DAVE SIMONS: I always wanted to do comics since I was about eight years old, so I started making a point of drawing something every day. I figured if I just kept doing that then eventually Iíd get better at it. I did get better, but not that much. <laughter>
Now when you say New York people think of the city, but I grew up in upstate New York which is very different. Small towns, you might as well be someplace out in the woods of Ohio. Except for reading stuff in comics and seeing the drawings there I wasnít exposed to too much artwork at all. I did have a high school art teacher who was helpful in pointing me in the right direction. I guess I was in eighth or ninth grade and he said ďI donít know what youíre doing and I donít anything about comics. I just know that what youíre doing isnít what theyíre doing. So you should take a look at it and see how you can improve it if this is what you really want to do and not just fool around with it.Ē So that was very helpful. Then I joined the Coast Guard and got myself stationed in New York (this is back in the Ď70s). When John Buscema was doing his little workshop class I was in that. That was a very eye opening experience, because you have a kind of an exulted opinion of these guys and when you get to spend a little time with them itís a different story. <laughter>
John drew beautifully. He was like Michelangelo only more dynamic. But when he spoke he was still a butchers kid from Brooklyn and it was all Ďdeseí, Ďdemsí and Ďdoesí. My favorite story from that time; he would have everyone pass their assignments up and unless you put your signature on them real big no-one would necessarily know whose work he was criticizing, because he was sensitive enough to realize that people might be embarrassed. So he would hold each one up and critique it. Every once in a while he would hold one up and say ďNow dis. Dis is neither here nor dere.Ē After a couple of weeks of this; Ďdis is neither here nor dereí, finally somebody (I think it was me) asked him; ďJohn, what do you mean itís neither here nor there?Ē And he said ďWell, itís neither here, nor dere. Itís nowheres.Ē Now what he meant by that was that the drawing was so weak overall that it had no point at where he could begin to criticize it. No composition, no draftsmanship, nothing. After that a guy named Ken Landgraf came into audit the class one evening. John was fine with that; he didnít mind people just dropping by. I ended up talking to Ken and he had this guy in tow, a young Dominican kid named Armando Gil. Ken had some actual accounts. They were comics, but he was getting paid for drawing something. I thought Ďcoolí. I would occasionally see him from then on.
My class with John would sometimes overlap with my Coast Guard service, so when I got out of the Coast Guard I moved into an apartment here in the city. I had kept in touch with Ken so I started working with him and weíd work on some of the most awful stuff. Now I would recommend this to anyone who wants to get started in the business; donít dither about having a regular job, especially when youíre about twenty, twenty one, or younger. Donít screw around having a regular job, because as long as youíve got some kind of a roof overhead, it doesnít matter if youíre sleeping on the floor. Itís like being in a band when youíre getting started. As long as you donít have to sleep outdoors. Ken would get these accounts but they werenít necessarily any good. We did this for a few years where the accounts would be in either two camps; one was either porn and the other would be religious illustrations. The reason being was because both were very forgiving markets. In porn as long as youíve got the important parts going together then they were very forgiving about the rest of it and it was an opportunity to study anatomy and youíd get paid for the drawing. Religious illustrations were the same thing. As long as youíve got Jesus with that cocker spaniel expression on his face they were happy. So that was an opportunity to study drapery.
Quite often I ate one sandwich a day because that was it. At the same time Ken, myself and sometimes Armando were doing comic book samples. Eventually I ran into Rick Marshall at a convention and he was just starting Marvelís black and white line. I ended up inking the first issue of Howard the Duck. That was my first printed work, but the first work that I did for Marvel was a fill-in Falcon story over Sal Buscema.
