STAN GOLDBERG: I figure I’ve finally reached the height of my career – I’m getting interviewed all the way from Australia. <laughter>
DANIEL BEST: Let’s talk about your early days. What was your first exposure to comic books?
SG: People ask me that question all the time and it’s a very simple question to answer. Like all little kids I liked to draw. When you’re five, six, seven, eight years old you like to draw pictures and it’s something I did all the time. But drawing the pictures wasn’t enough for me; I had to tell a little story with my pictures. I loved picture books; I loved books that had pictures in them that told little stories. In turn that’s how I did my drawings. I would clip some white sheets of paper, put holes in the sides of them so I could run a string through them, in those days we didn’t have anything to clip the paper together so I made my own little books and drew my own little picture books. Then I was fortunate enough to get work with Timely comics when I was sixteen years old, in 1949.
DB: How did you manage to get work at Timely at the age of sixteen?
SG: It was easy. I had gotten out of school a little bit earlier and I continued my education. I found out there was an opening in the colouring department at Timely comics, so I went up there. They needed another body to be in the room that handled the colouring and that’s where I worked. That’s how I started out, in the colouring department. It’s interesting that the man who was in charge of the colouring department is still a dear friend of mine, Jon D'agostino. He’s still around and he occasionally does some inking for me up at Archie Comics.
The person who was there before me at Timely had left and there I was. The books were around 48 to 60 pages. There were a lot of pages to be coloured, and that was a good thing for me. I wanted to draw adventure stories which Stan Lee gave me to draw for the next five years or so. Then after about a year I took over the colouring department and also drawing little fantasy stories for Timely.
DB: You were in charge of the colouring department by the time you were seventeen.
SG: Seventeen or eighteen, yeah. In those days the colouring was different to what it is today. There’s a lot of computer colouring now, but in those days we’d hand colour all the books and then I’d make trips to the engraver and the printer just to see how it all worked. It was just a cheap form of printing, the paper was so bad, and the colours would come through. I would put down all kinds of things that I’d like to get in a comic book but actually when it printed up you couldn’t get any greys, you couldn’t get any browns and you had to keep your fingers crossed on certain colours. Luckily sometimes you’d get a certain colour such as a blue, a yellow or a red, but to get the colours that needed three of the basic colours to make the one colour, and different degrees of those colours, basically it was tough, but there it was. It was a great opening for me because I was in the Bullpen with a lot of well known artists who worked up there at that time. We had our Bullpen up there until about 1958 or ’59.
The guys that worked in the Bullpen, the guys who actually worked nine to five and put in a regular day, and not the freelance guys who’d come in a drop off their work, the people I knew from the Bullpen were almost a hall of fame group of people. There was John Severin. Bill Everett, Carl Burgos. There was the all time great Joe Maneely, who unfortunately died at the age of 32 and who I thought was the best artist that ever drew comics. We all worked together, all the colourists and correction guys, the letterers and artists. Some of the artists also did design with the covers and things like that. We had a great time.
Being seventeen, eighteen years old and most of those guys in that room, when I look back they seem so much older than me, but they were probably no more than between the ages of twenty five and thirty.
DB: How much of a thrill was it to be working with comic books at the age of seventeen?
SG: In those days sometimes you never told people you drew comic books. <laughter> There were so many publishers in the business and a lot of the stuff was pretty bad. It was really God-awful and parents wouldn’t want to let their kids read comic books. Then I got married and I would tell people, “I’ll be the first one to tell you that there’s bad comics and there’s good comics and I’ll give you a list of the good stuff that you can read” because we had some good artists working and some pretty decent writers. Some of those horror stories were quite clever and the art was pretty damn good, but it’s a world of difference to what exists today and occasionally I’ll see Stan Lee and we’ll reminisce about those days and we never imagined what the industry would become. Fortunately I’m still around, standing tall and putting in my many hours a day and working, and that’s good. People look at me and say, “Gee, you’ve been drawing pictures for sixty odd years?” and I say. “Yeah, isn’t that great? And even better, they’re paying me”. I could have retired twenty years ago and I’d be at a place for old people who sit around and draw <laughter> all of the time and nobody pays them but they’re paying me.
DB: I’ve heard so much about Joe Maneely, what are your impressions of him?
