Comic book artist Mike Machlan passed away earlier this month. Machlan’s career in comic books lasted from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s. He worked primarily as an inker, although he did do the occasional penciling job. His art had a fun quality to it.
Machlan was a longtime friend of fellow artist Jerry Ordway. They were both from Wisconsin, and the two had met in the mid 1970s when they were working on fanzines and self-published comic books. Ordway broke into professional comic books first, and one of his earliest regular assignments was doing inks / finishes on All-Star Squadron. Written by Roy Thomas, All-Star Squadron featured the Justice Society and their numerous costumed allies fighting against the Axis powers during World War II.
Ordway assumed the penciling chores on All-Star Squadron with issue #19, and two months later on issue #21 (cover-dated May 1983) Machlan had joined him as the series’ inker. The two worked very well together, as can be seen by this superb splash of Batman page from All-Star Squadron #24 which evokes the character’s Golden Age origins.
Roy Thomas and his wife Dann devised a spin-off for All-Star Squadron. Set in the then-present of the early 1980s, Infinity Inc. would feature the sons, daughters & other successors of the JSA on Earth-Two. Other than the already-existing Power Girl and Huntress, the members of Infinity Inc. were new characters devised by Roy & Dann Thomas, Mike Machlan & Jerry Ordway. Machlan and Ordway worked closely together to design the visuals of the team members.
As Ordway recounted in Modern Masters Volume 13: Jerry Ordway, published by TwoMorrows Publishing in 2007:
“I think Jade and Obsidian were the two characters that were closest to me and to Mike, because we really had the most input on them. And there was some stuff that Mike did on his own. I don’t think I went over every one of those things, and he turned out a lot of sketches. He turned out Mr. Bones, a new Hourman, and a male version of Harlequin.”
Above is the double page promo piece by Machlan & Ordway that ran in All-Star Squadron #28 to promote the upcoming series.
The initial plan was for Machlan to pencil Infinity Inc. with Ordway inking him. However, at the last minute the two artists switched roles, with Ordway penciling and Machlan inking.
Machlan did still get to pencil a few of the Infinity Inc. covers, which Ordway inked. Machlan also did the full artwork for a number of profile images of the various team members, which were published throughout the series’ run.
Continuing his account of Infinity Inc’s origins, Ordway explained:
“But then you had Fury, and then finally Silver Scarab. And I think Fury and Silver Scarab are pure Mike Machlan-channeling-Kirby kind of designs.”
Above is Machlan’s profile pic of Silver Scarab, one of the characters on which he was primary designer, which appeared in Infinity Inc. #9.
Ordway and Machlan both departed from Infinity Inc. after the series’ first year. Machlan went on to ink Chuck Patton and George Tuska on Justice League of America, and Rafael Kayanan on The Fury of Firestorm, as well as doing a few inking jobs for First Comics.
Machlan began working for Marvel Comics in 1987, providing finishes over Al Milgrom’s layouts on West Coast Avengers beginning with issue #24. I felt Milgrom & Machlan made a solid team. One of the best examples of their collaboration was West Coast Avengers #29. “Death Run” features Moon Knight on a single-minded pursuit of Taurus, head of the Zodiac crime cartel. Machlan’s finishes really helped to enhance the intense, moody tone of writer Steve Englehart’s story.
The anthology series Marvel Fanfare that Milgrom edited frequently featured pin-up galleries that spotlighted the work of different artists. Milgrom especially enjoyed giving artists who were best known as inkers the opportunity to contribute pin-ups, enabling them to demonstrate their penciling abilities.
Marvel Fanfare #41 had a gallery of Mike Machlan pin-ups which featured various characters & events from the Silver Age. A different artist inked each piece. In an interesting reversal of their roles on West Coast Avengers, Machlan was inked by Milgrom on the pin-up of Captain America and his rogues gallery.
In 1989 John Byrne became the writer / artist on West Coast Avengers, and the series was soon re-titled Avengers West Coast in a move to make sure the book would be stocked on the shelves right next to the main Avengers series, hopefully increasing sales.
Machlan remained on Avengers West Coast for several issues, inking Byrne’s pencils. Once again, I felt Machlan did a good job, complementing Byrne’s work. Above is a page from Avengers West Coast #50 featuring the continuity-shattering meeting of the Vision and the original android Human Torch.
Machlan hopped over to Amazing Spider-Man in 1990, where he was paired with penciler Erik Larsen. I’m a huge fan of Larsen’s work, and I like the quality that Machlan brought to the finished art in those days before Larsen did his own inking. Machlan remained on Amazing Spider-Man for about a year.
