DANIEL BEST: Where I'd like to start is right where you are at the moment. How did you get into painting?
RICH BUCKLER: Let's see, that's a pretty open question. I suppose that everything I've done so far has led me towards the painting. I've always planned on being a "complete artist," as in being versatile and well-rounded. I haven't gotten around to sculpture yet, but I will. Painting -- that's something I've always had in mind. I never bought into the idea that, "Oh, the old masters, they did it all." Like nothing that comes after the Renaissance could be up to the standards set by Raphael, or Titian or Leonardo. Probably it began to really develop in me when I started doing watercolour pieces for comic book conventions. It developed into a burning desire, like drawing just sort of "possessed" me, and then I just decided, well, maybe now is the time to go where I always wanted and just go for it and do full painting. I remember, when I decided this, at a comic book convention I showed some watercolour drawings to Jim Steranko and he said, "You know, this stuff's really good, but why are you showing this to me? You're good. You know you are, I know you are. You've got everything you need". I said, "Well, so what do I do next? What do you suggest?" He said, "Nothing. Drop the black line and just paint". So that's what I did. I just ran with that. He also said, “It's a big jump for most artists. They're ‘married’ to the line, and can't imagine themselves rendering something without a solid outline to ’hold’ the colour”. He probably doesn't remember the conversation, but I was certain he had hit the nail on the head. So I just ran with that.
DB: How is the painting going? The ones that I've seen on-line are extremely impressive.
RB: That's the surrealism that you're referring to?
RB: That's been going well. In fact, I had no idea that I had that in me. I just decided to sit down and let whatever comes, come -- and not edit my feelings or the content, just let it go where it will. And I realised, "Wow, I've always been a surrealist. This is what Dali did". And it was, at least in terms of the process. It's allowing your thinking to go to the same place he did, and you get the same product (only you're not Dali, so the ‘packaging’ is different). The drawings were finished drawings unto themselves. Then they became paintings, and the paintings just seemed to become what they wanted to. And I loved the results so I kept doing them. I've done about forty paintings and it doesn't look like I'm going to be stopping soon. But I haven't stopped to drawing, and haven't stopped thinking comics, or given it up. In fact, I have just recently started to paint superheroes because I still have that passion for the comics. Interestingly, what's happened is I've perfected my painting technique, so I won't have to worry about that; it's been taken care of. But the challenge was to figure out how to make a superhero come to life on canvas, looking ‘realistic’, but in such a way that he doesn't look like he's painted from a model of a photograph. At the same time, adding or combining into it the dynamics of the exaggerated comic book figure -- and actually end up with something that works. So that's another area that I'm developing.
DB: Let's go all the way back now. What was your first exposure to comic books?
RB: It's hard to pinpoint exactly where one began, but like most comic book artists I started out as a fan and a collector. Somewhere along the way in my younger years, and we're talking about 12, 13 years old, I figured out that somebody draws these things. And I started drawing my own comics, and colouring them with coloured pencils or whatever I could get a hold of, and then one day I noticed in the letters pages there were other people who, if not doing the same, were so interested in comics they were writing letters to the editors of the books; and the people who were publishing the comics were publishing the addresses of these people and I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool if I got in touch with a few of them and maybe we'd have something in common?" So I wrote a few letters. I think one of the earliest ones to answer back was Alan Weiss, who's also went on to become a well-known comic artist. We made friends via the mail, and then we met and became friends. Alan's energy was just incredible, and I was always impressed by his level of drawing ability (which, at that time, was light years ahead of mine -- and, presently, I think he's still there). I did networking through the comics conventions and amateur comics "zines", that's how I found about different comics fans/collectors like me. First, I'd get in touch with them via the mail. And this was before there was any organised comic fandom. So I was in there at the beginnings of it, publishing my own amateur comics and involved with organising and supporting local comic book activities, conventions, whatever. I'm not the person who started it all, but I was one of the people actively participating in it. I think early on I contacted Jerry Bails, who was one of the key people in organising comic fandom in America, then Roy Thomas, and then things just grew out of that.
DB: Who were some of the other people you met in those days?
RB: Roy Thomas initially, because Roy and Jerry Bails were good friends -- I think they even went to the same university. I had no idea that later Roy was going to become the editor in chief at Marvel Comics, but that happened, and I think he had no idea back then, either. He just loved the comics and to this day he's a powerhouse of ideas and he's just a well of enthusiasm and has a love of the comics. A very dynamic person and, actually, just about my favourite comics writer.
DB: How did you get into comics? Your first work appeared in Flash Gordon issue 10, back in 1967, a four page back-up story.
