An 2005 Interview With Web Of Horror’s Terry Bisson!
RA: Can you give us a little of your background and how you first encountered comics?
TB: I was born during WWII and grew up in postwar Kentucky. The suburbs, not the hills. I first encountered comics through Captain Marvel. I mourned when the shazam went away, and never had the same affection for Superman. I remember the old ECs and their demise. I never cared for Marvel or DC superhero comics.
RA: How did you come to write stories for Warren?
TB: I wanted to be a famous writer, a la Jack Kerouac. Didn’t work out but I got a job in the pulps, and worked for True Experience and other romance mags. My friend, Clark Dimond, was more into the comics world and turned me onto the Warren line. He was writing for them, and we collaborated on a few stories which we sold to Creepy and Eerie. These were in fact my first professional sales. I think we split ten bucks a page. Our plot conferences were along the lines of, “Does he turn out to be a vampire or a werewolf?” I never met any of the staff although Clark was friends with Archie Goodwin. I met Goodwin years later, briefly.
RA: How did you become the editor of Web Of Horror?
TB: Web Of Horror was put out by the same company, Candar, that published the humour mag Cracked, although I never worked on Cracked. They had an office on Long Island. Cracked was the flagship. The whole company was about lowball imitations. The publisher, Robert Sproul, wanted to put out some imitations of western, romance and astrology mags, and I was hired (at about age 27) to put them together because of my romance mag experience. Nothing to do with comics! The pseudomags did pretty well (this was a very low end market) and Bob wanted to expand. I suggested we do a Warren style comic magazine.
RA: Many of your artists & writers either already were or would become the ‘Young Turks’ that set the comic world on its ear in the early 1970s. How did you find those contributors?
TB: Clark Dimond helped me figure out who to contact. I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t remember how I got in touch with Mike Kaluta, Bernie Wrightson, Ralph Reese and the others. I do remember being aware that they were, or soon would be, stars. We also tapped a few old hacks. The great thing about being an editor, of even a small commercial mag, is that you have money. You can pay!
RA: What can you tell us about your publisher, Robert Sproul?
TB: I loved Bob Sproul! He was a very easy-going guy who gave his staff their heads. A shirt sleeve publisher. The production and art people really ran the place (about 6 in all). Come to think of it, I MAY have been listed as editor of Cracked at one point but the mag really put itself together. A solid stable of hacks. I knew or cared nothing about it. I felt bad about leaving Sproul in the lurch, but he contacted me a few years ago. He’s living on a sailboat in the Caribbean, and he thanked me for inspiring him to get out of the rat race. So go figure.
RA: Who created your horror host, Webster the Spider?
TB: I thought of the Webster and I think Berni drew it.
RA: Do you remember who (if anyone) actually would have won the artist tryout contest from issues #1-3?
TB: The contest was never a real thing.
RA: Why did you leave Web?
TB: Honey, do you have to ask? It was ’69 and the world was cracking open like an egg. Clark and I both ran off to join the Southwestern communes. I gave my notice and walked away. I left a lot of artists and writers high and dry and I regret that sincerely.
RA: What can you tell us about the magazine’s end?
TB: Nothing at all.
RA: In the comics field, who did you follow? Do you keep up with the field?
TB: Like I said I never liked the superhero stuff, and I was equally uninterested in the later classier Sandman type stuff. Wonder Warthog and the Furry Freak Brothers, yes. I was a hippie through and through (still am). I still loved writing for comics, but nobody wanted short one-shots. I took what work I could get. I adapted Neuromancer for Byron Priess but it never came out. I also did the first two Zelazny “Amber” novels for DC (six volumes). That too was a disappointment as it never got much distribution. I adapted a Joel Rosenberg novel for a HaperCollins ‘illustrated novel’ line that was stillborn. Did Henry V and Pride And Prejudice for a reanimation of Classics Illustrated, but it never go off the table. I love adapting for the comics, but may be the kiss of death.
RA: I know you’ve won plenty of awards for writing, particularly in the science fiction field, can you tell us about your post comic career?
TB: After the standard hippie adventures I came back to NY in ’78 or so. I did a Moorcock imitation fantasy for Pocket Books, and then started writing my own. I won most of my awards for short stories, all SF. I do OK but I’m not a major player.
RA: Who are your favorite writers?
TB: Charles Portis, Marie Sandoz and Cecelia Holland. My major influence in the science fiction field is R. A. Lafferty, America’s still-undiscovered marquez.
RA: Thank you, Mr. Bisson!
A 2006 Interview with Trina Robbins! RA: Thanks for agreeing to the interview. Let’s see, the first work of yours that I noticed was your efforts in the underground comix of the early 1970s. How did you get started there?
TR: I had read comics as a kid, but stopped when I got into high school, because my mother told me that comics were kid stuff and I was a teenager now. So being an obedient daughter, I gave away my comics collection (worth thousands today of course! Thanks, Mom!) to the neighborhood kids. But I got back into comics with the Marvel renaissance of the mid-60s, when us hippies and college students were reading Doctor Strange and going, “Wow, man, psychedelic!” Actually, all along I’d been drawing stuff in pencil and ink on plain paper, and suddenly realized that what I’d been drawing was proto-comics. However, superheroes just weren’t me. Then one day somebody showed me a copy of the early underground paper coming out of New York, the East Village Other (EVO) and there were comics in it! But they weren’t traditional superhero comics, they were psychedelic, designy things that didn’t necessarily have storylines, and I realized that this was what I wanted to do. Shortly after that, I moved back to New York (I’d been living in L.A.) and visited the EVO offices where a friend of mine just happened to be managing editor. Through him I met the editor and publisher and before I knew it, I was drawing comics for them.
RA: What was the best & the worst of the underground comix experience?
TR: My worst experience in the undergrounds was that the guys (and it was all guys) didn’t accept me and shut me out. One of my best experiences, early on, was when I met Phil Seuling, and he told me that he hated undergrounds. But then when he learned that I was the artist behind ‘Panthea’, which was running in Gothic Blimp Works, a comic tabloid published by EVO, he said that Panthea was the only underground that he DID like, and he invited me to be on the underground comix panel at the 2nd Seuling con. Which was great, because the guy who was putting the panel together had NOT invited me to be on it. Now he had no choice! In general, back in those early days when I was getting no help or support from the boys club, all the people who sent me letters telling me how much they liked my comics provided me with a best experience. RA: When you were starting out, who were your inspirations in comics?
TR: I adored Wally Wood (and still do). I loved Matt Baker, and had read all the Timely teen comics, which by the time I started out had all ceased publication. RA: How about outside comics?
TR: I’d been a big science fiction fan since the age of 13—loved Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Ted Sturgeon, Anthony Burgess, etc. RA: I know you’re probably sick of this question, but could you tell us one more time about how you designed Vampirella’s initial appearance?
TR: Ooooooh Kay. It was 1969 (I think) and somebody told me that Jim Warren, publisher of Creepy and Eerie, was gonna publish a magazine centering on women. I met him (he was a very nice guy and still is) and he invited me to try drawing a story. I was a dismal flop at that, just not good enough at the time, but there I was, sitting at his desk, when he got a phone call from Frank Frazetta, who needed to discuss what Vampirella would wear. Jim tried to describe it over the phone, and while he was talking, I sketched out the costume on a piece of paper, showed it to him, and he said to Frank “There’s a young lady here who just drew exactly what I have in mind.” Then he put me on the phone to Frazetta, and I described the costume to him. And that’s how it happened!
Ra: You did just one story for Star*Reach—‘Drug Fiends Of The Martian Moons’, which you wrote and penciled and which Steve Leialoha inked. Artistically you seemed to be a rather charming match of talents but I don’t recall seeing any other comic collaborations by the two of you. Am I missing something?
TR: No, we didn’t. Although we did kinda collaborate a little bit on a She-Hulk story by Peter David, back in the 1980s (at least, I THINK it was the 80s). RA: You did a series of adaptations of some unlikely novels and stories, including Sax Rohmer’s ‘Dope’, Elizabeth A. Lynn’s ‘The Woman Who Loved The Moon’ and a Russian novel entitled ‘Red Love’. Why did you select those stories, which, on the surface at least, don’t look like regular comic fare? Do you have plans to do any more?