Following this, Machlan worked on another Spider-Man project. Once again paired with Al Milgrom, he inked the four issue Deadly Foes of Spider-Man series in 1991.
Machlan also began working for DC Comics again in the early 1990s. His main assignment saw him return to the heroes of the Golden Age with the all-too short-lived Justice Society of America series that ran for 10 issues between August 1992 and May 1993. I recently blogged about this great, underrated series. Machlan was a good match for series penciler Mike Parobeck.
The mid-1990s saw a major downturn when the inflated speculator bubble finally burst. Machlan, like a number of other comic book professionals, departed the industry to find work elsewhere.
While no longer working for any of the major publishers, in recent years Machlan did commission work for private collectors. He did several great pieces for fans Michael Dunne and “Marvel Two-in-One Guy” which can be seen on Comic Art Fans.
Although Machlan’s career in comic books only lasted about a decade and a half, he did really good, quality work during that time. Many fans, myself included, fondly recall his art, and were saddened by the news of his death.
Henry Martinez is a penciler whose work for Marvel Comics in the early to mid 1990s really stood out for me at the time as a teenager reader. Considering how many new artists there were bursting onto the scenes during that period, that really says something about Martinez’s art that it lodged itself in my mind so indelibly.
Earlier this year I learned that Martinez was once again working in comic books, and still producing great art. We became Facebook friends, and he kindly agreed to be interviewed for this blog. I am very grateful to him for providing such interesting, detailed answers to my questions.
This interview was conducted by e-mail between September and October 2021.
Henry Martinez will be at Table O-5 in Artist Alley at New York Comic Con from October 7 to 10. If you’re going, please stop by and say “Hello!”
BH: Hello, Mr. Martinez. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start out with your background. When and where were you born? When you were growing up did you read comic books? What other interests did you have when you were young?
Henry Martinez: Hello Ben, and thanks for having me on. My parents fled Cuba in 1966 and I was lucky enough to be born here within a month of them arriving in New Jersey. We lived there for a few months then moved to Queens, NY where I spent most of my childhood. They were always very supportive of me, buying me comics and cheap art supplies at the local Woolworth’s (who have been out of business for years now). So I was always sketching, coloring and building things with Play-Doh. I remember the books I bought then were Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, I loved the rivalry between Spider-Man and the Human Torch as I recall.
The only other interests then were reading and all things Star Trek and Space: 1999. I loved Trek so much I actually wrote the paperback publisher a letter which they replied to! It was an embarrassing letter from a kid who asked about the phasers on the show. What the hell did a book publisher know about how phasers work? I don’t remember their response, but I was so excited to get that letter.
BH: What was your educational background? Did you major in an art-related field? Was the comic book industry something that you actively hoped to find work in?
Henry Martinez: I went to public school where I got to draw during art class. Like most pros will tell you, I was that one kid that could draw, and everyone would go to get drawings done. Later on in life as you move on to other schools you learn that you are not the only one! I learned that when I was lucky enough to get into the High School of Art & Design, whose alumni include Tony Bennet, Neal Adams, Larry Hama (who I later wind up working with) and others.
I’ve always wanted to be a comic book artist, and going back to my supportive parents, they bought me a cheap drafting table and the book How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, which I still use today. It’s the comic book bible that I refer to as I always seem to learn something new every time I open it. I set up my room then as I imagined my art hero John Buscema had his.
BH: According to the Grand Comics Database, your earliest professional work was drawing the “Spider-Femme” parody in Spoof Comics Presents #1 published by Personality Comics in 1992. Is that correct? (Just double checking, since the GCD is sometimes inaccurate.) How did that job come about?
Henry Martinez: Yep, that’s right. That was a fun time. I was submitting to everyone while working a fulltime job at an ad agency and they responded first. They wanted to meet me in person and asked if I’d work in their studio for a day, which I thought was unusual, but what the hell it was a new experience. So I asked for the day off from work, went out to Long Island and worked in the studio with Kirk Lindo who would later become my boss when he formed Brainstorm, featuring his book Vamperotica. It was a fun series to work on and they gave me three books all with Adam Hughes covers. I also did a few covers for them. I didn’t realize those books still have a following until I found a group on Facebook. One of the publishers is trying to gather the art to do a Kick Starter of the covers, I think.
BH: A year later you were drawing Sparkplug and League of Champions for editor Dennis Mallonee at Heroic Publishing. How did you come to work for Heroic? Did you enjoy penciling those comics? Were they what you might call a good “foot in the door” for your career?
