Mark Evanier returned once again to host his recurring panel on comics history from the days of bell bottoms, and this year was joined in an excellent array of 1970s comic book veterans who entertained fans for a lively 90-minute panel with their stories from yesteryear. On the dais were Elliot S! Maggin, Steve Leialoha, Walter and Louise Simonson, Anthony Tollin and Len Wein. Evanier set the tone for the panel, mixing personal stories with comments on larger industry trends, by asking the panelists about the differences between their generation and their predecessors.
Maggin told the story of selling his first comic book story to a publisher. He had submitted his story for consideration, and Neal Adams took it with him and read it on the subway ride home from the office. “He told me, ‘If Julius [Schwartz] buys it, I’ll draw it,” Maggin said, marveling at how easy his first sale was.
Evanier added, “And you were hated by your friends [for it]!”
Leialoha took the opportunity to note how reverent he was of the older generation when broke into the industry, to the point of only wanting to work on their pencils. “When they’d assign me inking jobs, I’d ask for anyone over 50.”
Walt Simonson shared how his first attempt to get work at Marvel was met with failure. “I did my own comic — wrote it, drew it, I did the whole thing.” But when he showed the sample, it didn’t lead to an offer. “I didn’t realize that if you show them a sci-fi comic, they’re not going to give you Spider-Man!’
However, Simonson did manage to convince Carmine Infantino to give him a shot. “Infantino called in four editors, one of which had just turned me down twenty minutes earlier, and said ‘Get him a story to do.'” said Walt Simonson. “So Joe Orlando gave me a fill story, a six or eight-page story by Len Wein, and said, ‘Here you go, it’s due tomorrow,'” he said as Wein and the audience all laughed.
An off-handed comment from Simonson then steered the conversation toward weightier issues. “I told Neal Adams I thought I’d do comics for four to five years and then get a real job.” The panelists discussed how that was a sentiment much more often displayed in Golden Age artists.
“The older generation wanted to do magazines, pulp and novel covers, comic strips. We were the first generation that wanted to do comics,” Tollin said.
“We were the first generation to grow up on comics,” said Wein.
Evanier pointed out that the Golden Age artists came from the Depression. They were just happy to have work, and would stick with comics out of caution. “We didn’t have all the responsibilities they did,” said Louise Simonson. “We could take those chances.”
Maggin shared with an anecdote about the first time he entered the DC Comics offices and an angry and bitter Robert Kanigher was yelling at Marv Wolfman. Evanier interrupted to provide some context, connecting it back to the previous discussion. “Bob Kanigher was very successful in the ’40s mainly because he just worked so fast,” Evanier said, explaining that the writer made a lot of money because he was so busy but never ventured outside of comics. “As young talent would come in, he became angry over what he had become: an old man in the comics industry.”
Evanier went on to explain his diverse career beyond comics, which includes writing for cartoons, sitcoms and variety shows. “I made a conscious effort to not just do comics. And not because I thought comics would go out of business,” he said, referring to the rocky time the industry was going through when he got his start. “It was because of Jack Kirby,” referring to the mistreatment Evanier saw Kirby endure from the industry.
Maggin chimed in about how he diversified his career options. After achieving some success in comics, “I got involved with Atari,” he said. “I wrote software for them, I can write in nine languages.”
When Len Wein was asked if he feared the end of comics in the ’70s, he balked at the question. “I never thought comics would end,” he said. Asked about his confidence during the industry’s darkest days, he chalked it up to sheer force of will. “Because I wanted comics to survive” Wein said it was simply enough for the writer to have faith the medium would survive.
“Jack always said that, but not because he wanted comics to survive, but because he was going to save comics!” Evanier said of Kirby’s take on the comics industry.
“I knew comics would survive the day I got blackballed from DC Comics,” said Wein. “I walked out the door and down the block to Gold Key Comics” and went right back to work.
Again, Evanier chimed in with his encyclopedic knowledge. “At that time, DC Comics was on 909 3rd Avenue, and Western Publishing [Gold Key’s publisher] was at 815 3rd Avenue,” noting the single block that separated them.
When the topic of “ghosting” — when a name artist took a job and hired another artist to draw the story for him at a lesser rate, pocketing the extra cash andthe credit — was raised, Evanier noted “Sal Trapani may never have actually penciled a story himself.”
This led to a discussion of how the older generation were sometime stuck in their old ways of doing things, almost drawing comics by rote — when they’d draw women, it was the same way they drew women ten or twenty years previous including the same now-dated hairstyles and clothes.
Of Steve Ditko, Leialoha said, “I still worship [Ditko], but his cars, the clothes, the styles were so ‘dated.'”
“Some of his ideas were dated as well,” Evanier added, eliciting laughter from the crowd, clearly familiar with some of the Spider-Man co-creator’s ‘traditional’ views.
Evanier then asked Wein what his biggest success and mistake were during his tenure as an editor at Marvel. “The smartest thing I did was let people do what you hired them to do. Their craft, their art. The biggest mistake? Hiring Jim Shooter,” Wein said as the crowd exploded with laughter.
Evanier closed out the panel by asking everyone who they met in comics that stood out to them, but wasn’t a superstar. Tollin answered first.” I gave the tours at DC, so I’d show people around the office. And one day I was assigned as a liaison to this new guy who didn’t know anything about comics, and I was supposed to help him. He had never seen a Superman movie, a Superman serial, a cartoon, the ’50s TV show, and I had to teach him all about Superman,” said Tollin. “That man was Christopher Reeves.”
Louise Simonson had previously mentioned her fondness for artist John Severin. “I love, loved, loved him.” She again returned to Severin with this latest question. “This is why I love John Severin. I had this World War I story, and John’s art was going to print. And I got this frantic phone call from him. He said, ‘I drew 1918 uniforms on the soldiers, but the story is in 1917!’ I said, ‘John, why don’t I change the caption to 1918?’ But that attention to detail, how can you not love that?”
Wein ended the panel by recalling a moment from his first meeting with the man who plays the live-action counterpart of his most famous creation, Wolverine. “The first thing Hugh Jackman said to me when we met was ‘Sorry I’m so tall.’ I said, ‘I tell people you play it ‘small.'”