Stan Goldberg has been working in comics for more than six decades. Beginning in the color department at Timely, Goldberg worked under Stan Lee and went on to run the color department before becoming a freelance colorist for the company, which became Marvel Comics. In the early to mid-’60s, Mr. Goldberg created the color schemes for the superheroes we know so well today, which were drawn by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, Wally Wood, John Buscema and others.
While working as a colorist, Goldberg was also freelancing as an artist and became best known for the teenage romance comics he drew at many companies, most prominently Archie Comics, where he worked for forty-one years. During his tenure there, Goldberg illustrated many of the anniversary issues, the “Archie Meets the Punisher” crossover, and the Marriage storyline collected by Abrams ComicArts, and was one of the last stories he drew for the company.
However, Goldberg hasn’t stopped working since departing Archie. In 2011 he worked on “The Simpsons Comics” #183 for Bongo Comics and a variant cover for Marvel’s “FF” #1. Shortly after our conversation took place, Papercutz revealed that his next project will be “The Three Stooges,” a four-issue series which will debut in March.
This year Goldberg will receive the Gold Key Award from the National Cartoonists Society, an award given out infrequently by the society and whose recipients include only a handful of artists, among them Hal Foster, Herblock, Milton Caniff, Arnold Roth, and Bil Keane. CBR News spoke with Goldberg about his lengthy and storied career in this far reaching interview.
CBR News: I know that you’re still working on a number of projects but we’re happy to be speaking with you because you’ve had such a long career in comics.
Stan Goldberg: I’m busy doing a lot of new things like most any artist, at least in our field. Look at Joe Kubert, doing the best work he’s ever done. There’s still a few of us around. It’s a good job and I never take it for granted. The job that I’m doing presently is always the job that I want to be the best. Then I go on and I forget what I was doing three days ago. [Laughs] I always say the word job connotes digging a ditch or saving somebody’s life, but there are other things that fit under the category of jobs. This is something I’ve been doing since I was seven or eight years old, so would you consider that a job?
That’s a good way to think about it. Your most recently released project was the issue of “The Simpsons Comics” #183. How did that come about?
I never met Bill Morrison, but I knew of him. I don’t remember if I spoke to him or he called me up first when he knew that I wasn’t working for Archie anymore. He wanted to do a special book and had a writer put together this whole book about Archie and dealing with what I did in “Millie the Model” and a lot of other things. It was just a great job to work on. They’re a good company to work for. It took me a while to get to learn those characters. I enjoyed them, but they’re so unorthodox I had to change my way of thinking. I made copies of all my pencils, I didn’t ink [the book], but I was curious to find out how it would look inked and I was very pleased with it.
Everyone seemed to have fun with the issue.
Yeah, once I got in the swing. I got the whole script and then I would do a couple of pages. I still was very unsure of myself and I got to know the art director there and have conversations with him. They sent me model sheets, but it wasn’t enough. You look at model sheets and whatever’s coming off your pencil is sometimes two different things.
That was quite a while ago. It was probably April or May of last year when I did that book. We go every year to Mexico for two months and they contacted me on it and I said, “Well, I’ll be back at the beginning of April. Can we hold off [until then]?” and they said sure. I think they sent me some model sheets while I was away and I checked them out and did a few little drawings, but nothing of any consequence. I needed a script. Just showing the characters individually was of no help. I need a storyline to develop. Once I got the script, I can’t say it came to me immediately. It was a slow process and in the end it was good, so I feel I succeeded in that.
Some projects should not come so easy. Some things just have to be developed. You really have to do a lot of thinking and a lot of planning. If you’re doing just one character it’s no problem, but if you get a twenty-two page story and you have all these characters to move around and bounce off each other in all different situations and know how they express themselves in each moment, when you feel that comfortable, then you know you’re on the right track.
Earlier this year you also drew a variant “FF” cover for Marvel.
Yeah that was a freaky thing, but I’m glad it turned out well. They called me up and I said, “You’ve got the wrong guy.” They said, “No, we’ve got the right guy.” I had worked on all those early issues and I’m still around so they wanted me to do it. I sent a couple roughs up to them, they picked one of the roughs out and I really had a lot of fun with that. I worked with my buddy Joe Sinnott. He’s a great guy, probably the best inker in the business. He called me up and said, “It’s a great cover, how should I approach this?” I said, “That’s like Norman Rockwell asking, how should I paint this?” I said, “Joe, I thank you for asking me, but whatever you do is going to work out fine.” He did a really great job on it. It was nice that he asked.