The Falcon story came about because out of the samples we produced, the stuff that Rick liked was all things where Armando had inked all the main figures and Iíd done all of the secondary figures and the backgrounds. So that was the stuff Rick liked and all of a sudden I was like ĎUh oh, I canít do this that goodí, so the Falcon story and the first two black and white issues of Howard the Duck that came out under my name Armando inked most of the figures. Right around that time I had a falling out with Ken and I left. Then I got assigned Howard the Duck number three. I was doing the grey tones on them all along, because thatís just something I could do easily and they came out looking pretty good. So with number three all of a sudden I had to match Armandoís inking so I went from there.
DB: You worked on everything there was to work on at Marvel.
DS: Oh, everybody did. Look at all the books that have Joe Rubensteinís name on them.
DB: Who were some of the people you worked over?
DS: Gene Colan was always my favorite penciler to work on. That was like a match made in heaven because a lot of people didnít understand Geneís shading. I thought Ďthis is great, this is a great jumping on point if youíre gonna do black and white stuffí.
DB: What was Marvel like back then? Was there much socializing?
DS: There were the people who lived in the area that youíd see almost every week. Then there were the people who lived further away and theyíd only come in once every couple of months, like John Buscema and Gene Colan. Most of the guys my age and close to it Iíd see pretty much on a weekly basis, like Joe Rubenstein, Bob Wiacek, Bob Layton, just all those guys from that era.
DB: Did you ever have a preference when it came to penciling and inking?
DS: Theyíre two different things. When you really look at what you have to do as a penciler, if you really know what youíre doing and sometimes I think I didnít quite know what I was doing, especially when I look back at the old stuff. Penciling, if youíre doing it right, is a much tougher gig than inking. Even though I usually liked to know what was going on, with inking you donít necessarily have to be involved with the story. With penciling you have to be intimately involved with the story because youíre the one whoís bringing the writers work and intentions across to the readers, as to what heís trying to communicate there. You have to think of the drama, the camera angles, and the composition, make sure you leave room for the word balloons <laughter> all those sorts of things. Added to that is that you have to make sure you draw it nicely too, thereís that element of draftsmanship, which I always thought was my weakest point.
DB: Now you worked on the 1st series of Ghost Rider, along with the likes of Don Perlin, Roger Stern, Bob Budansky and J.M. DeMatties. Towards the end of the run it became darker and more graphic and then it was cancelled.
DS: Right. Those were decisions that I wasnít aware of back then. The ĎFreaksí issue sold great and after that the sales began a steady decline. When that started happening youíll notice that the last few issues are not inked by me, and thatís why. I knew that if a bookís sales continued a steady decline then it wasnít long for this world, so I went and did something else. Especially since that was right around the time when the royalty system was kicking in and people were starting to get their royalty checks. Anyone who worked on an X-Men anything were starting to get these massive royalty checks. I was looking at that thinking ĎOh, Iím getting screwed hereĒ <laughter>
DB: What were some of the other titles from that era that really stand out for you?
DS: I did more stuff over Gene Colan, Howard the Duck, Tomb Of Dracula and the Hulk magazine. I inked him on a Captain America annual. One thing I had a lot of fun doing was the one issue of Team America. I did one issue where I penciled and inked, it was Ghost Rider vs. Team America and that was pretty fun. There was a lot of Conan stuff. Once I got into doing the Conan stuff it was pretty fun for me because, hey, itís Conan! I even co-wrote a Savage Sword of Conan. I started to see how my pencils would look inked by someone else. I penciled King Conan and Geoff Isherwood inked it. I did some work on Red Sonja and Vinnie Colletta inked me on that.
The funny thing about Vinnie is that I had the same opinion of him as what most people did. But Vinnie was a great guy. Personally I liked him a lot. He was one of these guys, he had the silver hair, he was always a sharp dresser and it was easy to see how people would think he was connected. <laughter> To this day I donít know if he really was or not, but heíd always have these stories to tell about some fashion model that heíd met. He loved to sit back and tell stories. He inked me on the Red Sonja and he came in with the pages and I happened to be up there and he was so proud of it, he thought it was one of the best jobs heíd done in years. I was sitting there thinking ďOh GodĒ, and saying ďOh, yeah, itís great VinnieĒ <laughter>
Iím also the person who designed the infamous neck-tie costume for Red Sonja. It was never drawn the way I intended it because Mary Wilshire didnít understand that it was leather and not fur on the top, and that it was a sash, it was supposed to be more like a pirate thing. At the time Adam Ant was very big so I was trying to get those pirate elements in there, and it never looked the way I intended it to look.
