JIM MOONEY: I got into comic books because I was really there, to an extent, at the very beginning when comic books were first starting to appear here on the stands in the United States. I’d been to art school and had some training and I thought, “Gee, comics look kind of interesting. I don’t have a great deal of talent, but maybe I can draw a comic”. Because they were quite rudimentary at that time. The early Bob Kane stuff and so on, the Batman and so on. Anyway, at the time when I went to New York to try to break into comics I was working in Hollywood, California doing work in night clubs – I was not a night club performer or anything like that, it was mainly menial type work, check rooms, parking cars, whatever came along. And I was doing pretty well, but I just felt it was a dead-end street and it occurred to me that this might be a good idea; a good time, to take off for New York and see if I might have a chance, so I did so. That was in about 1941.
DB: You’ve worked at a lot of companies.
JM: Oh yeah, when I first went to New York, like so many others, I didn’t feel like I was going to knock them dead or anything like that and be an instant success; I felt like, well I need work and I have enough talent to be able to do something as equally as ‘well drawn’ you might say, as Bob Kane’s Batman, which wasn’t exactly that great at that time. I just went from office to office trying to find work. I think my first assignment was for a company called Fox. I was doing a title; I can’t even remember the name of it now except that it was based to a great extent on Batman and Robin. (DB: It was a feature titled ‘Moth’, which appeared in Mystery Men Comics) They were very enthusiastic about the Batman and Robin strip, me thinking that this strip they were going to have me do should be based on that. And being very naïve and taking it literally, I made it look too much like Batman and Robin and later on they were sued by DC Comics. That was my first venture into comics. I decided that it might be interesting to try out for Eisner and Iger. I gained employment there and I was just absolutely crestfallen when I looked at some of the guys’ work. Lou Fine was working there, Nick Cardy (but at that time it was Nick Viscardy), and on and on, and Eisner himself. I was beginning to feel that I was way, way in beyond my depth so I lasted about two weeks. They didn’t fire me, thank God, I had enough sense to give them my resignation.
DB: What was Will Eisner like?
JM: Will Eisner was very stern and I thought he was an old man for God’s sake. I think I was about 21 at the time and I don’t think he was more than 24 or 25. He’s taken comics very seriously and he was very, very good then. We didn’t hit it off; we had absolutely no rapport except that I was a guy working for him. To answer your question, he was a very accomplished artist and was very much in control. He worked with a partner called Jerry Iger, who I guess maybe was the money-man behind it all. It was an interesting very early beginning into comics and luckily when I left Eisner and Iger I latched onto Ace Magazines. They took me on and I was pretty heavily employed at that time. I was doing Magno and Davey and Lash Lightning for Ace Magazine. They were a major publication doing pulp magazines and were just branching into comics so I latched onto that just at the right time.
DB: You also worked at Quality and Fiction House.
JM: Yes I did. I worked for Fiction House a little later on. I worked there on staff, which I utterly detested. I worked there for about nine months and I couldn’t take it so I left. That was my one experience working on staff. I did jungle comics, Camilla and other features.
DB: Who were some of your colleagues at Fiction?
JM: There was George Tuska, who’s still around. Tuska and I are the old elephants. <laughter> Nick Cardy worked there for a while and is a very good friend of mine, Ruben Moreira, did a lot of work for DC Comics, and for a while he did a newspaper strip, Tarzan. There were a lot of others whose names weren’t quite as memorable, but let’s say Tuska primarily; Nick Cardy and Ruben Moreira were my three closest friends there.
DB: You then went to Timely.
JM: Even before that I had been doing some work for Timely doing the funny animal strip, Terry Toons and so on, and at that time it was the very first time I’d ever met Stan Lee and, of course, that was the beginning of a long time friendship.
DB: How has Stan changed over the years?
JM: He’s Stan Lee, just a little bit older. <laughter> He’s pretty much the same. Stan was always pretty much on. He came across well, he knew how to put himself over with the public. He knew how to sell himself and his product. I was a lot closer to him before, he’s out in California, I’m here in Florida and I haven’t seen him in person for about ten years. I visited him there about ten years ago, and we talk occasionally and mention about getting old and being surrounded by younger people and feeling the fact that we are, you know, euphemistically, the Golden Age, which is old. I said, “You know, I feel sometimes that I try and compensate for it”, he said “I do too, Jim”, I said “What do you mean?” and he said “You know, when I come into the office I skip”. <laughter> Which I thought was priceless.
DB: You would have been working at Timely around the time of the Senate Hearings?