RB: Yes. There are very few people who know about that. That happened when I was eighteen years old and it was probably much too early for me to get into comics. But I had managed to connect with somebody on one of my trips to the New York conventions. I kept going to these, to network, to meet professionals and bring my samples, and of course I kept getting turned down, everybody was getting turned down, but this was the year organised comic fandom was growing into a veritable movement, and the comic book companies were getting the idea that we (the comics fans/collectors) weren't going to go away. Then there was this small number of comics fanatics who wanted to draw the comics professionally, and I figured, "Hey, they'll have to pay attention to us, too." And if they did, even a little bit, then they'd eventually take some of us seriously, someone like myself, who wanted to draw professionally. Anyway, not knowing any better, I paid a visit to King Features and I don't know the exact name of the editor, but I managed to get a three page assignment, and I went back home to Detroit, and I did it, and I was thrilled. I sent it to them by mail and they sent me back a cheque. That was my first professional published work. Nothing with super-heroes. It was a biographical piece, with George Washington crossing the Delaware. They printed it as a back feature in an issue of Flash Gordon. Wow, I was so happy about this and then... nothing followed it up. <laughter> I couldn't figure that out, but then I realised: "Hmm... Detroit, Michigan. Not too many comic book artists live in Detroit, Michigan." Not that I knew of, anyway. I think at that particular time you really had to be in New York and I could not, for the life of me, nail anybody down on that point when I got them on the telephone. They would not say, "Yes! Really, you should come and live in New York!" because that would put them on the hook sort of. Like, maybe, they're offering me a job, but they can't; it's freelance. Therefore, I figured out that my chances are better if I come to New York and live there. So, for a few more years I went to comic book shows trying and that didn't work, and making my annual trip to New York from Detroit, and eventually I decided, "Now is the time to pull out all of the stops. I'm gonna go for it!" For this trip, I'll go at a time when there is no comic book convention, to New York -- and I'm going to hit all the companies, and I prepared for this. I had about twenty pages of samples; all kinds of different styles and every company I went to ended up giving me work. Then... boy was I in trouble! <laughter>... because, of course all the deadlines conflicted. <laughter> And then from there I figured out how to get the work done and how actually to be a comic book artist and turn the work out consistently, and on time. Getting things done in the amount of time that they wanted, and looking professional -- that's the magic combination that separated the amateur/fan artists from the "pros."
DB: Was Marvel was your first major gig?
RB: Actually Marvel was the first stop on my list. Prior to that, what really gave me encouragement was I spoke to Jack Kirby on the telephone. I had sent him some inking samples over his pencils through a friend of mine, Shel Dorf. He had arranged this, that I'd try out and audition for Jack Kirby as an inker, and at least get a critique and some good advice out of it. I figured something good would come from it. Shel was very helpful. And I was surprised that I actually got Jack Kirby on the telephone one evening, after my inking samples arrived at his home via the post office, and I think it was that he called me unexpectedly, and I was somewhat speechless, but I listened to him and he told me, "I don't need you as an inker, you're not quite what I'm looking for, but your work is very good and Shel has sent me some other samples. If you're thinking of travelling to New York, look up Stan Lee in the phone book and tell him I told you to tell him to give you a job. And if he gives you any problems with that, just tell him to call me". So that really prepared me. I thought "wow, what an endorsement". That's just what I did, I called Stan to get an appointment and, surprisingly enough, I got one right away. I couldn't understand how this could be happening. I could just walk in and see Stan Lee? Of course, I had met him several times before, but it wasn't like we really knew each other, you know? But, in hindsight, I realised that Jack was in the background, behind the scenes and arranging things, so Stan was ready for me. <laughter> And to my surprise, (and probably Stan's, too), the work was found acceptable and he gave me my first assignment. I believe it was a character called Man Wolf as a back up, a six or eight-page story. Stan dictated the plot right then and there. I tried to take notes, but ultimately ended up relying upon memory). I did the assignment, submitted it, and never heard about it again. I don't think it ever saw print, but it was my first assignment for Marvel. And after that they gave me something else, and then something else.
DB: Was Kirby at Marvel at that stage or had he gone over to DC?
RB: I think he was preparing to go over to DC, or already had. But what I told you was the short version simply because I left out DC Comics. DC Comics was a tough one. I actually got work at DC Comics a year before the Jack Kirby recommendation. It was only one assignment; Dick Giordano and Neal Adams were key in arranging that. I pencilled the work and Neal Adams inked it, and I was so happy about that I thought "Geez, if I don't do anything else at least I've had Neal Adams ink my work. That's it! I'll be happy the rest of my life" <laughter> Of course I woke up and then after a while I thought, "I have to do this for the rest of my life! This is great!" I remember talking to Dick Giordano on the telephone, months later, and he was always encouraging but I couldn't get him to say outright, "Yes, if you move to New York your chances will be better". He did say something along these lines: "If an artist were to live here, he'd probably, at least in theory, have a better chance". So I took that as "Move to New York, what are you waiting for?" <laughter>
DB: It's almost like they wanted you to do it, but not wanting to take the blame.
RB: Right. The thing is, I met each of these guys, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, but I didn't really know them and they didn't know me; they just knew my work, so how can you recommend or endorse someone you don't know? I think it was a big leap on Jack Kirby's part that he did what he did. Anyway, Neal Adams did take a chance on me because I remember exactly that day that they turned me down. They wouldn't give me any work, period. Those days, there was no such thing as a test script for artists to try out on. It looked like, for sure, I would have to go back home again a failure, and wait and save up enough money to try again in another year. But, no, somehow, I was almost in tears I was so disappointed, I think Neal saw this and thought, "Let's give this kid a break" and he went up to Dick and Dick went and talked to Murray Boltinoff and Murray Boltinoff actually gave me an assignment. I think that probably you'd get a similar type of story from just about anybody that got work around this time. If you were new, you really needed some kind of lucky break, because none of the companies were looking for new people; you had to have somebody who believed in you and backed you up.
DB: How did it feel being a long-time fan of these people and then meeting them?
RB: I couldn't believe it at first, and then I realised, I'm going to be associating with all these great talents for years to come. And then came the big, sudden realisation: "Wow, this is it. I have all these deadlines; I have to actually do all this work. It's actually possible do this on a regular basis, to make a living at it; I can do this for the next twenty years!" I didn't actually think twenty years ahead, I was just a kid, just twenty-two years old. But it was like a dream come true and I kept hoping I never wake up. From that moment, I threw everything into it and I never considered doing anything else.
DB: What was Marvel like back in the early 1970s?
RB: They had a very small office. DC comics had a larger office, a little more, not splashy, but a bigger office, they had a more of a corporate type set-up. But DC Comics was bigger than Marvel at that time. Marvel had a small office, just a couple of, about, three or four units in one office. I think the only office that had a closed door that was separate from everybody else's was Stan's office. That's how small it was. The waiting area was right outside Stan's office. So at this time, if you went to visit the comic companies, people were very accessible.
DB: So you could basically just walk in.
RB: Yeah. I would be sitting there, Gil Kane would walk in, or Jim Steranko, and I'd met each of them at comic book conventions but I would of course take advantage and speak to them for a few minutes. That was very cool. And I met some of the people that I didn't know. Artists I hadn't met before, but I knew them through their work, like Herb Trimpe and Marie Severin.
DB: What were Gil Kane and Steranko like?
RB: I can't really answer that because I was just so in awe of these guys. <laughter> So I don't know what they were like. It would occur to me that it was kind of strange that they were actually talking to me, but they're regular people. Everybody was friendly, courteous. What permeated all around was an air of equal respect amongst professionals.
DB: Do you ever stop now and realise that you're in that position? That when people speak to you they get the same feeling as when you spoke to Gil Kane?
RB: Absolutely. I'm perfectly aware of it. I try to disarm it as soon as possible so that we can actually communicate. <laughter> It doesn't always come up, but it does happen often. I'm in a unique situation here. I've been doing comics for over thirty years and I'm somewhat of a celebrity, but on weekends, at specific times when I go and appear publicly and people ask for my autograph and I'm a star. Then the time goes by and it finishes and I walk away and then I'm 'me'. <laughter> I go to my art studio and do my art and nobody sees me for long periods of time. So it's very cool. It's not the same as being a movie star, or a politician or whatever, and maybe not as important as, oh, I don't know what, but I'm very much still a kid, and still in awe of movie stars. I am aware that there is that sort of reality, where you're famous all the time, and always aware that you are in the public's eye. But comic book artists (and writers), we're more or less anonymous really, even though our photographs are published in the trade publications (or, fanzines, as they used to be called). So maybe a comics fan, they've met us once or twice at a different convention, and they have very little idea about us, they just get to see us for a few moments and then we're back in our worlds.
DB: At Marvel, and later at DC, you worked on pretty much everything they had, and you had a broad range of art styles that you were doing.
RB: Yes. I started out that way simply because I thought, "be like Jack Kirby and draw just about everything, every genre, and don't be limited to the one style". I don't know if Jack ever said that about himself, but that was my perception of him. And I had so many different styles, I could switch it on and off, just about any style there was. You could even see it in my first samples. I just wanted to explore everything. Do something a little bit like Gil Kane, do something a little bit like John Buscema, like Neal Adams, or Frank Frazetta, or Jim Steranko, or Will Eisner. All those people that I admire.
DB: Your Fantastic Four was very Kirby-like.
RB: Ah, because I was such a Kirby fan and here was my opportunity, working on his characters to do sort of my-version-of-his-version of the characters. In other words, it was an opportunity to be a fan and a professional at the same time, or so I thought. So I maybe indulged myself a little too much, but I had a lot of fun.
DB: Did anybody ever offer up any serious criticism about it looking a little too Kirby?
RB: Not really. It's not like anybody told me I had to draw like this, or in this or that style. I just did it. You know, it's funny, but Jack Kirby was really the standard for story telling and the Marvel look, so to speak. So when I first came into the comics I was told that by everybody at Marvel that I spoke to: John Romita, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe, they all admired him and so it was not like Stan Lee or whoever was saying "Draw like Jack". He'd say, "Look at how Jack did it". Sometimes he wouldn't have to say it because we all admired Jack Kirby's work anyway! So for me, it was just a pleasure to do it. And not that I had to do it. It was never a mandate, or company policy, or anything like that. Certainly, John Buscema didn't have to do it and he had his own version of it. Besides, like it or not, if you're an artist, inevitably your own style is going to come through. See, I never worried about that. I never worried if I had a style, or if my particular style came through. I wasn't there to impress my personality on anybody. I was just there to do good comics. So you wouldn't draw Spider-man in the same style as you'd draw Superman, that seemed to go without saying. Anyhow, that's my point of view. Another artist, maybe they would do them the same, or even completely revamped the character or style of the book, but that wasn't my point of view.
DB: Over your time you've worked on pretty much every main character at both companies, and there are not too many people who can say they've done that.
RB: Yes. Plus I've done suspense stories, science fiction stories, let's see, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, horror stories, every genre. <laughter>
DB: At any point did you ever reach a point where you said, "That's my Everest, and I'm conquering it"?
RB: I think I was conquering as I went along and I was just riding with it. I wasn't really conscious of whether or not it ever was my best work. And in some sense, nobody sees your best work when you're a comic book artist because they see it inked by someone else and then they see it printed. They don't even get to see the artwork, as opposed to being a fine artist. You do the painting and people get to see the art. In the comics, most fans just see the printed version of what you did. But I never worried about that then.
DB: Who were some of the people you worked with that stood out?
RB: Writers, early on, Doug Moench and Don McGregor, two of my absolutely favourite writers. They had the same drive and enthusiasm, and just huge amounts of talent and energy. In that same category, there was Roy Thomas and Stan Lee. They admired Stan Lee, yet each of them had their own individual way of doing things. I loved what they did with words and they understood the story-telling, so they would work closely with the artists and give them something visual. When they would write situations, when they would write characters, they would always be visual in the exposition. It was a very close collaboration, and an almost magical combination when it would happen. I wasn't always lucky enough to work with the exact writer I wanted, but when I did, some fireworks would happen and something unexpectedly wonderful would occur in the storytelling. Those are very rare moments, when you've got the writer you want to work with, and he is "on," and the artist is "on" and then the inker gets turned on by that, and you get great comics.
DB: There was a point where you were working at both Marvel and DC at the same time.
DB: How did you pull that off? At any stage, did either company ask you to not draw for the opposition?
RB: They were always that way, because they were competitors. Maybe now they work a little more co-operatively, or, I don't know, it seems like that anyway; they're less competitive, basically now it's DC Comics and Marvel Comics that dominate the field, so frequently the companies collaborate on some "super project." But not too long ago, it was always very competitive and it was always touch and go for freelancers in that position. But I had friends at both companies. At one point, I remember, I had an exclusive contract at Marvel Comics and I really didn't like it, so I rode that out. I missed working at DC Comics. Then at DC Comics, the same thing happened; I seem to remember that I took it for a while, being with one company exclusively, but then the same problem would happen -- I would miss the one I wasn't working for.
DB: What carrot did DC dangle in front of you to get you to come over to them?
RB: They didn't have to dangle a carrot. They had so many of my favourite characters. I love Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman. Superman was the first comic that got me hooked on comics as a kid, and I loved Curt Swan's art. Anybody who drew well, and drew the comics, I admired and tried to emulate. At the time when I went to DC and did a lot of regular work on monthly books, Paul Levitz was there. I knew Paul from the comic fan days, so we always had a good rapport. It was almost as if you could do whatever you wanted, then. If you wanted to draw Superman, or Green Lantern, or Green Arrow or whoever, you could jump around a bit. You know, without getting crazy, of course. I think the earliest thing I worked on at DC Comics was The Rose And The Thorn, which was a back up in Lois Lane, written by Bob Kanigher. I was happy to do that because Dick Giordano was inking. He's always been one of my favourites, so I was very happy about that, but it just put me that much closer to Superman so I thought, "gee, just keep going here, you're in the game. Naturally they'll give you Superman to draw", which, of course, is what happened.
DB: You were also doing work for a lot of the smaller publishers at the time. Atlas, Seaboard, companies like that.