TR: No plans to do more, because I don’t draw anymore. I decided to adapt ‘Red Love’ and ‘Dope’ because I’d read both books and they were so interesting and so obscure. I thought they’d make great comics, and Dean Mullaney and Deni Loubert respectively gave me the opportunity to do them. As for ‘The Woman Who Loved The Moon’, Lizzie Lynn, bless her heart, asked me if I’d like to adapt something of hers into a comic, and she sent me that story. I read it immediately, and after I stopped crying, I phoned her and said I’d love to! RA: You’ve written a number of comic history volumes, mostly dealing comics’ female creators. Are there any more planned or in the works?
TR: Well, it’s kind of frustrating to me that they’re all out of print. I’d like to get an academic publisher to reprint my Great Women Cartoonists and keep it in print. I say an academic publisher, because they usually do keep books in print longer.
RA: You’ve covered an extremely wide range of comic projects, from the adult work that appeared in the underground press to the kid friendly world of the California Girls and Go Girl. Do you experience any difficulty changing gears when you approach projects like this?
TR: Kid friendly—or really, GIRL friendly, is what I want to do. There were no gears to change, because by the time I was writing girl friendly comics I didn’t want to do underground anymore. Since July, I’ve been writing a series of graphic novels for two different publishing branches of the same company—Harcourt Achieve and Capstone/Stone Arch. All aimed at kids. Most of them about girls and women, educational comics intended for the classroom, but some of them to be sold in bookstores. I’ve done biographies of Elizabeth Blackwell, who was the first woman doctor, Sarah Winnemucca, a 19th century Indian activist, Bessie Coleman, the first black woman pilot, Florence Nightingale, Nathan Hale, Simon Bolivar, Hedy Lamarr (!!!!), who was not only an actress but an inventor, plus a story about a Colonial girl who runs away from home and winds up sailing with Anne Bonny and Mary Reade, and a story about a 14 year old slave girl who escapes via the underground railroad. The last two and the Hedy Lamarr are my favorites. Some of the art is being done (gorgeously!) by Cynthia Martin and Anne Timmons. I absolutely love writing them, and can’t wait to see them in print. RA: I’m looking forward to reading them. You seemed to have retired from drawing about 10 years ago. What prompted this?
TR: I hate to bring you down, but the truth is, I was treated too badly for too long by an industry that didn’t want me and shut me out, both mainstream and the underground. I’m treated much better in the book publishing world, where people are actually nice to me. I absolutely LOVE the act of writing and I couldn’t be happier than I am now. I’ve no plans at all to resume drawing.
RA: That’s a damn shame. I really love your artwork. I’ve always admired the way, much like Alex Toth, you seemed to know exactly where to put lines on a page to the panel, the page and the story’s best advantage. It also looks great in color! ‘The Woman Who Loved The Moon’ looks absolutely fantastic!
TR: Thank you for your kind words. Too bad you weren’t an editor or publisher in the late 1980s—maybe I’d still be drawing. RA: What can you tell us about the background history and future plans for Go Girl?
TR: Anne Timmons and I are working on the next issue at this very moment! It will be thick—184 pages—and it will be out in time for this year’s San Diego Comicon. I’m very happy with my stories and I think the art is Anne’s best work yet. RA: Is there anybody in the comic world today that you really enjoy following?
TR: Sorry to tell you, but I don’t read many comics anymore. I HAVE been reading Fables, and I like it immensely, not just because Steve is inking it, but because Bill Willingham’s writing is clever and innovative, and Bucky’s art (Mark Buckingham) is great. I’ve also been reading quite a bit of shojo manga, which I really love—no superheroes, just girl heroes, pretty art, cute clothes, no giant boobs. RA: Any final words?
TR: Can’t think of any? Thanks for thinking of me. RA: Well, thank you for sharing. It’s much appreciated. Trina Robbins, folks!
A 2005 Interview With Eclipse Publisher Dean Mullaney! RA: Welcome! Can you give us a brief look at your background?
