any one finger. Going through it I thought Iím so happy they hired me to buy my art and I thought thatís what I was selling them. The way I put it, say I was a carpenter and I built the stairs on your house. Thatís it, you know, their yours. So I figured, I guess all the other bunch of us artists we thought that theyíre buying our artwork from us. And all of a sudden we find out that no, through the years it wasnít that. They were buying the right to print it, not the right to own it. So then came that problem of getting it back to us. In the meantime it had all innocently I would always say, not always stolen, it was just given out.
DB: What do you do now when you come across someone selling your art? Someone pointed out on eBay someone was selling some of your art that wasÖ
DA: Yes, you saw that? It was a complete story of Giant Man that I had pencilled, inked and lettered.
DB: What do you do when that happens?
DA: Well, you canít do anything. Youíre appealing to the good nature of the fellow thatís doing it. So he took it off the market and I donít know what he does with it. Really itís just that this is all me, and it was also written by Stan Lee. And I never got it back. I should have gotten it back because they tried to give me everything I did. I got a big pile of Wyatt Earps and all the western stuff that I did. And Sgt Fury, mostly I just pencilled and somebody else inked that so I only got parts of it, I didnít get the whole stories. The covers, I hardly got any of those back. As my wife said, I get the ones back that nobody wanted <laughter>.
DB: I find that hard to believe, I think if you wanted to sell some of your covers then people are going to go nuts to get them.
DA: But you donít even see Kirbyís covers for sale. Like those monster books that we did together. I donít know, the covers I got back were very few, Sgt Fury, a few but not that many. But like I said thatís just growing up in those times. And now what happens when they return it to you, because of the computer lettering, you come back with only drawings on the page. So that takes away from the value of the art because the lettering is part of the storytelling. And to just have a blank page with no lettering, it only works when itís intentional like I say with the story I love so much that Stan and I did where itís in pantomime.
DB: Iíd like to touch on colouring. When you were doing it the books had a warm feel to them, they were organic so to speak, and now with the computer colouring they look fairly sterile. How do you see that now?
DA: I donít look at the current stuff all that much. I only see what they reproduce in the Comic Buyers Guide or something. I donít buy any books to look at anymore and I donít get any complimentary copies Ė they stopped that. So the only time I get to see anything is when Iím at these conventions if I get a chance to get a hold of one just to look at it. So my general reaction is that, being as itís new, they havenít learnt to control their colouring. They over colour. I like the simple brush, like you see in my westerns, nice, easy to look at colours that donít slow you down. They donít stop you, you keep moving right along as youíre reading the story.
A comparism for that is Warren Beattyís Dick Tracy movie. He had the colours in there that were simple.
DB: Everything in that were primary colours.
DA: Yes, red, yellow and blue. <laughter>
DB: I remember thinking when it came out that it was very odd, but I liked it.
DA: Yes, he had his coat and hat, they were the yellow like in the comic strip.
DB: You taught at the Kubert School. What did you do there?
DA: Well I taught Fridays, a one day Friday, and I taught anatomy and I taught storytelling. Iím very proud of my class and Iím also proud, the first year who I had, went to Kubert and asked if they could have me again for the second year. So I taught the same class, because it was only a two-year course, all the way through on Fridays. My students were Tom Mandrake, Jan Dursemma and Craig Boldman, Karl Kessel. Just about everybody went right into the field. In fact last time we had the class before the graduation I said well now you guys are going to be competition, youíre going to be my competition, and this is my last time teaching, Iím quitting. <laughter>
DB: Thatís a pretty impressive list of people.
DA: Yes, and thatís just the top ones coming off the top of my head.
DB: Did you enjoy doing it?
DA: Oh yes, I enjoyed it, but to go on would have meant Iíd be doing the same thing over again. See, I was excited, I had the class, I got involved with them and then they went and had me stay with them the second year so I went all the way through.
DB: Ghost Rider. You co-created it Ė itís yours.
DA: In a way. But itís mostly because after working with Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel and knowing what they were going through with that trial. And they lost out. Yet they were in Whoís Who and they created a word thatís in the dictionary and they had to fight for the ownership of something that they created and didnít get it. They didnít win. And so I made a point: I would never create without having a contract in the first place that said Iíd get royalties. So as close as I came to it was that Vin Sullivan had me in and just like he told me what Jimmy Durante was to look like, why he told me exactly what he wanted from the song Ghost Riders In The Sky, and he told me what he was to wear and then it evolved. And then I got a script. It was Gardner Fox that wrote the first three stories, we got along good.
DB: Do you get the co-creator credit now when they reprint?
DA: Well now the reprints, and they call it the Haunted Horseman, but my name is on it all the time. But theyíre in dire straights so, they had been paying me reprint money but they had to stop, because theyíre only selling 500 books a month or something, very low.
DB: Have you ever thought going and doing something else with it?
DA: I canít. I canít because Marvel owns the title, canít use the words Ghost Rider. They took that because Vin Sullivan, thereís some kind of a ruling when you have the copyright and the trademark that you have to print it once a year. So I know that those old Archieís, they had me do a page of all their characters and then they printed it and that kept them so nobody could steal the titles or the character. So Stan, or Vin, didnít do that and there sat Marvel and they grabbed it. Just like they grabbed Captain Marvel. They grabbed that title. When DC wanted to put it out they called it Shazam. They couldnít use the title Captain Marvel.
DB: And, of course, the Ghost Rider that Marvel put out now is as far removed from yours as you could get.
DA: So they had me do, oh, I donít know, seven books or more. I donít think we made twelve books and they put it aside because it wasnít selling. And somebody got the idea ĎGee whiz, letís use the title and put him on a motorcycle.í Went from there and that clicked. That made Ďem money.
DB: Well they had your Ghost Rider meet their Ghost Rider at one stage (Ghost Rider #50)
DA: Yes. Marvel changed my Ghost Rider. They had me draw the Ghost Rider and I thought they owned it, but they didnít, they just owned the title. So my character wasnít the same. All of a sudden it wasnít Rex Fury, Federal Marshall, it was some guy Carter Slade, schoolteacher. Which blew my mind, but who am I, I wasnít going to complain. They owned it and theyíre paying me so when theyíre the ones paying me I do whatever they said. And then I didnít have Sing Song anymore, the Oriental boy, the helper for Rex Fury, and they gave him some schoolboy. So it was an entirely different character.
DB: Itís heartbreaking.
DA: Yes. It had to work like that, and I didnít know it until years later when I was doing a graphic novel. I had walked into Marvel with the synopsis for me to do a graphic novel or a mini-series and Jim Shooter assigned me to do graphic novel. And so here I go, and Iím writing it, and Tom DeFalco was writing the synopsis for me and change it a little bit. And I got within ten pages of having it all pencilled and I was so happy. And somebody gave me Vin Sullivanís phone number. And I called him up and I say to Vin "Boy, Iím thankful you sold out to Marvel-" "I never sold out." He said, ďThey took it.Ē And I said ďGee whiz, Iím doing a graphic novel.Ē. So thatís the end of that. When he found out he got an injunction and stopped it.
DB: Itís impressive that you learnt way back then not to, as you said, you wanted a contract in place before you created anything. Thatís something that not a lot of others did.
DB: How many characters have you had that you would have given if you didnít know what you knew?
DA: I canít tell you too much about the ones in my autobiography. Before I worked with Joe Shuster and before I went to night school with Burne Hogarth, I was going to another art school and the teacher there, all I did was draw comics. Whatever subject they gave me to try to do I would turn it into a comic strip of sorts. So she had a date with an editor up at Timely Comics. She came back and she said ďDick, theyíre looking for teenage artists. Think up a story about teenagers.Ē. Well I did. And by golly I went out and the first day I went out with him when I got it done is click. So I wonít give you the in-depth story but out of it they buyer, publisher, was going to give me a quarter of a cent royalty on every book printed Ė the press run. And they bragged, they said Ďour press run is a million copies.í. Boy, Iím really doing good, and then they said the magic words: ĎWeíll draw up the contract when I get back from my vacation. You go ahead and start drawing because this is a whole book, youíve got to plan on what youíre doing with it, and while Iím gone, and Iíll be gone about a month, while you need money you can get an advance.Ē And they were treating me fine. And when they came back their mind had been changed, or his mind had been changed. So he found reasons, oh I donít like this and I donít like that. So there I was. I lost my opportunity. I shouldnít have done anything until he got back with the contract. But I had quit art school and all that and I was so happy. Right and I was conservative, I wouldnít go hitting them for a lot of money I just took a little bit of money. But that was my first lesson.
So as you go along and youíve got a running book like Sgt Fury and whenever he was being taken back from his mission on the continent, why there would be a submarine to take him back. And I would always draw the same guy with the beard. No name, just as Stan said in the synopsis, a submarine. So Iíd draw the same captain all the time. And one day Iím sitting there with Stan just in the morning there when I delivered some work and he said ďDick, weíre going to give that submarine captain a name. And heís going to have his own book.Ē Captain Savage. <laughter> Thatís as close as I, unconsciously, designed something.
DB: Did it ever bother you that they did that, Captain Savage?
DB: And you never wanted a piece of him?
DA: No. Well in fact nothingís been done with him but I guess itís not that, no. Now the reverse, over at DC. Iím working along there and they had me start Scalphunter. And they had me design the character and all that and I got a letter, and Iíve got it right on my bulletin board in my studio framed. I got a percentage of it. If ever they make a movie out of Scalphunter well Iíll get a piece of it. At least thatís the only thing Iíve gotten. And that was even better than Captain Savage Ė they told me what they wanted.
DB: And youíve said that DC was more professional than what Marvel was. Is that part of the reason?
DA: Yep. Big difference. When I went over there, still pretty much the same but I dropped by with my son a year or two ago. Everything is efficient. I mean theyíve got those cubicles and the cubicles are neat and orderly. They way I put it, because I noticed that if the editor, or whoever, has to go to the menís room and he has to walk through the reception area he has to put his coat on. Heís always working with a tie and a shirt and all of that, to go to the menís room he has to put on a jacket. And thatís just symbolic of what I mean by efficiency and ethics. And then they gave me a work for order that in it states, just like a contract, that if you donít get your work back, if it isnít returned to you, the originals, they will pay you again, the same as they paid you before. I had it happen twice, I didnít get two Unknown Soldiers back and they paid me.
Marvel is completely the opposite. I took that same son, was the same day, we went down to visit Marvel. And when we came out of it my son said ďMarvel Comics should fire everybody who works there for crying out loud and get a whole new bunch of people, and get rid of a couple of floors, they donít need Ďem.Ē Because all he saw, like he said, was people playing with their licensed toys and goofing around. He didnít see them working like he did at DC. That way they donít get their books out on time.
When I worked at DC Paul Levitz was assistant editor to Joe Orlando, then he got to be an editor. Best editor I could want. When he gave me a script to do he gave me a full script all the time. And I had a date book in my pocket and Iíd take out the date book and Iíd set out how many pages per day and Iíd say Iíll be in next Thursday with all the pencils. Iíd come in next Thursday and there would be another story waiting for me.
DB: Well I wonít keep you any longer and thanks for you time Ė itís been my pleasure talking to you.