Henry Martinez: One of the publishers that got back to me was Heroic Publishing. To this day I am still very proud of the work I did for them. I saw the work as gateway books, a chance to prove my chops to the Big Two, as they involved long stories and in the case of League of Champions, a team book. I loved the story, written by Lou Mougin, who really should be getting more work, as he is a great writer who is well informed and researches everything. We’re trying to work together, but it’s been difficult. I still work for Heroic, but finances make it difficult. Otherwise I would work for them regularly, as I really like the characters; I’ve even designed a few.
BH: Later on in 1993 you did fill-in pencils on Morbius the Living Vampire #13 for Marvel Comics. How did you get that job? What was it like getting work from Marvel only a year into your professional career?
Henry Martinez: At that time, I was still working fulltime at an ad agency. The hours are insane, lots of late nights and weekends, and I was still sending out packages to the Big Two. One day I get a letter and a script from Bobbie Chase telling me I am being given the opportunity to do a fill-in on Morbius.
I flipped out! My dream of working for Marvel is coming true. I couldn’t leave my job on a fill in with no promise of future work, so I would work full days and OT, then go home and pencil until 3 AM, sleep 3 hours then go to work and do it all over again for a month. When I turned in the last pages, my pals took me to the Blarney Stone to celebrate. I had to pull an all-nighter to make the deadline though, so I was half-asleep during dinner, then slept for 2 days. Sacrifice kids!
At that point I was offered Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance with the promise of getting Blaze since SoV was being cancelled, along with a few other books. I then had a decision to make…do I try to keep this impossible schedule and turn in subpar work or take a chance on a dream that may only last a few months? Advertising offers security and good money, but Marvel! I took the plunge and have no regrets. I would’ve been very happy staying there on any book but that was when the industry bubble burst. So many books were cancelled, and so many people lost their jobs. For some this was all they knew and they spent alot of money thinking it would last forever, but all things come to an end. I was lucky, I had storyboards to fall back on, others weren’t so lucky.
BH: Towards the end of 1993 you became the regular penciler on Ghost Rider / Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance beginning with issue #16. The previous penciler on SoV had been Adam Kubert, with his father, the legendary Joe Kubert, even contributing to a couple of issues. Was it intimidating following in their footsteps?
Henry Martinez: Oh yes. Those were beautiful books that I appreciate even more now that I have been revisiting them. There is so much action, energy and the story is even better than I remember. I could only do my best and hope that the reader liked it. I’ve been fortunate in that the work was received well and I still get comments on how much readers enjoyed my run.
BH: On your first two issues of Spirits of Vengeance you were inked by Keith Williams, but for the remainder of your run, through the book’s end with issue #23, you were paired with inker Bud LaRosa. How did you find their inking? Any particular preference between the two of them?
Henry Martinez: Everyone contributes in a different way. So, when I say I liked them both I’m not trying to be polite, but I really do like them both. Keith’s inking is more organic than Bud’s if I were to differentiate between the two. At the risk of offending a friend, I prefer organic inking.
BH: Following on from Spirits of Vengeance, you penciled the first 8 issues of the Blaze solo title. How did working with writer Larry Hama on that compare to working with Howard Mackie and David Quinn on SoV? I do remember I was a bit disappointed that you didn’t stay on Blaze for the entire 12 issue run. Was there a specific reason why you left the series?
Henry Martinez: I loved penciling Blaze. Larry wrote in characters that hadn’t been seen in a very long time that I loved and I will always be grateful to him for that. Just working for Marvel was amazing, but to start a new book?
Howard, David and Larry are incredible writers, and have different styles as a writer should. I loved working with all of them. They are all great world builders who can tell large stories involving many characters while still getting very personal with individual characters. That’s a very specific toolset. I don’t have a preference since they all have a unique voice that I like. And since you mention David Quinn, I really enjoyed that issue, it was a break from the SoV storyline, a quiet break. Although this break involved vampires!
I reluctantly left Blaze frankly because I was burning out. My father was a hardworking man who put in long hours, rarely slept and never complained. I thought the same way and just kept working, barely sleeping and my work suffered as did my personal life. Comics are out there forever, so there is so much pressure to do the best you can, within reason. You still have to make that deadline after all.