DB: You didnít do as much work for DC as a lot of your contemporaries.
DS: My biggest run for DC was on Forgotten Realms where I inked Rags Morales. I penciled one of those too. That issue I really liked because Iíd gotten to be a more sophisticated storyteller by then, so I thought that was a lot better. I liked the combination of me and Rags Morales. He has that Frazetta thing going on and I was hip to that and tried to bring that out a lot.
DB: Youíre not as active in comics these days as you once were.
DS: Iíve done a few things over the past few years. Once in a while someone will want me to do one of these books where I do ten pages or something so they can try and get a deal from Dark Horse or Image or someone. I did one of those last year and that was pretty interesting. I thought I did some good work on it, just pencils, and the guy had an inker who he wanted. I did a series about two years ago called Wild Stars, which was published, edited and written by a guy named Mike Tierney down in Arkansas. This thing had everything in it. Part of the story took place in space, part of it took place in ancient history with cavemen, part of it was on Earth in the present day, and this thing was quite the epic. It was a lot of work, but he paid me what he said he was going to. That was a real drawing challenge because I had to draw spaceships, I have to draw modern day commonplace stuff, like boats, cars and then thereís animals all through it like bears and saber-toothed tigers and all this crap.
Where have I been all this time? Iíve been in animation. I worked on the show Courage The Cowardly Dog, and then they were doing the comic book up at DC that had Courage stories in it, so I went up there and got that. I still get one or two Courage stories a year from DC to do.
Right now what Iím working on is a show called Maya and Miguel. Iím doing that for Scholastic, they have their own studio here in New York and Iím working on that. Since it airs on PBS itís a very different sort of creature, itís about these twins, Maya and Miguel, who get into various sit-com type misadventures in their parents pet store. Itís all politically correct and ethnically diverse and all that kind of good stuff. So thatís very different from all the horrific type things that I used to work on.
But then again the list of shows Iíve worked on is certainly longer than the list of comic books that Iíve worked on at this point.
DB: You were involved in the A.C.T.O.R. comic that Marvel cancelled.
DS: This was a little bit before the Hulk movie came out. It was my idea. I had proposed this to them originally. Instead of just handing out money to people why donít you actually give them work? They somehow got this deal with Marvel whereby Marvel were going to print this book and it was going to have people like me, Armando, Bill Messner-Loebs and maybe Terry Austin, who hadnít done comics in a while and might not have been doing that well economically (which I certainly wasnít doing at the time) and just have them doing a story.
It took a long time because Bill Messner-Loebs wrote a story that I thought was pretty good. Marvel didnít like the plot and they sat on it for a couple of months. Then he wrote another one that they liked, so I drew it, I penciled it and sent it in. Armando inked it and itís never seen the light of day. Iíve never gotten any of the originals back and the only good thing was that I did get paid for it. After the whole thing was done Marvel killed the whole idea because they had some kind of regime change up there, so unfortunately that idea didnít go anyplace.
Iíve yet to see any of my artwork from that.
DB: Did you get much of your artwork back from Marvel back in the Ď70s?
DS: Oh sure. That was around the time when they started returning original art. There was a huge market for it and especially since I was working on a hot book, Howard the Duck, so anytime I needed extra money Iíd just go and sell the originals. I remember one month Iíd either blown my check on going out, or I hadnít done all that much work, but I needed to make my rent so I sold five Howard pages and there was my rent. Now I have none of my originals from that period.