JM: That was a little before the Senate Hearings. This was about 1943, 44, during the war. One of the reasons I was there with a lot of the others at that time was that I was given the rating, not 4F, but for limited service. So I was quite desirable to anyone then because most of the able-bodied guys were overseas driving tanks and getting their poor heads shot off. So that was one of the reasons why I was working at Fiction House. The Kefavour Commission hearings were a little later in the 40s. I’d had moved to Connecticut at that time and that was when I was first watching the thing on my television, gritting my teeth.
DB: What was the climate of the time like?
JM: I was not that sensitive to it. I was exposed occasionally to people’s feelings, that if you were doing comics you might do better if you went out on the street and pimped. <laughter> And you’d make money instead of having a bad reputation and making very little. I was somewhat sensitive to it, but not too much. A little later Stan came up to visit me when I was living up in Woodstock, New York. One of the guys I knew was a gun dealer and later was doing some pretty unsavoury things, selling guns to different countries that might be getting ready for revolution <laughter> but he felt that comics were utterly reprehensible and he came over to talk to us and he asked Stan what he was doing and Stan said, “Well, I’m into publishing”. He said, “Oh, what are you publishing?” and Stan very reluctantly said “Comics”. The guy said, “Comics!! You’re doing that terrible stuff?” <laughter> Stan handled it very nicely but it was a rather sticky, embarrassing situation. I think I would say that would have to have been the late 40s.
DB: Then you went to DC and stayed there for a long time. It’s funny you mentioned the quality of Bob Kane’s art because you became one of his ghosts.
JM: I was not ghosting for him, I was ghosting his strip. I never worked with Bob Kane personally.
DB: Did you ever meet Kane?
JM: I did once.
DB: What was he like as a person?
JM: I didn’t take to him too much to be honest. You know how it is with people, you can meet them and say right away “hey, I like this guy”. You might change your mind later but usually your first impressions are pretty solid. And I thought Kane was somebody that I’d not care to spend much time with. He had a tendency to have a rather unpleasant display of ego and had a tendency to put people down, which I wouldn’t take and I’d put him back very nicely. <laughter>
DB: It’s always stuck with me that even as late as the mid 1960s Kane was insisting that he wrote and drew every Batman comic.
JM: Yeah, well he was full of it. <laughter> Bob handled the truth a little carelessly, let’s say. There’s a guy I know very well who lives here in Florida, Shelly Moldoff, who was truly Bob’s ghost, and all of the things that Bob supposedly did was done by Shelly Moldoff.
DB: There was an entire stable of Batman artists – yourself, Shelly, Jerry Robinson, Dick Sprang…
JM: Dick Sprang was good. Robinson was a master draftsman even early on. That guy could draw and was unbelievably good.
DB: Was it difficult to emulate the Sprang/Kane style of the 1940s?
JM: In a way I wouldn’t say it was deliberate (the Batman style) but it was what they wanted so I tried to oblige to draw it a little more in that style. At that time, Batman in the 40s, I hadn’t really matured to any great extent artistically. I was still developing so I couldn’t say, “Hey, this is my style”. It wasn’t that difficult to make it fit into the niche of the Sprang/Kane style.
DB: Did you ever tell people at the time that you were drawing Batman?
JM: Yeah well, I was quite pleased. I had managed to get a pretty decent rate out of it, so that instead doing comics for about enough to eat rice and beans <laughter> and a roof over my head, I was making a little money then. But certainly very few of us, ever really made enough money in comics to say, “Hey, I’m going to have a very comfortable life later on”. <laughter> It didn’t happen. A few guys were sharper than everyone else, they knew where to invest, what to do, but I’d say the majority of us, we got by fairly nicely. But it wasn’t a magnificent amount of money that we made, or a large amount anyway. <laughter>
DB: You were also doing Supergirl at DC, along with a vast amount of work, Tommy Tomorrow, House Of Mystery… which were your favourites?
JM: I like Tommy Tomorrow about as well as anything I did. It was of a strip that I enjoyed. Dial H For Hero, which was in the House Of Mystery book, was a chore because I had to make up new costumes for the various characters each issue. They always had one or two villains and each one had to have a new costume, so it was time consuming, it wasn’t a money making strip. Some of the fans who are now in their 40s and 50s liked it pretty much when they were younger.