SG: Joe was just one regular guy. We’d play cards every lunch hour up in the office. Once we went to his house to play cards. I remember going to a live drawing class at night and Joe said, “Maybe I should go to live drawing class tonight” and he was a guy who could draw rings around anyone in the world he wanted to. He did come and he had a good time. The teacher couldn’t believe what he was seeing, because everytime he’d go by he’d look at Joe’s drawings. Joe wasn’t just a great craftsman, he worked so fast and he was one of the few artists who could go from drawing the Black Knight to drawing Petey The Pest, or a war story. He had an unbelievable knack and he was just one sweet, nice guy. Again, in those days I didn’t look upon those people as giants. When you’re working side by side with them and you’re embroiled in what you have to do, he had a family and I was single at that time, you’d make a week’s wages and go onto what’s next.
The only similarity between what was that then and what it is now is that it’s a book with dialogue and pictures in it. I stop right there because there’s no other connection. In fact I’m not interested all that much with the books that Marvel and DC put out. What I do see doesn’t really interest me; it all looks the same to me. There’s a repetition with the books and I can’t even follow it. I look at them as a great silent movie. If you can produce a great silent movie that you can enjoy then you’ve won the battle, but the books I see now are nowhere near it. Some of them have pretty pictures, but pictures can’t stand by themselves, it’s a storytelling process.
DB: You were at Marvel when they imploded in the late ‘50s. What was the climate like back then?
SG: What happened was the fault of the publisher Martin Goodman. He had his own distribution service which was fine, but then he went to another distributor. He got rid of the one that he owned and went to the second one, who was a big newspaper distributor and within two months they went out of business. When you’re putting out a line of whatever, if you don’t have anyone out there selling it and distributing it for you, you can’t make any money. Martin kept Stan Lee around but we all went on to find other ways of earning a living. DC picked up a lot of the guys.
I went back to the School Of Visual Arts to study TV storyboarding. It’s a very easy connection between advertising and television storyboards and comic books and as a result a lot of the guys in the comic book field went into advertising. Storyboarding was easy because you tell a little story and that’s what we did with comic books. I was doing that and doing fine with it. I won an award at school but then Stan called me back because they wanted to put out a teenage book. Somebody was watching over me because I said, “I don’t want to do a teenage book, give me a little horror story to do” <laughter> Stan said, “No we’ve got a lot of books in the house and we want to get them out to the printer and I want you to start colouring some of the books that haven’t been coloured and we want to put a teenage book out and you’re the guy I’m looking at, so you’re the guy who’s gonna do it”. I did it, not really wanting to do it, and I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy it, but I did do it and I did a couple of sample pages to show Stan and the rest is history. That was in about ’58 or ’59 and I’ve been working steadily ever since.
DB: You went back to Marvel when they came back with the superheroes in the early ‘60s.
SG: Two things were happening in my career at that time, little did I know. Sometimes you do things and certainly you don’t know that this is going to be this and that is going to be that, you can plan anything out, things just happen. I started doing teenage books and the first book was called Kathy the Teenage Tornado. I took over the Millie the Model books, the Patsy books, but at the same time Stan was writing Fantastic Four, Spider-man and all those books. I was doing the initial colouring on all those books; I was creating the colour schemes on all those characters. Jack Kirby was turning so much out, along with Steve Ditko and there were so many good guys. They were doing it just to get a pay check and little did we know what was happening out there. Slowly and slowly Stan was getting some information, fan mail was coming in and then it just took off. So all through the ‘60s I did the teenage books, all the key books of all the first group of superheroes and villains that came out. That was my stint up there and it was all done on a freelance basis. Stan had no staff at that time. I would come in everyday and I was practically his staff, I’d do a lot of production with him. We had a grand time and we both had a nice relationship with each other. It was basically just he and I and then things started getting busier and busier and before you knew it Stan said to me, “Would you believe what’s happening?” and for the next fifty years every time we email or talk to each other we say, “Could you believe what was happening?” And before you know it fifty years have gone by. <laughter>
DB: You work at Archie now. How did that come about?
SG: It’s another simple answer. I worked on all their imitators. <laughter> I worked on all the teenage books at Marvel and then I went to DC and did all the teenage books for them, all the Scooters and the Binkys. Then the Marvel books were being dropped so I just picked up the phone and called up Archie and they said, “When can you come over here?” <laughter> So I went there and did my first job for them in, I think it was 1968. I was still doing work on the teenage books at Marvel, and even up to the early ‘70s I was still doing Millie the Model as a humour book. All the other books finally went their way and that was it.