What a lot of people may not understand is how much work is involved in creating a comic book. There are so many people involved who depend on each other to deliver on time. You are only as good as your last book, so if you miss a deadline or two, you may not get another issue from that editor and even develop a bad reputation. So when I read reviews or comments like “he/she sucks!” It hurts, knowing now hard so many creators work, how much they sacrifice to do the best they can under the restrictions of a deadline. So I decided to stop, take a break and go back to advertising, especially considering he industry was suffering. I do wish I could have finished the title, though.
Fortunately, right after Blaze, Malibu Comics offered me a fill-in issue of All New Exiles, where I got to draw the Juggernaut. That was followed by 3 issues of Mantra which I loved working on. It was looking like I was going to be the regular penciler on that book when Marvel (who had bought Malibu) shut them down, and those characters never saw the light of day again. In the meantime, I had 3 issues and a half-finished 4th when I was told the news. I had also designed some characters for a storyline they were developing. Thanks to Facebook, I’m still in touch with the Malibu folks today. I just finished a story with my editor then, Roland Mann. I also did a 6 page proposal with him to bring back his characters, Cat & Mouse.
BH: In 1996 you drew a few stories for Vamperotica for Brainstorm Comics. Any particular thoughts on those? I know in the years since a lot of 1990s “bad girl” comic books have been the subject of much ridicule. For myself, as a fan of sci-fi and horror B-movies, I find that sub-genre to be similar, entertainingly cheesy. I thought you did solid work on Vamperotica. Your aptitude for rendering beautiful women that you previously demonstrated at Heroic and Marvel certainly served you well here.
Henry Martinez: Thanks for the kind words. That’s another book I was very proud of, I did my best work (at that time) then, I always try to give you my best. As I mentioned earlier, I would be hired by Kirk Lindo the publisher of Brainstorm who was the studio artist at Personality Comics. That’s why it’s always good to maintain good relationships with people, you never know. I have never been opposed to doing any genre as long as I enjoy the work, and I had a good script to work from. I was looking forward to doing more wok for them, but I think they were struggling at the time and went under. It was a storyline that had great potential and could’ve gone on for a while.
BH: You left the comic book field in 1996. This was around the time when the industry unfortunately imploded, so I am going to guess that was the reason for your departure. What types of work did you do over the next decade?
Henry Martinez: As I mentioned I went back to adverting for security, but as a freelancer, so I had more control over my schedule and was able to tackle other things. I’ve been working for Heroic Publishing just to keep doing comics, I can never stop doing comics. I’ve also done some character design for them that never saw the light of day, and some editorial work for Muscle and Fitness magazines. There is also some commission here and there, you never know what people will ask for.
BH: In 2004 you returned to comic books, once again doing work for Heroic Publishing. What brought you back to the industry?
Henry Martinez: I wouldn’t say it “brought me back” as much as I pop in when I can. I approached Heroic because I always liked their characters and Dennis is easy to work with. I still get to draw superheroes, and as sophistified as I pretend to be, I really enjoy drawing superheroes, despite doing some serious stuff, here and there.
BH: Those covers and stories for Heroic gave you your first opportunities to ink your own work. What prompted you to switch from penciling to doing full artwork?
Henry Martinez: To be honest, it was finances. I always say I would never begrudge someone from earning a living, but I came to a realization that there are a handful of people whose inks I like over my work. And outside of those creators, I do like my inks, so I made the offer to Dennis which agreed. I can ink my own work and get extra income, so why not? There are still times that I want a certain someone to ink my pencils, so I always ask first. There are two people I would love to have ink my work, one is my friend from high school, Jose Marzan Jr., (for those that don’t know, Jose is known for inking a popular Flash run and Y The Last Man) and I am lucky that Dennis agreed to his rate, so Jose and I will be working together on League of Champions which I am currently penciling.
BH: As a fan of your work at Marvel in the mid 1990s it’s been good to see you back in the biz. I certainly enjoyed your variant cover for Tragedy #1, where you were once again inked by Keith Williams. What other projects have you been working on over the last few years?
Henry Martinez: I really loved Keith’s inks on that cover, and I hope we can collaborate again soon. I requested him and writer/publisher Phillip Russert made it happen. He’s a good guy, always looking out for the artists.
As for my most recent projects, I did the first two issues of Cult of Dracula which was well received, and as I mentioned before I am penciling a League of Champions story, wrapping up a storyline that will lead to a full-sized issue right after. The cover is already done. I am also working on a Kickstarter of my own and a book to submit to Ben Dunn @Antarctic Press.
BH: Finally, I know you’re available for commissions. How should people who want to get work done by you contact you?
Henry Martinez: Thanks, I’m always open to commissions. My social media links are: