An interview with comic book artist Mike DeCarlo

Mike DeCarlo has been drawing comic books for 40 years, both as an inker / finisher over a diverse selection of pencilers and doing full artwork. He has worked for a number of publishers, among them DC, Marvel, Valiant, Archie, Bongo, Boom! Studios and IDW. Mike graciously agreed to be interviewed about his lengthy career.

This interview was conducted by e-mail in December 2021.

BH: Hello, Mr. DeCarlo. 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?

Mike DeCarlo: Born in New Haven, Connecticut, March 1957. Loved cartoons, Newspaper Strips and Comics since I was 4 or 5. Sports of any kind also.

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 enter?

Mike DeCarlo: Went Southern Connecticut State University in CT in 1975 and 1976 for Art. Found it boring. Began work as a Sports Cartoonist and Political cartoonist in 1977 to 1979. Took the Dick Giordano Art School Course in May, 1979 and after 2 months he hired me as his assistant.

The Brave and the Bold #179 (Oct 1981) written by Martin Pasko, penciled by Ernie Colon, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Ben Oda and colored by Carl Gafford

BH: How did you first find work in comic books? According to the Grand Comics Database, your first published work was inking Ernie Colon’s pencils on a team-up of Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes in The Brave and the Bold #179 from DC Comics in 1981. How did you receive that assignment?

Mike DeCarlo: By the end of 1980, Giordano told me to go to DC and show my portfolio to Joe Orlando, the Art Director, and he hired me as an inker on the spot. Yes, the Colon job was my first along with “Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk” [DC Special Series #27, Sept. 1981] which I inked with Giordano around the same time.

Green Lantern #150 (March 1982) written by Marv Wolfman, penciled by Joe Staton, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Ben Oda and colored by Anthony Tollin

BH: One of your earliest regular art assignments was inking Joe Staton pencils on Green Lantern, beginning with issue #147 in late 1981. How did that come about? Did you enjoy working with Joe Staton? He’s one of my all-time favorite comic book artists, and I feel the two of you went well together.

Mike DeCarlo: Joe was always a great guy to talk to and incredibly easy to ink. I only remembered it being offered to me at this point.

BH: In recent years you’ve expressed that you wish that you’d been able to focus on penciling and on doing full artwork rather than working almost exclusively as an inker. As a matter of fact, you did have  a few penciling jobs at DC early in your career, namely the Green Lantern Corps back-up story in Green Lantern #155 (Aug 1982) and three installments of the Huntress back-up feature that ran in Wonder Woman #302-304 (April to June 1983). What did you think of your work on these stories? How come you did not do more penciling during this period?

Mike DeCarlo: My penciling was very mediocre then. I had much to still learn. I was not shocked that more penciling was not offered to me.

The Huntress back-up in Wonder Woman #303 (May 1983) written by Joey Cavalieri, penciled by Mike DeCarlo, inked by Tony DeZuñiga, lettered by Duncan Andres and colored by Anthony Tollin

BH: Among the numerous pencilers you’ve worked with over the years has been George Perez, who is known for his hyper-detailed art style and his fondness for drawing huge crowds of characters. You first inked Perez first on Tales of the Teen Titans in 1984 beginning with the now-famous storyline “The Judas Contract” and were on the series for a year. How did you find working with Perez?

Mike DeCarlo: George was exacting and very complex. It was tedious but rewarding when finished.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 (July 1985) written by Marv Wolfman, layouts by George Perez, finishes by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Anthony Tollin

BH: You then inked Perez in 1985 on issues #3 and #4 of the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries, which literally had a cast of thousands of characters. What were your thoughts on that assignment? In particular, I was struck by the fact that #4 was the only issue of Crisis on which Perez was credited with only providing layouts, meaning you provided the finished artwork. That must have been a great deal of work. That opening splash page alone, with Supergirl flying above Gotham City, is insanely detailed. [Note to readers: Check out the image above to see exactly what I’m talking about!]

Mike DeCarlo: Giordano told me about Crisis well before it started and that DC would use me and a few others to ink George. It was a landmark series for them. I did what they asked of me but it was very draining to do. I was not totally disappointed when [Jerry] Ordway took over.

Batman #428 (Dec 1988) written by Jim Starlin, penciled by Jim Aparo, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Adrienne Roy

BH: You were first paired up with longtime Batman artist Jim Aparo in late 1987, becoming his regular inker for the next four years. During that period you worked with Aparo on several high-profile Batman storylines such as as “Ten Nights of the Beast” and “A Death in the Family.” How did you receive that assignment? What were Aparo’s thoughts on your work? I felt you made an effective art team.

Mike DeCarlo: Again, it was just offered to me and I happily accepted. Jim was pretty easy to ink and he and I got along well. Jim said I did a wonderful job with his pencils. Quite a compliment.

Thor #475 (June 1994) written by Roy Thomas, penciled by M.C. Wyman, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Phil Felix and colored by Ovi Hondru

BH: In the early 1990s you began doing work for Marvel Comics. How did that come about? Eventually in 1993 you became the regular inker on Thor, paired up first with Bruce Zick and then M.C. Wyman. The two of them had very different art styles. How did you approach working over each of their pencils?

Mike DeCarlo: I went to see [Jim] Shooter and a few editors and lined up some work. Marvel was a fairly unfriendly place for me–maybe because I was known as a DC guy? I had issues with both Thor pencilers. I was happy to be on Thor, but those two were not pleasant to work with for me.

Fantastic Four Annual #22 (Summer 1989) written by Mark Gruenwald, penciled by Tom Morgan, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Bill Oakley and colored by George Roussos

BH: You’ve said on Facebook that Fantastic Four by Jack Kirby was one of your favorite comic books when you were a kid. You did have a chance to work on a few issues of Fantastic Four in the early 1990s. How did you find the experience? Would you have liked to have done more work with the characters?

Mike DeCarlo: I wish I could have done the FF every month!

BH: What was it like working with Mike Zeck on Bloodshot: Last Stand for Valiant Comics? That was another great collaboration, in my opinion.

Mike DeCarlo: We were the best of friends anyway and I found it a pleasure.

Bloodshot: Last Stand (March 1996) written by Mark Moretti, penciled by Mike Zeck, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Joe Albelo and colored by Frank Lopez

BH: For more than a decade, beginning in 1996, you worked on a variety of series featuring animated characters such as Looney Tunes, Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs, and Cartoon Network Block Party for DC Comics. How did you approach working in a style that is very different from so-called traditional superheroes? Some of those animated stories also gave you the opportunity to do full artwork, which I image you enjoyed.

Mike DeCarlo: Animation came easy to me because I was skillful with a brush and enjoyed a highly graphic approach to Art.

Johnny Bravo in Cartoon Network Block Party #21 (July 2006) written by Jim Alexander, drawn by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Travis Lanham and colored by Heroic Age

BH: You’ve inked a diverse selection of pencilers during your career. Do you have any favorites?

Mike DeCarlo: Gil Kane, Michael Golden, Mike Zeck, Joe Staton and Jim Aparo and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez.

BH: What was your general approach to inking?  One thing I’ve noticed about books that you’ve worked on is that your inking style is fairly apparent at a casual glance, yet you also are successful at not subsuming the style of the pencilers you worked with. It seems like it must be a delicate balancing act, one that you accomplish very well.

Mike DeCarlo: I tried to “get into the head” of the penciler and use my art training judiciously.

“The 60’s” montage commission illustrated by Mike DeCarlo

BH: Please let us know what you have been working on in recent years.

Mike DeCarlo: I do tons of commissions, The Black Swan Man as an ongoing Internet Financial Strip and am working on Trinity, a Graphic Novel for European Investors. I don’t ink anymore, unless it’s my own work. I happily take on any commission a client has in mind. I’m also mostly done with a Patreon site for my work patreon.com/MikeDeCarloArt or website mikedecarloart.com

BH: Thank you very much for your time, Mike!

It Came From the 1990s: Imperial Guard

Earlier this month was the birthday of the late, great Dave Cockrum, one of my favorite comic book artists. Cockrum was one of the greatest character designers of the Bronze Age, successfully creating or revamping dozens of characters for both Marvel and DC Comics during the 1970s and early 80s.

Over on the Dave Cockrum Art Appreciation Group, in a discussion about Cockrum’s greatest character designs, I mentioned that the Shi’ar Imperial Guard had some awesome designs, and I wished that more was done with them.

Who are the Imperial Guard? Simply put, they are thinly-veiled expies of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Drawing Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes in the early 1970s had been a dream assignment for Cockrum, and he had only reluctantly left DC Comics after they reneged on a promise to return original artwork to him. Going over to Marvel Comics, he co-created the all-new, all-different X-Men with Len Wein. After Wein departed X-Men, Cockrum was paired up with writer Chris Claremont, and in X-Men #107 (Oct 1977) they introduced the Imperial Guard, the elite super-powered soldiers of the alien Shi’ar Empire.

Insert obligatory smartass comment about the X-Men not wanting to fight all these guys because there’s practically a Legion of them.

Now I’m not sure why Cockrum decided to toss in a veritable army modeled on the Legion into an already-crowded storyline, other than the fact that he really loved the Legion and he missed drawing them. But whatever the case, even if most of them were thinly-drawn on the characterization side of things, almost all of them had interesting visuals.

For most of their history the Imperial Guard were basically just blindly following the orders of whoever happened to be running the Shi’ar Empire, which typically put them into conflict with the X-Men or the Avengers or whoever. Other than their leader Gladiator the characters have only ever gotten the spotlight on a few rare occasions. The first of these was the three issue Imperial Guard miniseries which Marvel published in late 1996. It was written by Brian Augustyn, penciled by Chuck Wojtkiewicz, inked by Ray Snyder, colored by Brad Vancata, and lettered by Jon Babcock, Phil Hugh Felix & Janice Chiang.

And, yeah, I cannot believe that it’s been 25 years since this came out!

Thinking back, I don’t know if at the time I was aware that the Imperial Guard characters were a homage to the members of the Legion. I didn’t actually become a huge Legion fan until about four years later, when I started picking up the hardcover Archives collections and various back issues. But re-reading the Imperial Guard miniseries a quarter century later, the nods to the Legion now leap right out at me.

The creative team on the Imperial Guard miniseries is also noteworthy. Augustyn is a longtime writer & editor at DC Comics, and Wojtkiewicz had just come off of a year and a half stint penciling Justice League America. This miniseries makes up pretty much the entirety of either of their work for Marvel. So this was pretty much a case of Marvel bringing aboard a creative team from DC to work on a team of characters modeled after a DC property.

Imperial Guard came out at an odd time in Marvel’s publishing history. This was immediately after the “Onslaught” crossover in which the Avengers and Fantastic Four seemingly died so that they could be exported to an alternate reality for the “Heroes Reborn” event overseen by Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee. For the next year this led to some rather offbeat projects coming out from Marvel that perhaps might not otherwise have gotten published. The most notable of these was Thunderbolts by Kurt Busiek & Mark Bagley. We also got the much-underrated Heroes for Hire by John Ostrander & Pascual Ferry, as well as this odd little miniseries.

I’m FB friends with Wojtkiewicz, so I asked him how Imperial Guard came about. Here’s what he had to say:

“Once DC flipped the crew on Justice League, I floated around doing fill-ins and such for a while. Brian Augustyn decided to leave DC and asked me if I’d like to do the IG mini. We met in NYC and had lunch with Mark Gruenwald for lunch and launch. It seemed to be going so smoothly, but it turned out to Mark’s very last lunch, as he died the following morning. Somehow it kept going, and his assistant stepped in as editor.  I forget his name – I’m terrible that way. I decided to do the series in with a cartoony vibe, and nobody stopped me. Also: sideburns. 😊

“I really enjoyed this assignment- doing the costume, environment and prop concepts was a blast.”

The miniseries was ultimately edited by Terry Kavanaugh, and was dedicated to the memory of Mark Gruenwald.

Following the apparent deaths of the Avengers and Fantastic Four, Lilandra the Majestrix of the Shi’ar feels partially responsible, as she was the one who way back when inadvertently awakened the dark side of Charles Xavier’s psyche (as seen in X-Men #106 or, if you were a teenager in the 1990s like me, “The Phoenix Saga Part 2: The Dark Shroud” on X-Men: The Animated Series) which ultimately led to the creation of Onslaught. Lilandra has covertly dispatched several members of the Imperial Guard to Earth see if they can provide assistance to our beleaguered world.

The members of the Guard featured in this miniseries are Gladiator (standing in for Superboy), Electron (Cosmic Boy), Sibyl (Saturn Girl), Flashfire (Lightning Lad), Nightside (Shadow Lass), Mentor (Brainiac 5), Earthquake (Blok) and the latest addition to the team, the Kree conscript Commando (Mon-El).

The introduction of Commando aka M-Nell (see what they did there?) ties in with another recent Marvel event, the Avengers storyline “Operation: Galactic Storm” which saw the Shi’ar apparently destroy the Kree Empire with the apocalyptic Nega Bomb. In fact the entire war between the Shi’ar and the Kree had been engineered by the Kree’s Machiavellian leader, the entity known as the Supreme Intelligence, who sought to jump-start his people’s stalled evolution with the Nega Bomb’s energies. At this point in time the Supreme Intelligence is quietly biding its time, waiting for its deadly experiment to begin showing results, and Commando, ignorant of all this, finds himself having to serve alongside the Shi’ar forces who he regards as his conquerors.

Augustyn is a great writer who did high-quality work over at DC, and on his sole foray into the Marvel Universe he also crafts a compelling story. He does a good job of creating M-Nell, and of developing the other Imperial Guard members, the majority of whom, up until this point in their nearly 20 year existence, were basically one-dimensional ciphers.

Wojtkiewicz’s pencils are fun. He was a very underrated artist over at DC Comics, working in an “animated” style alongside the late, great Mike Parobeck on the Impact Comics line in the early 1990s. I always thought Wojtkiewicz should have had a bigger career, so I enjoyed seeing his art on Imperial Guard. His wrap-around covers for this miniseries were also great.

Besides, I really love that Wojtkiewicz drew Imperial Guard with “a cartoony vibe” during the exact same time that Marvel farmed out their main characters to Extreme Studios and Wildstorm with their hyper-detailed art styles. Honestly, the comic book industry could have used more artists like Wojtkiewicz in the 1990s who had their own fun styles.

It was enjoyable revisiting this three issue miniseries, and it makes me regret that the Imperial Guard have subsequently very seldom been in the spotlight since. They did have a five issue miniseries during the Realm of Kings crossover about a decade ago. I never did get around to checking that out, so perhaps I’ll give it a try.

Anyway, if you haven’t read this miniseries, it’s worth tracking down.

Comic Art Sale and Exhibit: Tales to Astonish #61

Here is an interesting addendum to my post from a couple of days ago about the Comic Art Sale and Exhibit which was held at the Society of Illustrators from July 15th to October 23rd.

Well, okay, I found it interesting; your mileage may vary.

One of the pieces of original comic book artwork in the exhibit was the splash page for the Giant-Man and Wasp story “Now Walks the Android” from Tales to Astonish#61, published by Marvel Comics with a November 1964 cover date.

The credited artists on this story were penciler Steve Ditko and inker George Roussos, the later working under the pseudonym “George Bell” so as not to raise the ire of his primary employer DC Comics.

However, there was a third artist involved in the creation of this story: Joe Orlando.

Joe Orlando had been one of the primary artists at EC Comics in the 1950s, working on both their iconic science fiction, horror & crime anthologies and the wildly successful Mad magazine. In the later half of the 1950s he drew several Classic Illustrated adaptations. Beginning in 1966 Orlando was an important artistic & editorial presence at DC Comics, where he remained until he passed away in December 1998 at the age of 71.

In 1964, shortly before he landed at DC Comics, Orlando did some work for writer / editor Stan Lee at the burgeoning Marvel Comics. It was, unfortunately, not an ideal match.

Longtime Marvel Comics editor and comic book historian Tom Brevoort details the behind-the-scenes problems that plagued Orlando’s short stint at Marvel in general, and the production difficulties of Tales to Astonish #61 in particular, on his excellent blog. I recommend reading Brevoort’s thorough examination of the subject…

In short, while Stan Lee’s “Marvel Method” of giving the penciler a brief plot of a few short paragraphs and then having him go off to draw a full 20 page story based on that, or even having the penciler do the plotting all on his own, led to some great, now-classic stories, it was not without its hiccups. Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby both excelled at working in the “Marvel Method” but eventually both of them chaffed at the system and left Marvel to look for opportunities to write, draw & edit stories solo. John Romita, Herb Trimpe and Gene Colan all enjoyed the “Marvel Method” of creating comic books, and went on to be major artistic presences at Marvel after Ditko and Kirby departed.

But other artists found the “Marvel Method” difficult to work in, or were unhappy at having to do uncredited (and unpaid) writing, especially as Stan Lee would then appear to readers to be the sole writer on the comic books. That was definitely the case with Joe Orlando, who was an extremely talented artist. His experience at Marvel in 1964 demonstrated that he was much more comfortable working from full scripts.

So what does this tell us?  Well, it is a good demonstration that there is no “one size fits all” approach to creating comic books. An approach that works well for some writers and artists may be a complete failure for others.

It also demonstrates that, behind the scenes, the creation of comic books was often times a difficult, unglamorous, poorly-paying profession.  And I say this not to demonize anyone in particular, but to raise an awareness of the realities the industry in general, and to help bring about a more accurate understanding of the medium’s history.

Whatever the case, Tales to Astonish #61 offers an interesting example of the sometimes tortured, laborious realities of comic book production.

Comic Art Sale and Exhibit at the Society of Illustrators

Last month Michele and I went to the Society of Illustrators to see the Comic Art Sale and Exhibit. It was a great opportunity to see a very impressive & diverse selection of original artwork from comic books was on display, both from mainstream and alternative creators.

Here are just a few highlights from the Comic Art Sale and Exhibit, which ran from July 15th to October 23rd…

The unpublished cover artwork originally intended for Avengers #37 (Feb 1967) drawn by Don Heck for Marvel Comics that was eventually used as a cover by editor Roy Thomas for his comic book history magazine Alter Ego #118 (July 2013) from TwoMorrows Publishing.

A page from the Doctor Strange story “The Many Traps of Baron Mordo” drawn by Steve Ditko from Strange Tales #117 (Feb 1964) published by Marvel Comics.

The cover artwork for Green Lantern #56 (Oct 1967) penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Murphy Anderson, published by DC Comics.

The cover artwork for Hawkman #8 (June-July 1965) drawn by Murphy Anderson, published by DC Comics.

Two pages from Fantastic Four #116 (Nov 1971) penciled by John Busema and inked by Joe Sinnott, published by Marvel Comics.

A page from Incredible Hulk #196 (Feb 1976) pencil breakdowns by Sal Buscema and finishes by Joe Staton, published by Marvel Comics.

Two pages from the underground comix series The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers created by Gilbert Shelton.

The cover artwork for Laugh Comics #182 (May 1966) drawn by Dan DeCarlo, published by Archie Comics.

A daily installment of the newspaper comic strip Sky Masters penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Wallace Wood that ran from September 1958 to December 1961.

“Aqua Nut” illustration drawn by Rat Fink creator Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in 1963.

The cover artwork for Not Brand Echh #9 (Aug 1968) drawn by Marie Severin, published by Marvel Comics.

A page from Red Sonja #6 (Nov 1977) drawn by Frank Thorne, published by Marvel Comics.

While I definitely enjoyed this exhibit, it was slightly sobering to realize that in many cases the artists sold their original artwork many years ago for a fraction of the current asking prices. In some cases some of this artwork was given away by the publishers as gifts to fans, or flat-out stolen. It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances. So I can certainly understand why in recent decades comic book artists have chosen to sell their original work at much higher prices.

An interview with comic book artist Henry Martinez

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.

Flare First Edition #9 (June 1993) cover penciled by Henry Martinez and inked by John Flaherty (2017 reissue)

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.

League of Champions #12 (July 1993) written by Lou Mougin, penciled by Henry Martinez, inked by Rob Lansey,lettered by Jean Simek and colored by Frank Martin Jr.

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.

Morbius the Living Vampire #13 (Sept 1993) written by Gregory Wright, penciled by Henry Martinez, inked by Bud LaRosa, lettered by Janice Chiang and colored by Renee Wittersaetter

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.

Ghost Rider / Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance #17 (Dec 1993) written by Howard Mackie, penciled by Henry Martinez, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Bill Oakley and colored by John Kalisz

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.

Ghost Rider / Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance #19 (Feb 1994) written by David Quinn, penciled by Henry Martinez, inked by Bud LaRosa, lettered by Bill Oakley and colored by John Kalisz

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!

Blaze #4 (Nov 1994) written by Larry Hama, penciled by Henry Martinez, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Bill Oakley and colored by John Kalisz

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.

Vamperotica #19 (Sept 1996) written by Kirk Lindo & Dan Membiela, penciled by Henry Martinez, inked by Eman Torre, lettered by Studio-B and colored by Scott Harrison

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 filed 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.

League of Champions #17 (April 2017) cover penciled & inked by Henry Martinez

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 if 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.

Tragedy #1 (2021) cover penciled by Henry Martinez, inked by Keith Williams and colored by M. Zapata

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.

A recent commission of Nightveil from Femforce that Henry Martinez drew for me. He’s really good, and I highly recommend getting artwork from him.

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:

www.dragonbrushstudio.com

twitter.com/Dragonbrush_Inc

www.instagram.com/dragonbrush_studio/

Thanks again!

Ron Lim vs Rik Levins, or how a teenage Captain America fan experienced his first major disappointment

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been 30 years since this happened. It was the Summer of 1991, and I experienced my first significant disappointment as a comic book fan. But first, a little background is necessary…

I’ve been a fan of Captain America from Marvel Comics ever since I read issue #278 and issue #291 when I was a kid. My father got me a one year subscription to the Captain America series in 1985, and I read those issues until they fell to pieces.

Captain America #378 by Ron Lim & Danny Bulanadi, one of the favorite issues of my teenage years

I was 13 years old in 1989 when I finally started reading the Captain America comic book on a monthly basis. This was when my father began taking me to the comic shop every week, so it became much easier to follow the series.

I really liked Kieron Dwyer’s pencils on Captain America. In 1989 Dwyer was still a young, up-and-coming artist, but even then you could see how much talent & potential he possessed.

A year later Dwyer was replaced as the penciler on Captain America by Ron Lim, whose work at the time I actually liked even better. Lim was the artist on the book from January 1990 to June 1991, drawing issues #366, #368 – 378, and #380 – 386. He was paired with Filipino artist Danny Bulanadi on inks. Lim’s penciling on Captain America was absolutely dynamic, and I immediately became a HUGE fan of his work.

Some of the best work by Lim & Bulanadi was on the seven part storyline “Streets of Poison” that ran bi-weekly in the summer of 1990. Written by Mark Gruenwald, it involved the Red Skull challenging the Kingpin for control of New York City’s illegal drug trade, with Cap getting caught in the crossfire. Lim & Bulanadi drew some amazing action sequences as Cap fought against Bullseye and Crossbones.

Cap versus Bullseye from Captain America #374 by Lim & Bulanadi

So I was incredibly disappointed when Lim left Captain America and was replaced by Rik Levins with issue #387, which was cover-dated July 1991. I felt there was an immediate, steep decline in quality, and I was really upset 😭😭😭

(Keep in mind I was a teenager, and we all know how melodramatic they can be about really trivial things!)

Lim’s departure also coincided with long-time Captain America scribe Mark Gruenwald writing 1991’s six part bi-weekly summer storyline “The Superia Stratagem” which involved the female supremacist Superia gathering together an army of super-powered female villains on an island sanctuary and attempting to sterilize the outside world. A number of Cap fans, myself included, feel this storyline was the moment when Gruenwald jumped the shark.

Making this story even more ridiculous was the fact that at one point Cap and his ally Paladin, to infiltrate the island, disguise themselves as women. Yes, really. Yes, it was as ridiculous as you can possibly imagine.

What a drag! That infamous scene from Captain America #391 by Rik Levins & Danny Bulanadi

Now, I honestly don’t know if “The Superia Stratagem” would have been any more readable if Lim had been penciling it instead of Levins. I just feel that Levins didn’t have the strength as an artist to pull off making it work. It’s also worth pointing out that Lim was still penciling the covers for “The Superia Stratagem” and they were actually quite good.

The differences between Ron Lim and Rik Levins always stood out for me when I compared these very similar sequences from Captain America #266 and #297, as seen below. The first is penciled by Lim, and it’s got so much energy, with Cap having this determined look and gritted teeth as he comes swinging into action. The second one is by Levins, and Cap just has this really bland, bored expression on his face, and from his body language it feels like he’s performing a gymnastics routine rather than fighting for his life.

A comparison of Ron Lim and Rik Levins penciling similar action sequences

I hope none of this comes across as disrespectful to Levins. I did eventually develop a certain appreciation for him. I think his work on Captain America improved, beginning with the very bizarre-yet-entertaining “Man & Wolf” storyline (yes, the one that brought us Capwolf, a subject for another time), and his last year & a half on Captain America was quite good.

I also later discovered Levins’ work on Femforce and Dragonfly and other AC Comics titles, and it was so much better. I think Levins’ contributions to AC Comics were much more personal for him (he created several characters and wrote a number of the stories) so there was probably a greater investment in it, whereas Captain America was just a paying gig. (And, yes, Levins’ work for AC Comics is also a subject for another future blog post.)

A definite improvement: Captain America #410 by Levins & Bulanadi

It’s also definitely worth noting that Levins holds the record for drawing the most consecutive issues of Captain America, having penciled #387 to #422, a total of 36 issues. That even beats out Cap’s co-creator Jack Kirby, who actually only penciled 24 consecutive issues of the series (#193 to #214 plus Annual #3 and #4, for those keeping track).

Levins passed away in June 2010 at the much too young age of 59. In retrospect, I now consider him to be a very underrated talent, as well as a consummate professional, someone who was able to turn in good, solid work month after month. The closest Levins ever came to missing a deadline was when M.C. Wyman had to pencil the second half of Captain America#414. This in comparison to all of the high-profile “hot” artists were constantly dropping the ball and turning in late work in the early 1990s.

Having said all of that that, I nevertheless have to confess: All these years later I STILL keep hoping that one day Ron Lim will get asked to draw the monthly Captain America series again. He has occasionally returned to the character. Lim penciled the final issue of the “Heroes Reborn” run in 1997, and I can honestly tell you that I was absolutely thrilled when I picked up that issue and found he was the artist. More recently, in 2019 Lim drew the Avengers: Loki Unleashed special written by Roger Stern and, again, I snatched that baby off the shelves. It was so great to see Cap and the rest of the Avengers drawn by Lim once again.

Avengers: Loki Unleashed demonstrated that Ron Lim still draws an amazing Captain America

So if Marvel ever does give the assignment of drawing Captain America or Avengers to Ron Lim, yeah, I would definitely jump onboard to buy those comic books!

I actually met Ron Lim a couple of years ago at East Coast Comicon , and I had the opportunity to tell him that him leaving Captain America was the first time I ever experienced a crushing loss over a creator leaving a series. He explained that intially the plan was just for him to take a short break from Captain America so that he could finish penciling the Infinity Gauntlet miniseries after George Perez had to drop out halfway through. However, Marvel then asked Lim to pencil the follow-ups Infinity War and Infinity Crusade, so he never did have a chance to return to Captain America.

I made sure to let Lim know that as an adult I understood that from a career perspective it made perfect sense for him to move over to a high-profile project such as Infinity Gauntlet and its sequels. I think Lim found my anecdote amusing, and he seemed to appreciate the fact that I was such a huge fan of his work.

Wild Thing #1 cover by Ron Lim & Al Milgrom, signed by Lim… yes, I actually enjoyed this series!

Oh, yeah, having finally met Ron Lim at East Coast Comicon, what did I get signed by him? Was it an issue of Captain America or one of the Avengers-related books that he drew? Nope! It was Wild Thing #1. Yeah, I completely forgot to bring any of Lim’s work to the show to get signed, so I picked up Wild Thing #1 from one of the comic dealers. (I bought Wild Thing when it first came out in 1999, but those comics were among the ones that I got rid of when I sold off most of my collection several years ago.) At that point in time I just wanted to have Lim autograph something he drew, since I’m still a huge fan, and nowadays I care much more about creators than characters. I guess that just shows how much my priorities have changed since the Summer of 1991.

It now occurs to me that this is the perfect example of how unique our experiences as fans can be. Most other readers probably didn’t do much more than blink when Lim was replaced by Levins. But for me, I was at just the right age to really connect with the combo of Gruenwald & Lim on my absolutely favorite character, and when Lim then left the book it really felt like the apple cart was turned over, so to speak. I can now understand how it was such an unsettling experience for quite a number of fans ten years before when John Byrne left X-Men, or two decades earlier when Jack Kirby quit Marvel Comics entirely. So, yeah, it’s definitely a matter of individual perspective.

An interview with comic book artist Keith Williams

When I first got into comic books in the second half of the 1980s, and continued reading them as a teenager in the 1990s, one of the names I would frequently see in the credits was Keith Williams. He worked on numerous series: Alpha Flight, Transformers, Action Comics, Web of Spider-Man, Quasar, Robocop, Sensational She-Hulk, U.S.Agent, Ravage 2099, The Mask, Star Wars, and so on.

Keith is one of the various comic book creators who I have been fortunate enough to get to know on social media. He has always come across as a genuinely good person. Given Keith’s lengthy career, I felt it would be interesting to speak with him about his work in the medium.

This interview was conducted by e-mail between April and May 2021.

A recent photo of Kieth Williams at a comic book convention

BH: Hello, Mr. Williams. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start with the basics. 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?

Keith Williams: Thank you for asking, Ben. I was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 16, 1957. My grandma gave me my first comic. It was Batman issue 184. I must have been 9 years old at the time. I always loved comics after that. I enjoyed watching astronauts fly into space, and for a while I wanted to be one.

BH: You attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan from 1976 to 1980. How did you find that educational experience?

Keith Williams: It was wonderful! The main reason I went SVA was because Will Eisner, the creator of The Spirit, was teaching there. My major was in Cartooning and Will brought fun and a lot of knowledge about the art and business sides of comic books. The other classes were fine and rounded out my art experience. I still have great friends that I talk to from my time there.

Sectaurs #6 (May 1986) written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Steve Geiger, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Rick Parker and colored by Janet Jackson

BH: I understand you entered the comic book field as a background inker in the early 1980s. How did that come about, and which artists did you assist?

Keith Williams: I knew Howard Perlin from high school, working on school shows together. He introduced me to his father Don Perlin. At the time he was the artist on Ghost Rider. I had shown him my inking samples. He saw that I had potential and took me under his wing. He mentioned my name up at Marvel when they were looking for a background inker for Mike Esposito. I was hired and have been working in comics ever since. Besides Mike Esposito there was Joe Sinnott, Bob Wiacek, Andy Mushinsky, Al Milgrom, Terry Austin, Vince Colletta, John Byrne, Bob Hall and a few more.

BH: Why did you decide to focus on inking?

Keith Williams: I focused on inking because I learned that I was better at it. I had great people to learn the skills of inking from. Inking became my foot in the door.

Alpha Flight #19 (Feb 1985) written, penciled & figures inked by John Byrne, backgrounds inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Rick Parker and colored by Andy Yanchus

BH: At Marvel Comics, you were also the first person to join Romita’s Raiders, the art apprentice program initiated by editor-in-chief Jim Shooter and run by art director John Romita. What specific sort of work did you find yourself doing as one of the Raiders? How do you feel it helped you in terms of honing your skills and preparing you for a career as an artist in the comic book industry?

Keith Williams: As a Romita Raider, I, and the other Raiders were art correctors. We would fix storytelling if the panels didn’t flow correctly. If a character was wearing the wrong costume we would correct it. Assist John sometimes in cover design. John Romita was the Art Director at Marvel [and] everything would go through him meaning pages of art and he would assign us to fix things that needed fixing. While we were there as Raiders, we received a master class on how to create a comic.

BH: What was your first credited work in comic books, and how did you get assigned that job?

Keith Williams: My first credited work [was] Sectaurs for Marvel, 1985. I inked over Steve Geiger, another Raider. I think I started on issue 4. Mark Texeira moved on and they needed a new art team. It was a mini-series which ended on issue 7. I got the job because I was lucky enough to be in the office at the time.

Avengers West Coast #53 (Dec 1989) written & penciled by John Byrne, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Bill Oakley and colored by Bob Sharen

BH: In late 1984 you became John Byrne’s background inker beginning with Alpha Flight #19. You provided background inks on several issues of Alpha Flight, and when Byrne moved to Incredible Hulk for his all-too-short run you accompanied him. After Byrne left Marvel for DC Comics where he oversaw the successful post-Crisis revamp of Superman, you were his background inker on Action Comics in 1987. How did you come to do background inking for Byrne? What was the experience like?

Keith Williams: Mark Gruenwald, one of the editors at Marvel, came up to me and asked if I was interested in working with John Byrne on Alpha Flight as a background artist. Of course, I said yes. It was a great experience.