DM: Born 6/18/54 in Staten Island, NY. A nice long-haired, lefty Jewish boy from New York. My mother was an inveterate, one-book-a-day reader; father a professional musician, arranger and composer. I studied accordion from age 5, switched to viola in Junior High, used my Bar Mitzvah money to buy a Fender Bassman and hollow-body bass guitar, and finally switched to classical guitar in 1972, studying with the renowned Alexander Bellow. (Paul Simon had his lessons right before mine). Double major at N.Y.U.: accounting and filmmaking with a minor in sociology (specifically, influence of mass media on children). Worked as an accountant on Wall St. for four years, married 1975, divorced 1977. I started Eclipse in 1977. My then-wife, Sue Pollina, came up with the name. Mark Gruenwald designed the initial logo which only appeared on stationery. Started Alternity Enterprises with Mark around the same time. I met and moved in with cat yronwode in 1983, married her in 1986, divorced in 1994, and am currently married to Jane Kingsbury, my best friend since Junior High, and own two graphic design businesses in Key West.
My biggest influences include Willie Mays, Lenny Bruce, Jimi Hendrix, FDR, Raymond Chandler, Milton Caniff and Will Eisner. Favorite comic writers include Caniff, Eisner, Chester Gould, Steve Ditko/Stan Lee, Jack Kirby/Stan Lee, Elzie Segar, Roy Thomas, Don McGregor, Steve Englehart, Doug Moench & Alan Moore, among others. My favorite comic artists include Caniff, Eisner, Ditko, Kirby, Alex Toth, Gene Colan, John Buscema, Neal Adams and P. Craig Russell, among others. Nowadays I read whatever comics people send me, plus I buy old strip reprints and Michael Chabon’s The Escapist title. His novel “Kavalier & Clay” and Gold’s “Carter The Great” are two of my favorite books in recent years. RA: When and how did you become involved in comics?
DM: I never stopped reading comics from when I was a kid. My grandparents owned a corner candy store, so comics were easy to come by (FREE!) when I was very young. My early favorites were Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, JLA, Zorro, the Legion of Superheroes, the pre-superhero Marvels and Dick Tracy. I got bored with DC (except for GL, Flash & the JLA) before I was ten, and became a Marvel fanatic. My favorite Marvel comics of all time are Spidey 19 and 33, FF 36-43, Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, Colan’s Daredevil, among MANY others. RA: You appeared in a number of Marvel letter columns in the mid-1970s. Did you participate in the fannish community?
DM: I attended the first comicon in 1970. Met tons of future friends at cons: Mark Gruenwald, Mark Gasper, Peter Sanderson, Peter Gillis, Frank Lovece, Meloney Crawford (Chadwick), et al. Plus, I was also meeting writers and artists whose work I admired. I started letterhacking and by the time I stopped, I had more letters in Marvel’s letters pages than anyone ever had at the time. In the mid-70s, I began writing to those who had the most letters printed, in order to start a fanzine. “Woweekazowie!” was the result, with work by me, Willie Blyberg, Kim Thompson (who was living in France with his parents at the time), Mary Jo Duffy, Jack Frost, Bob (now Rob) Rodi, Jana Hollingsworth, and many others. I met Mark Gruenwald (who was still living in Oshkosh) at a Seuling Con and we became fast friends. After he moved to NY, we ended up roommates. We eventually formed Alternity Enterprises to publish the alternate realitites fanzine “Omniverse.”
RA: What prompted you to make the jump to comic publisher?
DM: I, like many fans, became disgusted with how Marvel was treating its creative talent. One night in 1977, at Don McGregor’s loft on the Bowery, I noticed a penciled drawing of (what I thought was) Jimi Hendrix on the wall. Don explained that it was a new character he was working on with Paul Gulacy. By the time the night was over, Eclipse was conceived with the idea that not only would he and Paul be given creative freedom, but that we would emulate the high-quality paper format of the Ed Aprill strip reprints. At the time, all comics were printed on crappy newsprint using plastic plates. Our concept was to use metal plates, print on 100 lb. vellum, and sell it as a book. We called it a “graphic album,” and it became the first graphic novel published for the comic’s specialty market. RA: Sabre came out in 1978. Were you aware that McGregor had previously used the character in a couple of the Killraven strips over at Marvel? There he was a dark-skinned Hispanic but his name, weaponry and general appearance was basically the same.
DM: I don’t recall the Sabre character in Killraven. As I said however, Sabre was already conceived when I came aboard. RA: What can you tell us about starting up Eclipse?