RB: Also Skywald, which was Sol Brodsky's black and white magazine line. I went over there because I knew Sol from Marvel Comics. Every time a new company started there were new opportunities. I remember Boris Vallejo was having trouble getting people interested in his paintings. I thought his paintings were great, I loved them. I remember meeting him up there one day, our appointments overlapped and he was selling covers there. Sol Brodsky helped get him started.
DB: You went back to Marvel and you picked up where you left off, working on the top line books.
RB: Well, see, at Skywald I had a back-up feature I was doing in Hellrider called Butterfly, and that was a female black superhero. Now, here was an opportunity to do something that no-one else gets to touch. So I ran with it. It didn't last too long, but it was an opportunity to sort of push the envelope a bit. To do some new things, to break some new ground. And when that closed up I didn't have a lot of interest in doing a lot of horror - I did some, but that's when I jumped back.
DB: How did you find Marvel at that stage?
RB: Oh, it wasn't like I was going over to the enemy, it was nothing like that. It was more about relationships. When it was first happening, the first few books at Skywald, I'd heard from a few friends, "Sol Brodsky is starting his own company". So off I went! A few years later, I remember, I'm working at Marvel Comics and somebody said "Sol Brodsky's back" and he was right back to his old position. So the Skywald adventure, it went wayward somehow, and it did end, and suddenly he was back at Marvel, too, just like me. And I was back working for him <laughter> and he was one of my favourite people to work for. It was Sol Brodsky who put me together with Larry Lieber and they connected me up with the Hulk newspaper strip, which at first I ghosted for Larry and eventually got my own by-line. And Larry was writing it, even though Stan Lee had the credit line. So you see, these newspaper strips were coming out by Stan Lee and Rich Buckler, which I thought was really cool but it was actually Stan's brother Larry Lieber who was writing them.
DB: You created Deathlok. Was he the first cyborg in a comic book?
DB: Where did it come from?
RB: My imagination, of course. But it wasn't a sudden inspiration that just ‘popped into’ my head. It was more like a sort of combination of my desire to create something new and at the same time give a nod to what's traditional. At least, that was the start of it. At first it was just simply that I was fascinated with cybernetics and I had been doing some research at the time, so I took that and the idea of a superhero being a monster. It began as a sort of ’Frankenstein meets Captain America’, so what I had was a design for a super solider that looked like a monster. That seemed to somehow work, and then it just developed from there. I thought about it, off and on, for a few days, and then it came to me: "Hey... what if he dies, and then comes back to life, and what if the people or team of scientists didn't want him to remember who he was -- but unexpectedly, he remembered anyway?" That would cause the bad guys (whoever they were going to be) all kinds of trouble. My own point of view came into play when I began to identify with my character, and he became a sort of alter-ego. I've always felt that in this "modern world" we live in, we are over-communicated -- I mean, too much information, too much input, and we're losing control of it all. It's this endless stream of information constantly coming at us from every angle -- and it's all technology-based. So, here we are in the "atomic age," with this new development... computers. The machines seemed to be taking over everything in our "real" world... banks, accounting, buying and selling, letter writing, graphics, music, military weapons, satellites, etc.; just about everything humans did, or needed to do, there would be a computer application for it. So, a little of my thinking along those lines went into it. You know, what if the computers got smart? What if you could come up with a program that was a person, or rather, could function like a person? You take that ‘computer brain’, put it into the skull of a super soldier who has been rebuilt (the ‘cybernetic’ part), and what have you got? I knew I was onto something new, but what…? This was exciting, and the story possibilities seemed endless! What if being who he was, and getting back his life, was the most important thing, because technology had taken it away. All of this was inside of me, all these different ideas in all different directions and they kind of coalesced into this concept. I think also he was the first character who had an asymmetric costume. With everyone else everything was just divided down the middle, the left matched the right. With Deathlok it didn't, because nothing matched in his life, nothing was balanced. His identity, even, became split -- while his human memory and personality re-emerge, this time impressed upon what little of his brain and nerves were left, but the computer's voice and will refused to go away. And there you have it -- the Twenty-First Century schizoid man, a cyber/human with super-human and machine-enhanced physical and mental abilities -- a super military weapon (just the program who you want killed, and he carries out the orders flawlessly, no questions asked). The philosophical implications of his predicament particularly appealed to me.
DB: Did you ever see the Jean Claude Van Damme film Universal Soldier? Basically, it was just Deathlok.
RB: Well, yeah... it was, sort of. My character did precede Universal Soldier, and Terminator. I don't think the filmmakers for Universal Soldier ‘lifted’ Deathlok -- well, maybe part of it, but that's Hollywood. What about RoboCop, and Terminator? Again, bits and pieces -- was it plagiarism, or unconscious borrowing, or just coincidence? Then again, it's sort of an idea that was floating around, the idea of a cyborg being exploited by the government was done in the Six Million Dollar Man. In fact, when I first presented the concept to Roy Thomas he said, "Marvel right now is considering picking up the option for the Six Million Dollar Man (to do a licensed comic). If Marvel does get it, we can't go with your concept even though I like it very much". That was when I approached him about it just in conversation. I didn't even have a formal proposal yet, but he liked the idea. It had no visuals yet, either (just a few concept sketches, nothing finalized). So I waited it out and one day Roy called me up and said, "Rich, Charlton picked up that option so it's a go. If you want to work up a proposal I'll see about selling it to the people upstairs". So I got together with Doug Moench and within a week we got a proposal together and that's how it came about. But the Six Million Dollar Man was still showing on television and was still popular and when I heard about the Six Million Dollar Man and started watching it -- I found out that the series was based on a novel, so I went out and bought the novel by Martin Caidin entitled "Cyborg" and I thought, really I should go all out -- find out everything I can about this character (both the literary creation and the television series) and make sure my character is nothing like it, because there was nothing like Deathlok, yet, in comics. So where the Six Million Dollar Man was attractive, I made my character ugly. And so on. I did a lot of rethinking; to make sure the two concepts didn't overlap.
DB: It was certainly very different at the time, and it was an exciting period. You had your own character with Deathlok, Jim Starlin was just starting on Warlock.
RB: Yes. And I think Jim was doing the same as I was doing. He was taking advantage of his doing regular work for Marvel and, as a sort of reward or extra perk, they would give him an opportunity (the same as they did for me) to create something new. And Jim had that in him at the beginning, and I suppose I did too.
DB: It was an exciting period because the pair of you, and many others, were doing completely different work to what had come before.
RB: Right. Well, I got some flak about the violence in the book. But my character was never meant to be a ‘super-hero’. In fact, the character at first wasn't understood at all; people would come up to me and ask, "Is Deathlok black?" and I would tell them, "No, his son is half black and his wife is black. But he's a white guy". But I mixed all that up too, the racial aspect, because I wanted him to be a universal man, I wanted him to be everybody. I wanted that connection.
DB: Was there ever any flak about the mixed marriage?
RB: Maybe if I'd made a big deal about it there might have been, I can only guess. I know that, earlier at Skywald with the Butterfly character, they were skittish about me re-fashioning the character and making the black character more black (actually, more realistic). They thought she looked too black, and had the inker change a lot of faces (which was the main reason I left that book). Remember, this is a time when there were no black super-heroes -- except for Black Panther (and later, Luke Cage -- which I always thought read like some kind of parody on stereotypes in the "exploitation" films of the time). But nobody gave me any problem with that element of Deathlok. In fact, later Marvel did do a version of Deathlok where he was a black guy, but probably that idea was too early for its time, or rather ahead of its time, but I think pretty much everything in the concept of Deathlok was a little ahead of its time. The movie stuff that seemed to be a little bit of a take off, that came later and they were reaching a different audience. And they went in different directions with it, too, so they really had different characters. Probably the idea was just in the air, but Hollywood, I think, is no real respecter of copyright, or registered trademark <laughter> or whatever. You can take anybody's idea and, like a deck of cards, you just write out on a bunch of cards the qualities and some story elements of that character and re-shuffle it and you get a new concept. Later, let the lawyers sort it out, if there's a problem.
DB: When I first saw the film all I could think was "This is Deathlok".
RB: Right, right. At first, superficially, it did seem like that. And the bit where at first he didn't remember who he was and then suddenly he did. There are whole parallels in RoboCop too, but not enough I think. It's just here and there. But none of them picked up on the heart of the concept of the hero, or rather the human spirit, triumphing over technology, with technology challenging and then ultimately threatening the existence of the individual. That was always at the heart of it.
DB: Did you keep up with Deathlok after you stopped doing the title? He had a good run in Captain America, with some beautiful art by Mike Zeck.
RB: Yeah. I liked that story. At first, yes I did keep track. Mike Zeck, I thought, did one of the best versions of the character. Later, when they re-did the character, I heard that they'd made him into a pacifist, which to me negated the whole concept. Maybe that was too quick a judgement because I didn't really look into it; I didn't read much of the material, so I don't know first hand.
DB: Do you get a creator's by-line for that?
RB: You know, the mainstream comics are a bit like Hollywood. You're lucky if you get your by-line for anything, so you have to fight for it. <laughter> I remember at one point I was fighting for it, but didn't win. It really doesn't matter. The comics fans, the ones that really love the character, they remember, they know. It's fine. I wasn't doing it to become a celebrity, or to become the next big thing. It was an idea whose time had come. It came together in me in that particular way and Doug Moench had contributed a lot of significant elements, too, stuff he had that just needed to be done, so it's like it just had to happen.