BH:  It’s noteworthy that Byrne saw that you were credited on all of those stories as the background inker, something that at the time was not expected, much less required. Do you find that this helped your career? Certainly as a young reader it was probably the first time I noticed your name.

Keith Williams: John put my name on the cover of the books and my name was right beside his in the credits. I would also get pages from the books we did. No other inker had ever done that for a background artist or would expect that to be done for them. I will always be grateful to him for doing it. He helped my career because of it.

Sensational She-Hulk #33 (Nov 1991) written & penciled by John Byrne, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Jim Novak and colored by Glynis Oliver

BH: Later on you had the opportunity to do full inking over Byrne’s pencils on Avengers West Coast #53 in late 1989 and on several issues of Sensational She-Hulk in 1991. How did you like that experience? As a reader, I felt you did a good job. Looking at that Avengers West Coast, in particular I was very impressed by the detailed, intricate inking you did on the sequence with Immortus in an alternate timeline where Queen Elizabeth I was executed instead of Mary, Queen of Scots. The storyline in She-Hulk where she ends up in the Mole Man’s subterranean kingdom and fights Spragg the Living Hill also had a lot of interesting, detailed work by Byrne. You did a fine job embellishing all those caves and rocky textures.

Keith Williams: Actually, working fully on John’s pencils, scared the daylights out of me. As an artist, you always feel there is still so much to learn. Am I ready? I guess I was. All of the background inking got me ready to do full inks with John and I loved making his lines come to life.

BH: Jumping back a bit, you and penciler Alex Saviuk became the regular art team on Web of Spider-Man with issue #35, cover-dated March 1988. How did you get that assignment, and how did you find it working with Saviuk? You stayed on Web of Spider-Man through issue #85 in early 1992, so I’m guessing it was a good experience. Of course, as you were a freelancer, I’m sure you were also grateful to have a regular monthly assignment.

Keith Williams: Jim Salicrup was the editor on the Spider-Man books at the time. He must have seen my work here and there in the office and tried me out. I worked over Steve Gieger on an issue of Web of Spider-Man and then worked with Alex. I guess he saw something in us working together and we stay together for almost five years.

Web of Spider-Man #35 (Feb 1988) written by Gerry Conway, penciled by Alex Saviuk, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Rick Parker and colored by Bob Sharen

BH: Speaking for myself, I find Saviuk very underrated. I feel he was overshadowed by Todd McFarlane on Amazing Spider-Man, which at the time was in the spotlight. I think that was a shame, because you and Saviuk were doing good, solid work month after month on Web.

Keith Williams: Alex is a great artist. I feel he’s up there with Romita in style. It was very enjoyable working with him.

BH: You worked on a wide variety of titles throughout the 1990s, inking a diverse selection of pencilers. I wanted to briefly touch upon the work you did for Dark Horse. You inked Doug Mahnke on The Mask Strikes Back and Bill Hughes on Star Wars: Droids, both of those coming out in 1995. Any particular thoughts on those two jobs? Mannke and Hughes both seem to have detailed penciling styles, so I wondered how you approached inking them.

Keith Williams: Doug Mahnke’s style on The Mask was different than any I‘ve encountered. It was zaniness stuffed into reality. Bill Hughes had more of a cartoon style which fit into the loony situation the Droids were put in. I try to go with the flow of the penciller. With Doug it would be more of a hard edge, using crow quill Hunt 102 pen point nibs. With Bill it more of a softer look. I used a Winsor Newton Series 7 No. 3 brush and a Gillotte 290 flexible pen nib.

The Mask Strikes Back #1 (Feb 1995) written by John Arcudi, penciled by Doug Mahnke, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Lois Buhalis and colored by Gregory Wright

BH: In 1994 you became the regular inker of The Phantom newspaper strip written by Lee Falk, inking George Olesen’s pencils. You were on the strip until 2005, when Olesen retired. Had you previously been a fan of The Phantom? Although it isn’t especially popular here in the States, it has an absolutely huge following in other parts of the world such as Sweden and Australia.

Keith Williams: I wasn’t really a fan of The Phantom. That was because it wasn’t in any of the newspapers in New York. I did learn to like it. The Phantom has a great cast of characters.

BH: I’ve heard working on a daily newspaper strip described as a grueling, endless treadmill run. What did you think of the work? How was it different from monthly comic books?

Keith Williams: I really had no idea what it was like to put out a six day strip every week. There was no time for a real vacation. So, even when I would go away on a trip, the Phantom would be with me. I’m not really complaining, because it was always better to have work than not. It was different than a comic book because, working on dailies, you only had as much as three panels to work on for a strip.

Star Wars: Droids #6 (Oct 1995) written by Jan Strnad, penciled by Bill Hughes, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Steve Dutro and colored by Perry McNamee

BH: Finally, what have you been working on in the last decade and a half? Do you have any new projects coming out soon?

Keith Williams: Actually, I got to work for Marvel again with the help of Ron Frenz in 2019. It was a 10 page story in Thor the Worthy. Other than that, it’s been conventions and commissions for me.

BH: If people are interested in hiring you for commissions, what is the best way to get in touch with you?

Keith Williams: You can DM me on Instagram or Facebook: keithwilliamscomicbookart. You can also email me at keithwilliamscomicbookart@gmail.com.

The Phantom pin-up penciled, inked & colored by Keith Williams

BH: Thank you very much for your time!

Keith Williams: Glad to do it.

Frank Thorne: 1930 to 2021

Longtime comic book & fantasy artist Frank Thorne passed away on the morning of March 7th at 90 years old. Marilyn Thorne, his wife of many years, later passed away that afternoon.

Thorne’s career in comic books actually began back in 1948. He was a regular contributor to Dell Comics throughout the 1950s and 60s. From 1968 to 1972 Thorne was the artist on the Western adventure series Tomahawk published by DC Comics. He drew several comics for the short-lived publisher Atlas / Seaboard in the mid 1970s.

Red Sonja #9 (May 1978)

Thorne’s career entered what could be regarded as a “second act” in late 1975. Red Sonja, the sexy female barbarian created by Roy Thomas & Barry-Windsor Smith (inspired by the Robert E. Howard character Red Sonya of Rogatino), was given her own solo series beginning with Marvel Feature volume 2 #1, cover-dated November 1975. The first issue was written by Thomas and drawn by Dick Giordano. Paired with writer Bruce Jones, Thorne took over drawing Red Sonja in Marvel Feature with issue #2 (January 1976).

Thorne remained on Marvel Feature thru #7, the final issue. It was immediately followed by an ongoing bimonthly Red Sonja series written by Roy Thomas & Clara Noto. Thorne penciled, inked, lettered and colored the first 11 issues (January 1977 to September 1978), producing stunning and exquisitely detailed work.

Due to his striking rendition of Red Sonja, Thorne became very well-regarded and much in-demand for his depictions of beautiful women. He subsequently created a number of erotic fantasy series. Thorne’s sexy stories & artwork were also published in Heavy Metal, National Lampoon and Playboy.

Thorne’s book Drawing Sexy Woman, published by Fantagraphics in 2000, was an informal autobiography of sorts, with his recollections complemented by several dozen illustrations of lovely ladies drawn specifically for the book. It’s an interesting an offbeat look back by Thorne at his life and career.

Even more Comic Book Cats highlights

Since July of last year I’ve been posting Comic Book Cats entries on the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The object is to see how many different pencilers I can find artwork by featuring cats. Here are 10 more highlights, taken from entries 101 to 150.

John Paul Leon

Midnighter #8, drawn by John Paul Leon, written by Christos Gage, lettered by Phil Balsman and colored by Randy Major, published by Wildstorm / DC Comics in August 2007.

“Why the hell are cyborgs stealing cats in suburbia?” That’s the question the Authority’s resident super-viollent Batman expy finds himself asking when teammate Jack Hawksmoor convinces him to get back in touch with ordinary people by searching for a missing girl’s cat. The trail soon leads to the doorstep of the local mad scientist, with Midnighter ultimately liberating the abducted animals and finding an alternative source of test subjects for the loony doctor, namely human criminals. Yeah, Christos Gage’s story is a bizarrely effective blending of heartwarming feel-good moments and incredibly dark, twisted humor.

John Paul Leon’s art has always been impressively atmospheric. His early work on Robocop for Dark Horse and Static for Milestone demonstrated an artist who hit the ground running, and who has consistently improved since then. Leon later worked on The Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix, Earth X and Black Widow for Marvel, The Winter Men for Wildstorm / DC, and the much-underrated revamp of Challengers of the Unknown written by Steven Grant.

Thumbs up to Richard Guion for letting me know about this one.

Marcio Takara

Captain Marvel #8, drawn by Marcio Takara, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, lettered by Joe Caramanga and colored by Lee Loughridge, published by Marvel Comics in December 2014.

“Release the Flerken” has Carol Danvers at long last discovering that her cat Chewie is actually an alien from outer space known as a Flerken. Chewie lays a whole bunch of eggs, which soon hatch, presenting us with an army of adorable-but-dangerous tentacle-spewing space cats. Carol unfortunately has to leave Chewie’s offspring in outer space as there is no way she could possibly fit 117 more cats, as well as the necessary litter boxes, into her apartment! Fortunately she finds an outer space animal rescue center to take in the adorable kittens, um, Flerkens. Soooo, anyone here looking to adopt?

Marcio Takara has been working in comic books since 2006. His work has also appeared in numerous titles, including All-New Wolverine and Daredevil for Marvel, Green Arrow and Nightwing for DC, Dynamo 5 for Image and Incorruptible for Boom! Studios. I think he’s a great artist, especially since, as seen here, he does a great job drawing cats.

Irv Novick & Joe Giella

Batman #210, penciled by Irv Novick, inked by Joe Giella and written by Frank Robbins, published by DC Comics in March 1969.

“The Case of the Purr-loined Pearl” sees Selina Kilye recruiting eight fellow felonious females to don Catwoman costumes as part of an elaborate heist. Here we see Selina and her cat Slinky mailing out invites to the future members of her Feline Furies.

Irv Novick is probably one of the most underrated Batman artists. He turned in good, solid, professional work on numerous stories throughout the Bronze Age. Here he is paired up with inker Joe Giella, another artist who has a lengthy association with the Dark Knight, including a four year stint drawing the Batman newspaper strip during the 1960s. The combo of Novick & Giella works very well on this story.

The writer on this issue is the great Frank Robbins, another regular creative presence on Batman and Detective Comics from the late 1960s thru to the mid 1970s. Robbins wrote some very clever and imaginative Batman stories, as well as occasionally illustrating them. His artwork was spotlighted in a previous Comic Book Cats entry.

George Herriman

Krazy Kat, written & drawn by George Herriman, published on July 30, 1916.

The newspaper comic strip Krazy Kat ran from 1913 to 1944. The main characters were Krazy Kat, a playful, innocent black cat, and Ignatz Mouse, a mischievous rodent who frequently throws bricks at Krazy’s head. The naïve Krazy is hopelessly in love with Ignatz and thinks that the mouse’s brick-tossing is his way of returning that love. This Krazy-centric Sunday page is a good example of Herriman’s artwork, energy, humor and narrative style.

George Herriman was born in New Orleans on August 22, 1880 to mixed-race Creole parents. He began working professionally as an artist in 1901 when his illustrations were printed by the weekly satirical magazine Judge. Herriman’s work on Krazy Kat very quickly gained appreciation among critics and intellectual, and he has been cited as a major influence by numerous other artists throughout the decades. He passed away in April 1944 at the age of 63.

Inaki Miranda

Catwoman / Tweety and Sylvester, drawn by Inaki Miranda, written by Gail Simone, lettered by Taylor Esposito and colored by Eva de la Cruz, published by DC Comics in October 2018.

I don’t want to give away too much about this fun crossover between the DCU and Looney Tunes. Suffice to say the story eventually culminates in nearly every single cat and bird themed character from DC coming together in a monumental clash. Before that, though, we have Selina Kyle encountering the very animated, so to speak, Sylvester the Cat.

Inaki Miranda broke into comic books in 2003, working on the Judge Dredd feature in 2000 AD. He then drew Fables for Vertigo / DC, which led to work on a number of mainstream DC series.

Miranda did a great job on this special. The requirements of the project meant that he had to render Sylvester as much closer to a real-world cat. He did so quite successfully, managing to still retain much of the puddy tat, um, I mean pussy cat’s personality.

Sam Glanzman

Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle #5, drawn by Sam Glanzman, written by Don Segall and lettered by Charlotte Jetter, published by Dell Comics in January 1963.

A denizen of one of those mysterious lost islands in the South Pacific inhabited by cavemen, dinosaurs, giant animals and other fantastical menaces, the prehistoric Kona made his debut in Four Color #1256. Following that he starred in his own series which lasted for 20 issues (confusingly numbered from #2 to #21). The highlight of the short-lived Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle was definitely the stunning, detailed artwork by Sam Glanzman.

Issue #5 featured a gigantic cat. The titanic tabby is revealed to be Amsat, a previously-ordinary cat kept as a mouser on a U.S. Navy ship. Accidentally left behind on an island where the military was testing nuclear bombs, Amsat grew to giant size, eventually tussling with the sharks in the waters around his island home.

Amsat is obviously intended to be a dangerous animal, but Glanzman draws him just so cute and adorable that when “the Monster Cat” is finally defeated and killed I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.

Sam Glanzman is best known for the numerous war comic books he drew during the Silver and Bronze Ages. Among these were a series of autobiographical war stories about his service aboard the U.S.S. Stevens during World War II.  Glanzman also worked in the horror and Western genres. Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle enabled him to try his hand at “lost world” adventure-type stories, and he did some good work on the title. The entire issue is archived on the Comic Book Plus website.

Val Semeiks & Denis Rodier

The Demon volume 3 #8, penciled by Val Semeiks, inked by Denis Rodier, written by Alan Grant, lettered by Todd Klein and colored by Robbie Busch, published by DC Comics in February 1991.

Having been introduced by Jack Kirby in the original run of The Demon, the next major appearances by Klarion the Witch Boy and his cat familiar Teekl were in Alan Grant’s revival. Grant invested The Demon with a blackly humorous tone, which was certainly a good fit for the diabolically mischievous Klarion and his shape-shifting kitty.  This scene, with Teekl dancing to Mussorgsky, certainly encapsulated the grim, bizarre comedy of the series.

The artwork of Val Semeiks & Denis Rodier certainly enhanced the nightmarish hilarity of Grant’s story. Their depictions of the Demon Etrigan, Klarion, Teekl, and numerous other unearthly fiends were both chilling and comical. Semeiks’ inventive storytelling also effectively created a tangibly askew mood.

Semeiks’ first work in the comic book field was on Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan for Marvel between 1986 and 1989.  Moving to DC, Semeiks had a three year run on The Demon, and following that penciled Lobo, which was also written by Alan Grant. Since then Semeik has worked on a variety of projects for the Big Two and several issues of Forgotten Realms for Devil’s Due Publishing.

Jim Aparo

The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves #4, drawn by Jim Aparo and written by Steve Skeates, published by Charlton Comics in November 1967.

Housewife Ruth Roland is an anal-retentive neat freak (seriously, she should have married Felix Unger; they would have made a perfect match) is more than a bit perturbed when her husband’s two friends from college drop off their cat uninvited en route to a two year stint in the Peace Corps. Ruth’s worst fears are soon confirmed, as the cat begins to run amok, destroying her domestic bliss. And, of course, since this IS a horror comic book, things soon take an even more bizarre turn.

Jim Aparo got his start at Charlton Comics during the second half of the 1960s. Aparo drew a variety of material for Charlton: The Phantom, romance, sci-fi, Westerns and, of course, stories for their horror anthologies.

Even here, at the start of his career, we see that Aparo was doing solid work. I definitely love the very effective “My cat is an asshole” montage in the bottom panel. I can so totally relate! Aparo’s editor at Charlton was Dick Giordano, who in the late 1960s went to work for DC Comics. Giordano was soon giving Aparo work at DC.  Aparo was a prolific artist for the publisher over the next quarter century.  He became one of the definitive Batman artists of the Bronze Age. Semi-retired by the mid 1990s, Aparo continued doing occasional work for DC up until 2001. He passed away in July 2005 at the age of 72.

Christopher Weyant

The New Yorker, drawn by Christopher Weyant, published in July 2017.

It’s a political cartoon featuring a cat and a dog. I’m not going to say anything else, other than I found this one really funny. The angry expression on the cat’s face is hysterical.

Christopher Weyant is a regular contributor to The New Yorker. He has also illustrated several children’s books that were written by his wife Anna King.

