One of the most prolific artists ever to work for Marvel Comics, Sal Buscema, got to spend a little time in the spotlight today at Comic-Con International in San Diego, during a career retrospective and interview conducted by Mark Evanier.
Sal’s amazing speed and versatility was mentioned in Evanier’s introduction. “At one point he was doing four books a month, a comic book every week,” Evanier said. “Now, that’s just not humanly possible. Oddly enough, the only other man to accomplish this feat was also named Buscema.”
This of course led to reminiscence about Sal’s brother John, also a Marvel legend and, Sal told us, the hero of his youth. “I have vivid memories of John coming home from school and, instead of doing his homework, he’d be drawing! He really looked up to Hal Foster, Alex Raymond… and he’d do these great drawings in that same style.”
It was watching his older brother that led Sal to also want a career in comics. In fact, during the early days of his career, Sal would often act as John’s assistant if his brother had a tight deadline. “Our dad owned a barbershop, he wanted us to be barbers… but, well, that didn’t work out,” Sal added, to much audience laughter.
Asked about favorite artists growing up, Sal was definite. “George Tuska! John and me both loved his stuff. And I got to meet him! Last year! You know, fans always are coming up to me and saying, ‘I grew up on your work…’ Well, I finally got to say that to George Tuska. He’s about eighty now, I guess, but still doing great.”
Asked about his early days at Marvel, Sal explained, “Well, my first job was an assignment from Sol Brodsky, a ten page Western… ‘Gunhawk,’ I think the name was.” Did he get any guidance or criticism? “No… I think they just said, ‘Sal, here’s the plot, go to it.’ ”
“And since that day, in 1968, has there ever been a period for you where there was just no work?” Evanier asked.
Sal Busema shook his head. “I don’t think I ever had a day off since then — unless, you know, I wanted one,” he added hastily, lest the audience think Stan Lee was running a sweatshop.
When Evanier asked Sal if he had a favorite character he ever worked on, he smiled. “My guy, the incredible Hulk.” This got much applause from the audience — Sal’s Hulk was obviously a favorite of theirs as well. Sal added, “You know, Stan was never really happy with the way people drew the Hulk. He was a massive concrete block of a character, that was how Stan saw him, and so that was what I tried to give them.”
Asked about inkers, Sal was quick to name some of his favorites. “Joe Sinnott always made me look good. John Verpoorten was a very strong inker, very faithful to the pencils. Mike Esposito… well, we had some problems. Frank Giacoia, he was great.”
Asked if he had a least favorite inker, Buscema demurred, at which point Evanier said slyly, “An inker who shall remain nameless. What does that mean, ladies and gentlemen?”
The audience roared, “Vince Colletta!!” which got a laugh and a rueful nod from Sal.
Evanier asked if he’d ever wanted to write his own comics, and Sal Buscema chuckled. “Probably. But I never asked because I knew I’d be terrible.” He named Len Wein as his favorite writer to work with. “It was uncanny, how in tune we were… incredible mesh.”
Sal Buscema also did a lot of inking. Asked if he ever found his brother John’s pencils intimidating, Sal burst out laughing. “I found John intimidating! He could break me in half! And he was never really happy with any of his inkers.” Sal added, “You know, you all are going to hate me for saying this, but my one wish for my brother was that he could have done more serious art, outside of comics. He could have been in museums, he was that good. Now, was his work in comics a waste? No, he left us a wonderful legacy, but he could have done so much more.”
Reflecting on his own legacy, Sal Buscema’s face lit up in a big grin. “I consider myself so fortunate. I’m still having a ball, after 35 years. I’m blessed. I’ve been retired for three years… and I’m still inking jobs for Marvel! It’s great!”