Archie is an interesting character. The books I work on are written quite well, we have good writers. Archie has a track record. Archie was created in 1941, so you have an audience of not only kids, but it’s very recognisable. The name, the character, a grandmother can pick up the book and bring it to her grandchild and say, “I read this book when I was young and I think you’ll like it”. It’s still going strong and I’m doing a bunch of new things for them in terms of licensing and merchandising. One of the books I do every month for them is the actual Archie book which is celebrating its 560th issue. I think I’ve been doing the last 250 issues. I do the other titles, I do the Archie book, I do the Betty book, and I do a bunch of covers each month for them. That keeps me out of trouble. <laughter>
I always say you’re blessed when you’re working on something that’s successful because you know you’ve got a job the next day. But you really have to stay on top of it. You can’t pick something and just say, “It’ll work with this, I’ll just let this particular drawing go through”. I feel myself working much harder on Archie to keep it fresh and looking good. I’m aware of what kids look like and what they wear because Archie could become very dated looking. You have the premise of a bunch of kids, and the creator, Bob Montana, was only about seventeen or eighteen years old, and they were based on a lot of kids and teachers he knew at school. These are like real people and he gave them such unbelievable personalities. They’re so strong. They more or less write themselves. It’s surprising to sit down and draw them because they all fit in. If you get some good dialogue then you can have these characters moving and swinging. When they just get to be talking heads then it’s all over. But when you can dress them in all the great styles of the past thirty years, styles that have come and gone and come right back again, then you can have such great fun. I truly have a lot of fun with them and I guess it works because I get nice compliments about the books I’m working on. And I do appreciate the comments because sometimes when you’re sitting and working alone, like every cartoonist, you can’t talk back to the radio or talk to the wall <laughter> so when you start thinking these characters are real and start coming out at you, well then you should start walking away from the table, because you’re starting to go crazy a little bit. <laughter>
I won’t say that the characters are part of my life, but they’re a good little segment of it. I know how they act, I know how they sit, how they move and the dialogue kind of writes itself sometimes. I can just think of what they might say by the way I move them.
DB: I’ve seen a lot of the original art to the Archie stories and I’m impressed with the amount of detail that actually goes into them. It can’t be easy drawing something that looks so simple, yet effective.
SG: My problem is that I wind up putting too much in at times. I always had the whole gang in the stories, it was never just too heads conversing with each other. I had to get the action of everyone else in the crowd in there if they’re hanging around Pop’s Ice Cream Parlour. It’s a fine line between keeping it simple and keeping it interesting, and sometimes I succeed, most of the time I personally think I don’t. I look at it and I go onto the next job. You can’t hit the mark all of the time because you’re always fighting deadlines and you don’t have the luxury of sitting back and thinking “I’ll just go over this tomorrow”. I leave that up to all the prima-donnas in the industry right now. <laughter> I don’t put anyone else’s art down though. In this industry you have to have a real love for what you’re doing. To be able to do it and this is every young kid’s dream, to draw pictures and comic books, and if they’re doing it then they should feel like I do, and feel very lucky that they’re able to do it.
DB: You worked on the Archie Meets the Punisher book as well. That was a bizarre book.
SG: Ahhhh… John Buscema was a dear, dear friend of mine and we had so many good times together and then we realised we were going to be working on the book together. I miss him. The book was fun to do and when we had to get that book out nobody even knew about it. In fact when we finally did finish it, with Tom Palmer, and Tom is excellent, he’s one of the best artists in the business. I see him about once ever twenty five years. <laughter> Tom did a terrific job and he had to do it in forty eight hours at his end.
It was a big secret. What happened was that there was a big trade show in Baltimore. Not for the dealers but for the distributors. We brought down a couple of thousand books that I had to sign and they saw me sitting there and then they saw the book and they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Archie Meets the Punisher. I had a lot of fun talking to people and I said to them, “Look, I don’t have to worry if this book sells or not, I’ve been paid for it already. We’re going to have a party tonight and please, please read it, or look at it pretty good and don’t be afraid. I’ll have another job tomorrow”. And honestly, to a man, everyone came over that night and had nice things to say, considering the limited amount of time we had, and John was rushed on it also. But we had fun on it, Batton Lash wrote a great story. It was a nice premise and I would have liked to work on a couple of sequels to that but other things were happening in the industry, Marvel went into bankruptcy about a year later, but it was good and I worked with my good friend John.