Jim Davis

Garfield by Jim Davis, published on June 19 and July 15, 1978

Here are two early Garfield comic strips, the very first one which introduced fat, lazy cat Garfield and his long-suffering human Jon Arbuckle, and the one that revealed Garfield’s love of lasagna for the first time. (Our late, much-missed cat Squaky, who was on the chubby side herself, attempted to snatch lasagna off our stove on at least a couple of occasions.)

Garfield initially started out looking very different from the form that we are all familiar with today, but his slothful, greedy behavior has basically been the same since day one.

Jim Davis has used several uncredited assistants for most of the history of the Garfield comic strip.  So I figured I’d go right back to the very beginning, which is likely pure Davis, or close to it.  Davis has been up front about the fact that one of his main reasons for creating Garfield was to “come up with a good, marketable character” so I suppose he can’t really be criticized for relying on assistants in order to focus on the licensing end of things. Whatever his specific level of involvement in the day-to-day work of drawing the Garfield comic strip, it’s undeniable that he created a genuinely iconic character.

Thanks for stopping by. Please check out First Comics News to see all of the Comic Book Cats entries, as well as for the Comic Book Coffee archives. Although I’m no longer doing these on a daily basis, I am posting new entries whenever I happen to come across something by an artist I haven’t previously spotlighted.

Memories of The Incredible Hulk by Sal Buscema

Sal Buscema, one of my favorite comic book artists, celebrates his 85th birthday on January 26th. I’m going to take a look back at how I discovered Buscema’s work as a young comic book fan. (Part of this retrospective is based on a couple of posts I did several years ago. I guess you can consider this a “director’s cut” or something like that.)

Appropriately enough, I first saw Sal Buscema’s artwork in two issues of The Incredible Hulk, one of the series with which he is most closely associated.

On several occasions Sal Buscema has stated that the Hulk was his favorite character to draw. As he related to Jim Amash in the book Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist, published by TwoMorrows in 2010:

“I identified with [the Hulk]. Do you know what I liked about the Hulk? … He’s totally unique. He’s monstrous, lumbering, huge, unbelievably strong, and he gets even stronger when he gets angry. He has the mentality of a child. It’s so completely different from anything that you’ve drawn before. Is there another character as unique? … He’s an anti-hero, and yet because of his unbelievable power… look at all the fantastic things he’s capable of doing and usually does. That’s the fun and the constant stimulation that I had with this character.”

Buscema was the penciler on The Incredible Hulk from issue #194 (Dec 1975) to #309 (July 1985), an astonishing nine and a half year run. During that time Buscema missed only seven issues. I believe his 109 issue run on the series has never been surpassed by any other artist.

The very first issue of The Incredible Hulk that I ever read was #285, cover-dated July 1983.  It would have been on sale in early April 1983. I was six and a half years old and my parents bought it for me.

Prior to this, I had watched reruns of The Incredible Hulk cartoon that had originally been broadcast in 1966, as well as the new Saturday morning cartoon that debuted in September 1982.  Of course I had also seen at least a few episodes of the television series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno.  So I was already familiar with Bruce Banner and his gamma-spawned alter ego. But The Incredible Hulk #285 was the first time I had the opportunity to read one of the character’s actual comic book adventures.

The Incredible Hulk #285 was topped off by a fantastic cover drawn by artists Ron Wilson & Joe Sinnott.  As a kid, I thought it was an amazing image.  The Hulk was fighting this giant orange figure seemingly made out of flames.  I hadn’t seen anything like that before. And, oddly, instead of striding around in his usual torn-up pants, on this cover the Hulk was wearing a shirt, tie, jacket and shoes. That said, his pants were still purple, so not everything about him had changed!

Flipping open the comic, I came to the first page of “Today is the First Day of the Rest of My Life.”  The creative team was writer Bill Mantlo, penciler Sal Buscema, inker Chic Stone, lettered Jim Novak, colorist Bob Sharen and editor Al Milgrom.  This splash page again had the Hulk wearing a jacket & tie, his hair neatly combed.  Rather than running around on a destructive rampage, he is seated at a desk, narrating his memoirs into a Dictaphone.

Over the course of the next several pages the Hulk recounts how Dr. Bruce Banner created the Gamma Bomb. While attempting to save the life of teenager Rock Jones who had wandered onto the test site, Banner was caught in the explosion of the weapon he created. The radiation now caused Banner to transform into a savage monster whenever overwhelmed by stress or anger. I distinctly recall that my seven year old self was surprised that in this flashback Banner’s assistant Igor, who set off the Gamma Bomb in an attempt to kill the scientist, was a Soviet spy, rather than an alien robotic infiltrator as he had been depicted in the animated episode “Origin of the Hulk” the year before.

Buscema drew an absolutely savage depiction of the Hulk in this flashback, as Banner transformed into the jade giant for the very first time, on the striking splash page seen at the top of this blog post.

Following this was an amazing two page spread by Buscema & Stone that illustrated the chaotic life of the Hulk over the next several years, the long and winding road taken by a green goliath who was more often than not hunted by humanity.  Among the numerous characters glimpsed in this flashback montage, my seven year old self recognized from the animated series the villainous Leader and his pink artificial servants, Betty Ross, her father the militant General Ross, and the equally belligerent Major Talbot. Of course I also knew who Captain America was.

I was surprised to find out that Bruce Banner’s identity as the Hulk was public knowledge, since in the cartoons it had only been known to Rick Jones. Years later I learned that the Hulk was probably the earliest major super-powered protagonist to have his secret identity revealed, way back in Tales to Astonish #77, which was cover-dated May 1966.

At the end of this montage, we come to the Hulk’s current status: At long last, after all this time, Bruce Banner has managed to gain control, to retain his human intelligence when transforming into the Hulk.

While the Hulk has been busy recounting his life, a crew of workers from Stark Industries headed up by Scott Lang, the new Ant-Man, has been constructing Northwind Observatory, a laboratory where Banner can resume his scientific studies.  Turning back into his human form, Banner joins Lang to supervise the installation of the laboratory’s power core.  At the last minute, Banner discovers that the power core was not designed by Stark Industries, but acquired from a company called Soulstar.  Banner immediately recognizes the name, but before he can prevent it, the power core is hooked up, there is “a massive electromagnetic discharge,” and a strange being emerges.

This creature, we are informed, is Zzzax the Living Dynamo (aka the guy guaranteed to always get the very last entry in the Handbook of the Marvel Universe).  Looking something like a humanoid lightning bolt, Zzzax is a creature that feeds on the human life force.  Before the monster can consume the stunned construction crew, Banner transforms back into the Hulk and tackles this old enemy.

Unfortunately the Hulk comes to a realization: In his old savage, child-like persona, the angrier he got, the stronger he became, but now, guided by Banner’s rational intellect, the Hulk cannot easily become angry, meaning his strength is limited.  And so the gamma-spawned giant realizes that, instead of relying on brute force to defeat Zzzax, he must now find a way to out-think his fiery foe.

As a kid, I thought The Incredible Hulk #285 was a fantastic issue with an amazing bad guy.  Yep, the idea of an intelligent Hulk was unexpected, but I just shrugged and read on.  Mantlo’s script was a really good introduction to the character of the Hulk, neatly surmised through the plot device of Bruce Banner penning his autobiography.  The second half, with the Hulk fighting Zzzax, was really exciting.

On the art side of things, the work by Sal Buscema was high quality.  To the best of my knowledge, this was the very first comic book I ever read that was penciled by him.  As I mentioned above, Buscema would eventually become one of my all time favorite comic book artists.  A number of years ago when Our Pal Sal appeared at a NYC comic book show I had him autograph this issue.  It was actually my second copy, since I read the original one so many times as a kid that the cover eventually fell off.

In regards to Stone’s inking, it is pretty good.  Having subsequently seen a great deal more of Buscema’s work, I have to admit that there were others who did a better job finishing his pencils, among them Joe Sinnott, Gerry Talaoc, and Buscema himself.  In the aforementioned Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist he admits that he wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Stone’s inking.  Looking back at it as an adult fan, yes, I tend to agree with him.  That said, back when I was a little kid completely lacking in any knowledge of the subtleties of inking, I thought the artwork by Sal & Chic looked just fine.  I guess that’s probably the more important thing.

Even though I really did enjoy The Incredible Hulk #285, because I was just a few months shy of seven years old I very seldom had a chance to go buy comic books on my own, so I ended up not reading another issue of the series for a couple of years.  When I finally did, it was issue #309.  And if I thought #285 was a bit odd, well, that next one was downright bizarre!