DM: I started Eclipse with whatever minimal publishing knowledge I gained publishing fanzines. The goals of Eclipse were threefold: allow creators to own their own material, to publish work I liked and thought other fans would like, and to publish in a high-quality format. My brother Jan and I formed the company. Jan’s band was touring with Bad Company at the time, so he had a little money and he asked me how much money it would cost to get it started. I said “$2,000” and that’s what he put up. Although it wasn’t much money, I thought, using my accounting background, that we could get by. I had agreed to pay Don, Paul and Annette Kawecki their going Marvel rates. No one was asked to work on the cheap. So, as my friend Chuck Dixon likes to say about me, I used guerrilla marketing techniques from the start. I wrote individual solicitation letters to fans whose names appeared in letters pages, and to individual store owners who advertised in RBCC, The Comic Reader, Alan Light’s The Comic-Buyer’s Guide, etc. I brazenly asked them all to pay in advance for the orders. This money helped fund the project. Today, you need an investment banker; back then all we needed were fans starved for something good, and storeowners willing to pay up front in order to get new comics to sell. I also published a Sabre poster in December 1977, partially to appease people for the delay in the graphic album, but also to generate more working capital.
Then I went over the bridge to Brooklyn to talk with the Big Man himself—Phil Seuling, the only distributor to the comics market at the time. Phil put his reaction to my pitch on paper and handed it to me: a cartoon of Phil’s head, hair standing straight up, saying “$5.00 for a comic book!!!!” Despite his bombastic outward appearance, Phil was one of the nicest people I ever met in comics. He was also one of the most encouraging to young publishers (I was 23 at the time). He agreed to take 200 copies and sent a solicitation out to his stores. A short time later, I got a call from Phil telling me to get over to his office. I thought he wanted his money back, but as it turned out, the reaction to his solicitation was so good that he wanted to double his order. Before Sabre saw print, Phil had upped his order several more times, and based on the strength of his continuing orders, we went into a second printing! Here’s a bit of trivia: Craig Russell inked four pages of the graphic album. I think I noted which ones in the 10th anniversity edition with the Steranko logo. Also, when we reprinted the original story as the first two issue of the color comic, some art had to be created to fill in blank spots due to the reformatted size. The fill-in art was done by a young George Pratt.
RA: You then published a number of graphic novellas, all with page runs of 48 pages or so. One was from Craig Russell, one from the team of Don McGregor & Marshall Rogers and a third from Jim Starlin. All of them were quite different in their approach. Starlin’s was science fantasy. Russell’s was science fiction and dream images. The McGregor/Rogers story was a detective tale. All three were quite fresh approaches at the time. Was that specific genre approach, even though they were uncommon genres for comics (at least in 1978-1980) intentional or a lucky accident?
DM: Eclipse’s second publication was not any of those listed above, but ‘The Best Of Hembeck’, a collection of Fred’s strips from The Comic-Buyer’s Guide. While I don’t have a copy anymore, I think it was the first Eclipse publication to carry the Eclipse logo designed by Tom Orzechowski that we used from then on. It’s a great collection that I urge everyone to scare up if they can. As far as the genre approach goes, you give me more credit than I deserve. I wasn’t thinking about genres, although at the time I couldn’t get my hands on enough sf, fantasy and detective books to read. My approach to Eclipse’s publication list was very simple: call up a writer or artist whose work I admired and ask if they had a pet project. Craig chose Night Music, Jim and Don theirs, and Steve Gerber had Stewart The Rat. My other publishing “philosophy”, if you want to call it that, was that the money I made on Sabre went to fund the next project. Then the combined sales of those two books would fund two additional books, and on and on. All the money went back into the company (something that didn’t change much at all in the 17 year of Eclipse). Craig’s Night Music, plus his continuing opuses I published over the years, are among the true highlights of Eclipse. If Craig called me today to say he had a new story he wanted to publish, I’d mortgage my house just to do it. I love him and his work that much.
Stewart The Rat was, as has been well documented, Steve’s comment on certain people at Marvel and the way they treated him. The original artist was Tom Sutton (I still have full-sized photocopies of Tom’s first ten pages), but Steve and I then decided on Gene Colan. We were fortunate enough to interest Tom Palmer in inking it. While it’s not Steve’s best work, the art still holds up beautifully, in my opinion.