DB: Much the same that Kirby did for you, you gave starts to a lot of people who are still active forces in the industry today, with George Perez being just one.
RB: That was just an aspect of my personality really. I just felt that as you're going along you should, when the opportunity present itself, give something back. People gave me breaks, so I'd help other people get breaks; Klaus Janson, for one. I think I was involved in publishing Jim Lee's first work. I shopped around Todd McFarlane's samples before anyone would take him seriously at DC and Marvel. I gave him advice, tried to be encouraging (it was really getting a lot tougher, then, for new artists to break into the business). There was Mark Texeria (I published his first work), Denys Cowan... lots of people.
DB: A lot of them are household names now.
RB: But they're not people whose careers I made, I just helped open doors. I gave advice. I believe that kind of "goes with the territory" too -- well, anyway for my part I felt obligated to do it.
DB: When you see the success that these people have, how does that make you feel?
RB: It's absolutely great. It makes me feel disappointed if they're not successful. There are some people I helped who didn't make it. I hate to see the potential wasted or frustrated, or just not taken advantage of fully.
DB: You've stopped doing the comics now; you just kind of dropped out...
RB: No, I didn't really drop out, I guess I devoted all of my time to paintings. Four years ago, I started painting and really, that's a full time job, to market it and get your name out there, to be in the ‘big game’. To this day I'm not a exactly a world famous painter, but it takes time. I'm known worldwide for my comic art, but I've barely made a dent in the fine art market. It's probably as tough as Hollywood, maybe tougher, I don't know -- but I'm determined and I will do it. It's a tough nut to crack, it's a challenge, but I will do it. Interestingly, I showed in Paris in 2002. I had a solo exhibition in a gallery in Paris (only two blocks from the Louvre), and the gallery owner got upset with me. I had made a trip there to find out how the exhibition was going, just to check in and spend some time with her and her husband, and she said to me, "Rich, we've had lots of people from the university show up to see your art, kids who've come, young people that are attracted to your work. But they come here and they tell me they already know your work. They say you're already famous". I said "What?" "No," she explained, "it's because they knew your comic book work and they recognised your style! And they've told me things about you that I don't even know! Why didn't you tell me about this?!" I said, "But, I did." She said, "I was so embarrassed. They knew everything about you! I knew none of it" and it was compromising and embarrassing for her. I apologised profusely, I really didn't know it was that important. Apparently in Europe, there's a different attitude towards the comic artist. It's taken more seriously as art.
DB: Comic book art isn't considered art in America that much.
RB: Well, with the fine art world, you can't really come out of nowhere, they do expect you to have some kind of background and if you haven't been painting for the last thirty years then what have you been doing? "Uh, let's see... I was waiting to become a famous painter...?" <laughter> but really, I just started painting the last couple of years". You see, to art collectors and gallery owners or art dealers, that's not credible. You're an artist for thirty-five years, and suddenly you just pick up a brush and start painting. I mentioned that I was a commercial artist, and a comic book artist. But that's never helped me in the American market, or at least up to now it hasn't helped me. But the recent Brooklyn Group Show that has just started, the people who are running it take my comic book work seriously too. As a matter of fact, they work with the comic book museum people and they told me "Rich, we're having a comic book show coming up soon. We've done a couple of them, and we're going to do another one soon and you should be in it". And I said, "Really? That's interesting that you mention it, because I've communicated with these people before and never seem to be able to get together with them on anything. The communication could be a lot better." And the man I spoke to, Terrance Lindall, who is the president of the gallery there (and a top flight painter, too), he said "But, Rich, we communicate well", I said "That's true, so, no problem, then!" The Williamsburg people respect the comic book work too, just as much. So, on the one hand he's telling me, "We want you to exhibit with us as much as possible because we consider you a great painter", and I said "Thank you", but on the other hand they want the comic book art too. This was so refreshingly new to me and different, because in Manhattan there's snobbery about it, or at least there seems to be. They want to hide the fact that I did comic books. Someone might think that one of my paintings is a cartoon.
DB: I guess a lot of people still think of comic books as being Archie or Mickey Mouse.
RB: Right! But that's a different field entirely. I met the current artist of Donald Duck at the Minnesota convention and he and I talked about that, and he said, "I don't think of these characters as funny animals or whatever, these are people". And I respect that field very much. I've drawn Donald Duck. I've drawn almost every character for Walt Disney in a commercial piece that I did when I worked for Neal Adams. It was like a poster and it was incredibly difficult for me.
DB: Is there a character that you haven't drawn? You even worked at Archie at one stage. Is there anything left that you've not touched?
RB: I wonder. Maybe if I found out about it I'd go and take care of that too. <laughter> I'm very adventurous, so I never know what's going to come next. Same with my paintings, they're all different, not one imitates the one before it; I don't know what direction they're going in. And yet, in terms of concept, they're all related somehow. Technically, I've come a long way, and have mastered just about every painting technique. Which is pretty good, considering that I never went to art school.
DB: Other than Deathlok, you're not an artist that's known for one character. You think Curt Swan and you think Superman; you think John Romita you think Spiderman; John Buscema, Conan.
RB: Right. That has it advantages and disadvantages. I could be free to jump around and editors would know that I could handle whatever they threw at me. I think at different periods of time, when I was at DC and Marvel, I would actually be working up in their offices. So, maybe at DC an editor would come in to my work space (more often than not it'd be Julius Schwartz), and say "Rich, I need this cover and can you draw this by four o'clock?" and it's fifteen after two. And the same situation at Marvel. I worked at Marvel for about a year and a half in the offices and the same kind of thing would happen. John Verpoorten would run in, showing up with a handful of photocopies and yell, "Rich, we need covers for these! Can you do it?" They'd just throw at me whatever came up on the schedule, and I'd just do it right on the spot. "We need this by such and such a time" and they got it. "We need an idea for a cover, real quick. Can you sketch this cover and I'm gonna give it to another artist to draw, but I need it in fifteen minutes!" And fifteen minutes later it's on his desk. It was like that.
DB: I'm getting the feeling that you looked upon it as a challenge, but also a very liberating experience.
RB: Absolutely. I was totally free because I didn't have to work a job, no boss or time card to punch. I was really my own boss -- well, sort of. I had no one to tell me, "Do it this way, you have to do it that way". The only boss was really the deadline, and the fact that you had to get it right. And I was good at getting it right, because I knew all these characters. I'd lived with these characters; they were like real people to me, that's how well I came to know them. I remember when I did Batman at DC Comics, I drew a couple of issues; Vince Colletta was the art director and Vinnie and I had a great relationship, a great work relationship. Everything was always good with Vinnie and he said, "Rich, who would you have ink this if you had your choice of inkers?" and I said, "You know, I've never been in this situation before, <laughter> no one has ever asked me, but as long as you're asking, I'd like to get Bernie Wrightson to ink my pencils". That's big time, Bernie Wrightson. And he said, "Sure", and he called him up and Bernie did it. I was thrilled.
DB: That's a clash of styles.
RB: Yes, absolutely, and Bernie wasn't known at all for superheroes, and he and I had never worked together before, but it worked. And later he did go on to do superheroes. He had that in him in too, I can't speak for him but what I understood is that he'd be frustrated at times because people would think "oh, he just does this and you can't take that and translate it into superhero characters." But he's an artist, you know, and of course you can -- and he did. And, of course, he could all along. So, you see, if you're known for one thing, for too long, it can be a disadvantage too. They put you into a niche. That's what happened with Bernie for a while. Nobody likes that, to be put in a box with a label on it, "He's this and nothing else". I was always the guy who could do anything. I was the one that was maniac enough to draw Justice League with forty characters and put them all on the cover of something, until George Perez came along. <laughter> Very few of us are left. George Perez is another one. Just throw any challenge at him and he'll ‘pick up the gauntlet’.
DB: Do you miss doing the comic books?
RB: I do. One of the reasons that I don't do comics now is because the contacts have changed. The generations of editors have changed and whatnot, and the companies have changed. They're more corporate now and I'm not known for any one particular thing, so I'm just another guy out there looking for work. And it's very competitive and there's not enough work to go around right now. So that disadvantage came up; I'm not known for any one particular thing.
DB: Do you think that the industry is ageist? A few people I've spoken to seem to think that if you're over thirty then you won't be hired.
RB: I've heard that and there are still examples; George Perez is over thirty, I'm sure of it, unless he made a deal with the devil somehow. <laughter> There are people that fall into that category -- they're under thirty. Well, they're not going to be for long, eventually the years will catch up to them. I think, probably, yes. In general, the industry favours having the young blood, the new ideas and the new look. Certainly, the look of comics is different, and I have no problems in keeping up with that style either. But I think that maybe, somehow, there might be some preference there for someone I'm trying to get work from, an editor, he might prefer someone closer to his own age rather than me, even though he knows I can do that style, maybe there's not the rapport that he'd get with someone his age. So I don't think it's a hard and fast rule, but I think things tend to favour the younger artist. In terms of what's wanted and needed and what works. Maybe in some cases it's good, too. Maybe some guys my age and older are not capable of adapting, they're really doing the old style and it's not what the companies are looking for.
DB: What does the future hold for you?
RB: It's limitless. I've never looked at my comics career as somewhere I had to go. I didn't think in terms of a career so much as I'm an artist and I'm going to be an artist for as long as I can. If I get paid for it, if I don't get paid for it, I'll still do it. But I love the challenge of doing something new and something different.