The Incredible Hulk #309 was cover-dated July 1985, exactly two years since the last issue I had read.  And it was quickly obvious that a heck of a lot had changed in those two years!

The cover to issue #309 was by Mike Mignola.  It’s a pretty early piece of work by the future creator of Hellboy.  But you can certainly see his potential as an artist in this unusual cover image.  This had to be the first time that I saw Mignola’s art.  It certainly leaped out at me as a distinctive piece.

“The Triad” is written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Gerry Talaoc, lettered by John Workman, colored by Bob Sharon and edited by Carl Potts.  The last time I had seen Bruce Banner he was in full control of his bestial alter-ego and had been accepted as a hero by the people of Earth.  Now, though, the Hulk appears to be somewhere far, far from home, struggling to string together a simple coherent thought.

Within a few pages, Mantlo quickly brought readers up to speed.  Buscema renders another of his dramatic flashback montages.  I learned that the now-intelligent Hulk was haunted by Doctor Strange’s arch enemy Nightmare, who twisted Banner’s dreams to re-awaken the green goliath’s bestial alter ego.  Nightmare hoped to use the Hulk as weapon against the Sorcerer Supreme.  However, Strange was able to help the remaining spark of Banner’s consciousness strike back at the demon.  Unfortunately the Hulk was left with no mitigating human influence, and became an uncontrollable monster.  Rather than have to destroy his old friend, Strange exiled the Hulk to the extra-dimensional Crossroads, which linked up to a myriad of other realities.

And, wow, poor John Workman, a highly skilled letterer, had to try to squeeze all of this information onto a single page! I recall my eight year old self squinting as I read this recap, trying to make out all that tiny lettering.

Now, in the present, after some time wandering the Crossroads, traveling from one strange world to another, the Hulk’s sentience is very gradually awakening.  And with this renewed awareness, the Hulk discovers he is now accompanied by a trio of unusual figures.  The Triad is made up of a blue-skinned demon Goblin, a young orange-skinned girl Guardian, and a shining magenta star Glow.  These mysterious figures were somehow linked to the Hulk, their purpose to help restore the Hulk’s psyche.

Walking through one of the Crossroads portals, the Hulk and the Triad are transported into the middle of a vast alien desert.  Although the desolate sands stretch as far as the eye can see, and the harsh sun beats endlessly down, the Hulk refuses to activate the “fail-safe spell” cast by Doctor Strange that would return him to the Crossroads when he feels discontented.  As a massive sandstorm sweeps in, the Triad attempt in vain to convince the Hulk to wish himself off this planet before they all perish.

Finally, having survived the brutal elements, the Hulk at last finds that which his inhuman senses had detected from far off: a lush oasis.  The Triad realizes that the Hulk was not on a mission of suicide, but was driven by the will to find this oasis, meaning his mind is continuing to heal and come back together.

This was a really odd story to read as a kid.  The Hulk was stranded on the other side of reality, fighting not some supervillain or the military, but the very elements, accompanied by an incredibly odd threesome.  Mantlo really crafted an unusual story, having the Hulk’s struggle against nature juxtaposed against the Triad’s examination of and insights into his mental state.  It is a very introspective tale.

At the time, I had no clue who the Triad was supposed to be.  Within the next few issues, Mantlo would reveal that they were the splintered aspects of Bruce Banner’s subconscious mind given form and independent thought.  Certainly this was a clever, innovative idea.  Reading issue #309 with the benefit of hindsight, I can now see that Mantlo sprinkled the dialogue with a number of hints as to the true identity of the Triad.

Mantlo really broke a lot of ground with his run on Incredible Hulk.  Having already given us an intelligent Hulk, he has now exiled the jade giant from Earth and begun to embark on an examination of Bruce Banner’s psychological background.  A cursory glance at the Hulk stories that have been written in the decades since readily demonstrates just how much this influenced subsequent writers.

This issue’s artwork was absolutely incredible.  The thing that really struck me was the depiction of the Hulk by Buscema & Talaoc.  Obviously in other comic books and in cartoons the Hulk had always been a big, strong creature.  But this was the first time I had ever seen him drawn as such a huge, bestial, imposing figure.

The depictions of the Crossroads and the desert planet that the Hulk and his strange companions visited were very vivid and detailed.  Buscema did a great job on the pencils, crafting these alien environments.  And the inking by Talaoc was absolutely superb.  He created a tangible atmosphere of oddness for the Crossroads.  On the desolate world, his embellishments bring to life a harsh landscape that alternates between cutting winds and a brutal sun.

Buscema stated in the Fast & Furious book that Gerry Talaoc was one of his favorite inkers to work with…

“Gerry Talaoc was a terrific draughtsman and… he drew better than I did. He probably still does. [laughs] And the look of the book was great. I loved what he did. To me the final product was what counted.”

I agree that Buscema and Talaoc went together exceptionally well.  Talaoc really enhanced Buscema’s penciling without overpowering it.

Eight years ago I found out that Gerry Talaoc was retired and living in Alaska. I was able to mail a few comic books to him to get signed, and I made certain that The Incredible Hulk #309 was one of them.

On the letters page of The Incredible Hulk #309 editor Carl Potts revealed that this was Sal Buscema’s final regular issue penciling the series, ending his nearly decade-long run.  I don’t recall if this meant anything to me back then, since I was just a kid and really wasn’t paying attention to the credits.

Years later, though, I would learn about the behind the scenes circumstances that led to Sal Buscema’s departure from The Incredible Hulk.  Buscema and Bill Mantlo, who came on as writer with issue #245, had initially gotten along very well. Regrettably though, as Buscema recounted in Fast & Furious, after several years Mantlo started becoming much more hands-on and demanding in regards to the artwork & storytelling, requesting that Buscema draw pages in certain ways…

“What [Mantlo] was asking for was not good. I didn’t care for it at all, and I have to trust my judgment, because I’m the artist and he’s not. I hate to be this blunt about it, but the fact of the matter is that in many cases where Bill described what he wanted he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was not an artist, because he had no concept – and I do not mean that derogatorily, but simply as a statement of fact – of the relationship of one object to another in a given space. He would ask me to draw things that were impossible to draw.”

Buscema reluctantly asked Marvel Comics to take him off The Incredible Hulk. It’s an unfortunate end to his historic run. Nevertheless, looking at his penciling for issue #309, it is apparent, to me at least, that Buscema was doing high-quality work on the series right up until his departure.

By 1985 it had become a bit easier for me to buy comic books.  So fortunately I was able to pick up most the next several issues of the series.

Mike Mignola came onboard as the new penciler.  A few issues later the entire team of Mantlo, Mignola & Talaoc relocated to the pages of Alpha Flight.  After brief stints by John Byrne and Al Milgrom, The Incredible Hulk gained a new writer, Peter David, who had a lengthy, brilliant run that has some of its roots in Mantlo’s work.

Looking back on Mantlo’s run on The Incredible Hulk, it was innovative and exciting.  Despite the difficulties he had working with Mantlo towards the end, the artwork by Buscema was superb. In 2012 a good portion of the Mantlo & Buscema run, issues #269 to #313, was collected in, appropriately enough, a triad of trade paperbacks: Pardoned, Regression and Crossroads.

From my recollection, the point at which Sal Buscema’s artwork really began to stand out in my mind was when he became the regular artist on Spectacular Spider-Man in 1988. His work on that series was outstanding. And so, when I later ended up looking back at those two issues of The Incredible Hulk that I had picked up as a kid, I now realized they had been penciled by Our Pal Sal, which only increased my appreciation for them. It’s great to re-examine them and really absorb the incredible skill Buscema displays with his dynamic layouts & storytelling. Just check out the action, energy and drama on display above, on page 20 of The Incredible Hulk #285.

I definitely recommend purchasing Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist. It is still available from TwoMorrows Publishing.

Credit where credit is due: The format of this piece was partly inspired by Alan Stewart’s entertaining and informative blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books. Hey, as the saying goes, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best! You can read Alan’s entries on Sal Buscema, which so far look back at some of his work from the late 1960s and early 70s. And if Alan keeps blogging (and I certainly hope he does) perhaps in another six or so years he’ll be discussing Our Pal Sal’s work on The Incredible Hulk.

In conclusion, I want to wish a very happy 85th birthday to Sal Buscema, and thank him for the many great, enjoyable comic books he’s worked on over the decades.