DB: It was a good book, but bizarre in the fact that I don’t think anyone ever expected Archie to meet the Punisher.
SG: Well sure. And to think of the premise, that the Punisher was after this bad guy and the bad guy looked just like Archie, and the bad guy wound up in Riverdale. <laughter> It was fun and I’m still quite conscious that there was some violent scenes. They wanted them to be drawn and I kind of toned them down a little bit. There was no problem with it, it was well done and I’m proud of it.
Do you know of Frank Robbins?
DB: Yes. Some of my favourite books when I was growing up were done by Frank Robbins.
SG: Let me tell you an incredible story about Frank Robbins. I have a couple of original Johnny Hazards on my wall, and I’ve always admired his work. I think out of all the so called Milton Caniff clones he was bigger and better than all of them put together. I put him right up there with Caniff. I’d followed him in the newspapers. He came back to New York in the ‘70s and also did some work up at DC and then he returned to Marvel. I knew what he looked like because I’d seen him in pictures and I think I’d passed him in a hallway once or twice. Then he disappeared. I’d always make some enquiries, “How come I don’t see any of Frank Robbins work anymore?” They said, “Well, he loved Mexico,” and this was about fifteen years ago, “and he’s probably in Mexico or he’s probably dead because nobody’s heard from him” and these were his good friends and contemporaries. Guys like Jerry Robinson, people like that. So I forgot about it.
Mexico’s always been my favourite country and we go down there each year. For the past fourteen years we’ve been going to a little colonial village in Mexico and we stay there for two months, in February and March. It’s Spring weather, it’s an artist colony and not a resort at all, but it’s a very historical part of Mexico. I work down there also, and once I was sitting at my desk working and I don’t know it came to mind, but I said, “This is the kind of place that a guy like Frank Robbins would move to live in” not in any of the resorts. So I went and had a look in the directory and there was the name Franklin Robbins staring at me right in the face. I said, “Holy smokes, he lives in the town!” I got around to calling him. I was kind of leery about calling him, people thought he was dead and I figured he didn’t want to be part of the business anymore. When he came back into comics he wasn’t treated too well and he had his pride.
So I did call him and he said, “When can you come over here?” and he lived a couple of blocks from where we were staying. I met him and spent some real quality time with him, but unfortunately at the end of that year he passed on. He had remarried and he had a young wife and we became very good friends with her and we see her all the time when we get down there. Every year we go down there I learn some more from her about what a true man of all seasons, this absolute genius that Frank was. He was an inventor, a creator, he was a master fencer, a painter – he just went on. I’ve seen some of his paintings that are hanging in his house and they’d just blow your mind.
DB: I first encountered Frank Robbins when I was reading the Invaders in the ‘70s.
SG: Yes, and Frank Springer was inking it. Frank Springer was in heaven when he got that, because he’s another fan of Robbins.
DB: I always thought that the team of Robbins and Springer was pretty near perfect.
SG: Frank Springer is an excellent artist and an excellent inker and he’s retired now and busily enjoying his life and painting. I always see him because I’m a member of the National Cartoonist Society and we have our Ruebens Awards, and Frank always goes.
DB: Being a member of the NCS you’d know some of the Australian artists, like James Kemsley, David DeVries...
SG: Sure, I know them. I became very good friends with Jim Russel who drew The Potts. That man was a delight. He was so much fun and had so many stories about himself. He loved coming over and we had a great time together. Certainly the guys you’ve mentioned I know them all but I’m so bad with names. <laughter> They all come here and they all know my name and I look forward to seeing them all up there.
DB: The interesting fact about The Potts is that when people talk about a strip lasting the longest time written and drawn by one person, they mention Charles Schulz and Peanuts with barely fifty years, but Jim Russell did The Potts for over fifty eight years.
SG: Sure, of course. In fact Schulz was just about to celebrate his fiftieth anniversary and that’s when he died. We gave Jim lots of accolades and made him the big man on the block whenever he came and he loved that. He was a nice guy.