I did like Supergirl after a while. When I was first in Hollywood and had my studio a lot of that Supergirl stuff was done by people who were working with me. I had a girl who used to work for me and she did a lot of the work, and that wasn’t all mine. It was not thought out as well, and wasn’t all my work, and sometimes that wasn’t always my inking <laughter> for the first few years. Later on Supergirl became better as far as the drawing was concerned. But, being a strip of great interest, it wasn’t there. It was pretty much the same thing over and over. It’s pretty much the same plot over and over and over and over. I shouldn’t say the same plot, but the same plots would be more like it.
DB: Who were some of the people you worked with at DC? You obviously worked with Bill Finger when you were doing the Batman strip.
DB: What was Bill like?
JM: This is something I’m asked so often. Yes I did meet him once or twice and I thought he was a very likable person and I admired his writing. Whenever I got a script I used to pray it was from Bill Finger because it was so good and so much fun to do. But to go off a little bit on that, so many people think because you worked at DC or Marvel you knew everybody. You didn’t because if you came in as a freelancer then you weren’t in the bullpen. So you didn’t see everybody that worked there. In fact, I didn’t meet Dick Sprang until I went to a convention in San Diego many years later. Jerry Robinson I never met. On and on and on. And when people say, “Oh God, you must have known everyone and that Bullpen must have been a real live party”, <laughter> it wasn’t. It was fun, and Stan made it sound like it was hopping all the time, which is typical of Stan <laughter> but, I mean I love John Buscema’s work, but I never met him. His brother Sal I never met. Almost all of the luminaries there, the guys I thought were very, very good, I never met. And this is not just me, unless you were in the office all the time you didn’t know these people.
DB: So people like Kirby, Gene Colan…
JM: I met Jack Kirby a couple of times. Colan I never met. Kirby was not always an easy person to converse with let’s say, to get along with socially.
DB: The irony is now that you live in Florida and people such as Colan have also moved there and now live nearby.
JM: Really? <laughter> The only ones I know here, as I say, are Shelly Moldoff and Nick Cardy, and Nick and I get together at conventions and I do the same thing with Shelly. But those are the only two I’ve had any real contact with here in Florida, but there’s quite a few of them I know. I could see the reasons why we all came down here, at the time I came down it was fairly reasonable and it wasn’t over crowded. Today there’s too many people who’ve had the same idea. <laughter> It’s way, way overcrowded.
DB: It’s ironic that the people you mention you know the best are the people you worked with at DC.
JM: Yeah, that’s true. The editors, of course. I had to work with Jack Schiff, Murray Boltinoiff. Julie Schwartz I never worked with, although I liked Julie a lot, Mort Wisenger <laughter> who God forbid that anyone should have to work with him <laughter> but I did.
DB: What was Mort like?
JM: Mort was a Jeckyll and Hyde character. He had his ups and downs, and most of the time they were downs and you would be suffering because he was having his downs. He was vicious at times. He came to visit me when he was in Hollywood. He was working with one of the studios there, we went night clubbing, and we got along fine socially, if you can call it getting along fine. We didn’t argue or anything like that. He wasn’t objectionable. But in the office he could be a very, very difficult person. I'll give you an incident, as an example. I had been doing Supergirl for a long, long while, and I used to come in and bring my work to Mort, and I walked into the office and Mort was busy with a writer, so he waved me out, like "I'm busy." So I walked out to the bullpen, and I was talking to Jack Schiff, and Mort came storming in, and said, "You're supposed to bring that 'Supergirl' to me first!" His voice was cracking with anger; and I was flabbergasted, and everybody was shocked in the writers' bullpen; and he kept at it, saying, "You know, you keep at this, and you won't be drawing Supergirl”, and I said, "I've got news for you, Mort, I'm not going to be drawing Supergirl anymore." <laughter> That was one minor incident that was rather difficult. But he was a very talented man. He was a darn good writer. He wrote for a lot for the national magazines and did articles that were very, very well done.
DB: You then went from DC to Marvel. What prompted you to make that move?
JM: I went before they could kick me out. They were getting into the illustrative type of art then, primarily Neal Adams and they wanted to go in that direction. Towards the end there I picked up on it and I think my later Supergirl was quite illustrative, but not quite what they wanted. I knew the handwriting was on the wall, so I was looking around and I realised that the work was slowing up and it was going to dry up totally. I went over to Marvel and I talked to Stan. The reason I hadn’t worked at Marvel for all those years was because they didn’t pay as well as DC.
DB: Had Stan tried to get you back over to Marvel before then?
