Once again, writer and unofficial comics historian Mark Evanier played host to a gathering of Golden and Silver Age greats Thursday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
This year the roster included:
- Jack Adler, the color and production artist that essentially pioneered the art of comic-book coloring during his years at DC
- Frank Bolle, the artist who spent years doing Western comics and children’s book illustrations at Western before launching his signature work, “Dr. Solar.”
- Tom Gill, the artist on many famous Western comics including the original “Lone Ranger,” who went on to mentor some of the most famous names in modern comics
- Harry Harrison, former art assistant to Wally Wood as well as the award-winning author of the SF classic novel “Make Room! Make Room!” (later filmed as “Soylent Green”).
- Marvel Silver Age great Gene Colan, best known for his work on “Daredevil” and “Tomb of Dracula”
- Sid Jacobson, the Harvey comics editor who spent so many years overseeing the adventures of “Casper,” “Wendy,” and “Richie Rich”
- Frank Springer, an artist whose resume includes Marvel, DC, the National Lampoon, and syndicated newspaper strips
Evanier began by asking Harry Harrison to reminisce a little bit about his early days in comics with Wally Wood. “We were all in art school after the war,” Harrison explained, meaning World War II. “We worked for a bunch of different publishers, crappy ones, paid like $25 a page. Then we hooked up with old man Gaines, at Educational Comics — ‘Stories From The Bible’ is the kind of thing they were doing then — and then the old man died and his son Bill took over and it became EC. We did Westerns, romance, western romance…” Harrison launched into a whispery falsetto. ” ‘I met a man… he rode away… then he came back… we got married… but there was… NO LOVE!’ And, you know, ‘NO LOVE’ would be lettered in giant letters, it was the title,” Harrison explained in his normal voice to an audience now roaring with laughter. “For a laugh we took that particular page and instead of ‘NO LOVE’ we pasted in over it, ‘NO BALLS.’ Those were fun days. We had fun.”
Jack Adler talked a little about his first days at DC. “I was working in printing, doing separations and stuff, and I knew Shelly Mayer. He was gonna teach me photography. And every so often Shelly would ask me what I thought of the color in the comics he was doing, and I’d say well, the color stinks. He’d ask me how I’d do it and I’d tell him, I’d use color to tell the story. So one time he gives me this 6-page thing to color, he’s in a jam, and it’s ‘Nutsy Squirrel.’ Six pages of a squirrel talking to a rabbit. And I thought how am I going to make this different? So I fiddled with the sky — started with blue, then the next page a kind of yellow, and then finally ending up purple with streaks. Shelly calls up all in a fit demanding to know where in the hell you find a sky that color! And I told him, ‘the same place you find a squirrel that talks.’ ”
Gene Colan reminisced about his early days. “I started at Marvel with Stan in the 40’s. One Monday morning in ’46 I went in and there’s no work! So I did ‘Hopalong Cassidy’ for DC, worked for Julie Schwartz for five or six years, then the bottom dropped out around ’55, 56. So I floundered around for about six years, then ended up back at Marvel with Stan. He gave his artists free rein, I had a great time, it was like being a movie director.”
Sid Jacobson told about his days at Harvey. “Al Harvey understood comics,” he said. “In a way that people really don’t today.”
“What was your biggest seller back then? ‘Casper?'” Evanier asked him.
Jacobson considered it. “Well, at one point we were doing 32 different titles featuring ‘Richie Rich.’ You figure it’s all the same character and combine them, well, it was in the millions, easy.”
Talking about Al Harvey got Tom Gill to chime in. “I started at newspapers,” he said. “Just illustrations — I drew the map of Pearl Harbor, the day the news broke of the attack, for the paper! I knew Al Harvey, he encouraged me but couldn’t hire me. I wasn’t ready. Then he’s on a deadline, he gives me six pages, I still wasn’t ready, but I did my best. Then Al walks out on them, I get a call from Fox wanting to know what I was doing for them, they had to call all their freelancers and ask what we were doing because Al just left! That was my start.”
Frank Springer was philosophical. “There were some raggedy times, but I always had work, raised five kids, bought some houses, bought some cars… I’ve been lucky.”
Frank Bolle agreed. “I had an art teacher who told me no one would give me a chance as an illustrator if I wasn’t published, so I thought I’d try comics. I ended up at Western, they let me do it all. Everybody else wanted just pencils or just inks but at Western I did it all, finished my own pages… ‘Dr. Solar,’ children’s book illustrations, and then for newspapers I did the ‘Heart of Juliet Jones.'” Bolle shrugged. “I kept busy, stayed out of trouble.”
The panel concluded with Comic-Con’s director of programming, Gary Sassaman, presenting five of the panelists with the Inkpot Awards for Lifetime Achievement: Frank Springer, Sid Jacobsen, Tom Gill, Harry Harrison, and Jack Adler. Sassaman explained that Colan and Bolle had been awarded the same honor at earlier cons, “so now we have an entire panel of Inkpot winners up here.”
All the winners were surprised and delighted by the honor. “I hope this goes through security,” Springer joked, holding up the trophy. “Seriously… thank you all. Thank you for having us here.”