JM: Yes he had, but I couldn’t afford to do a page for I think at that time was $30 when I was getting closer to $50 at DC. Stan wasn’t just going to say, “Hey, Jim, I need you so badly I’ll pay you what DC does” <laughter> but later on, when this happened, the rates were getting a little closer to DC so I thought, well you know, I’m going to have to do something about this. When I went over there I just picked the right time I guess. John Romita was getting swamped trying to turn out all the Spider-man material. He wanted me to take a shot at Spider-man, finalising it over John’s layouts. I said great, wonderful and that was the story. I called up Mort <chuckles> and I said, “This is going to come as no surprise, but I’m no longer working at DC.” <laughter>
DB: How did he take that?
JM: He said, “I think you did the right thing, I think we all knew it was coming”. At that time he was almost a human being. <laughter>
DB: Who did you encounter at Marvel? Did you ever meet John Romita?
JM: Yes. I like John very much. John was one of the nicest guys I ever worked with in comics because he could tell you what he wanted without putting you down. He could give you what I would truly call “constructive criticism”. We worked together very well and I thought it was a very compatible relationship.
DB: You never met John Buscema, yet more than a few people feel that your inks on his Thor were some of the best.
JM: That’s nice to know. I was very fond of John’s work. I never met him, but I understand he was a little difficult, a little hard to get next to. Not that I wanted to get next to him <laughter> but, the idea of communicating easily. The reason why I didn’t meet John was because he was a freelancer. Both of the Buscema brothers were. John (Romita) worked in the office almost all of the time, even when he was doing Spider-man he was not freelancing. So consequently every time I came into the office I spent time with John (Romita).
DB: Who else would be there when you walked into the offices?
JM: Herb Trimpe would be there, he was a hell of a nice guy. He used to work on staff for a while and they (Marvel) did a nice job with Herb, didn’t they? They fired him. Herb is a good artist, also as I say, a very nice guy and a very well rounded person. He was also a flier in the Navy and had his own plane, which I thought was kind of unusual. <laughter>
DB: Marie Severin?
JM: Oh, Marie was great. I loved Marie. I met her several times when we were out in San Diego, at one of the conventions. She’s a wonderful person, wonderful artist too. One of the best.
DB: Flo Steinberg?
JM: She was wonderful! You’d go to DC and it was a business-like thing and I’d come out of there and I’d feel, “Oh God, I need a drink.” <laughter> I’d go to Marvel and I’d come in and Flo would say “Hello Jim! Oh, I’ll call Stan right away! Stan!!! Jim Mooney is here!!!” And I’d think ‘Oh my God, who am I? I’m a celebrity’. <laughter> She was great. It wasn’t just me, believe me, it was everybody and anybody, but I still felt well it was really just me.
DB: You also inked Gil Kane.
JM: I worked with Gil several times. I met Gil several times and he was quite a character. <laughter> Gil was a supreme egotist. He was very sure of himself and very egotistical in many, many ways. And a very imposing figure. Gil must have been about six foot four, or five and I always hated to look up to somebody. <laughter>
DB: He was incredibly talented, so that might explain his ego.
JM: Well he was a very talented guy and certainly nobody could take that away from him.
DB: I think the first time I saw your name on anything at Marvel when I was young was Ghost Rider.
JM: I enjoyed that; it went quite well.
DB: Then Man-Thing, which I think is better remembered.
JM: Well that was my favourite that I did there. I loved working with Steve Gerber. The scripts at DC were ‘panel one, panel two, panel three, the guy comes in on the left, goes out on the right’ and it was bore, bore, bore. So I was not very fond of that kind of an approach and when I got my first script from Gerber there it was, all full script. Usually with Marvel you had an outline and you broke it down yourself. Stan’s scripts were ‘Well, page one, something like this happens, you figure it out and use as many panels as you want’ <laughter> and that was fun. But I got this full script and I thought ‘Oh God, I’m back to DC’. I read through it a little bit and I said “This isn’t too bad, this works pretty well” after reading the first script. I was really glad I’d latched onto it. It was a very pleasant experience.
DB: With Marvel scripting, it meant that you’d literally become the co-writer – how did that sit with you?
JM: I liked it. A lot of people may of objected to it, it took a little more time maybe. But instead of getting a DC script, where if you had to follow it as it was, you had a tremendous degree of autonomy at Marvel.
DB: You left Marvel in the late 80s.
JM: I had a contract with Marvel, which is why I moved to Florida, I wanted to have a steady income. I had a cheque coming in every two weeks. I stayed at Marvel under that contract for ten years. When I was 65 my contract was terminated. I've worked on Soul Searchers, Elvira, and I did a tremendous amount of freelance work. I’ve been freelancing ever since I’ve “retired”. <laughter>