The first story I ever drew in comic books — my job up at Timely was in the color department and in the early ’50s I was doing little horror stories — was in a book called “Marvel Tales.” I did a little three pager and in that book was an early Joe Sinnott story, also. He had this great five-pager. Even then he was great. And here we are still, and he’s as good as ever. Right now he’s semi-retired but he still keeps his hand in it. I think he still inks the “Spider-Man” strip but when anything special comes up you can always count on Joe to do it and do a magnificent job.
I know that you ran the color department at Timely and then worked at Timely and later Marvel as a freelance colorist for years. You joined the company in 1949, correct?
I had just turned seventeen when I got a job up there. I was in the color department learning that and then a couple years later I was running the department. A good, early start. I figured it was a good business to stay in. A lot of highs. A couple lows, but when I look back on it, most of them were corrected.
You were working there and developed the color schemes for the early Marvel heroes in the ’60s. What was it like working there at that time. Did Stan Lee and Jack Kirby have a lot of input or were you largely working on your own?
In the early days, in the ’50s, when I was running the color department, I worked directly for Stan. Even when I started, I didn’t answer to anybody else but Stan. I got to know what he liked and what he disliked. I did all the covers all through the ’50s. Some of those books were 48 pages and some of the schedules were for fifty books a month. A lot of material but Stan always wanted me to do the covers. I knew what he liked and he left it up to me. I got to know the good printing and the bad printing that we could get. In those days any grandiose ideas of what you wanted to put down [on paper] were limited. Nine times out of nine times, you’d never get them in those days. I managed to figure out the best way with the limited facilities that we had.
Fast forward to 1958 when Stan wasn’t buying any more art. It didn’t have to do with the sales. We lost our distributor. In a short time we found one and there were books all ready to go out except they needed color on those books so he called me. I was going to change directions a little bit. I went back to art school. I was doing TV storyboards. A lot of guys went into the advertising field. But Stan called me so I figured I’ll keep going to school and do these things he wanted. I was single and the money was fine and he liked what I did. After a while they were putting out a teenage book and they wanted me to do it and that set my career for the next fifty years.
As far as coloring those books, it was all left up to me, really. If you look at those first five years, from 1961 to 1965, that’s when I did all the books. Right after that I was just doing special books, but those five years I did practically everything. There might have been something Marie [Severin] had done, but I did ninety percent of creating all the color schemes for the heroes and the villains. If you look at the heroes you can see basic colors: reds and blues and a little bit of yellow. The reds and blues were very important for the superheroes. You really wanted them to pop out and those were colors that I could ensure that I was going to get. Place them in the right spots on the heroes, it worked. Jack made it easy. The first [“Fantastic Four”] didn’t have any costumes but in the second book he put this long underwear on them with the number 4 on the chest and I figured just keep them blue. I’ve never given blue to a villain. Orange was a color that we used and The Thing wasn’t a human being so I could have made him anything, but orange was the best color to work with for him. He looked like bricks or earth. I got word from Kirby that that worked out fine.
With Spider-Man, there’s your red and blue, but even the blue on the early Spider-Mans was a deeper blue, a blue with a lot of red in it. In those days it had more of a deep purple-y blue instead of just a flat blue.
The villains were green and magenta and burnt umber and gray and everything else that went along with deep and dark muddy colors. If they couldn’t come out that well, it was okay, because they were the bad guys. The heroes always got their red, yellows, and blues. I could go on with a lot of stories about why I did this and why I did that, but never in my wildest dreams did Stan and I imagine that we would talk about this for so many years.
It’s interesting hearing you discuss color like that. As a kid I noticed that the Hulk had a villain color scheme, which reinforced the idea of him as a monster.
Well that’s a takeoff on Sub-Mariner. He was a bad guy and then became a good guy. I’m almost sure I came up with the idea of green. The jolly green giant was very popular in advertising. If I’m not mistaken, I think the first issue he was in gray and I think that was Stan’s suggestion. I told him it’s not going to work. He said, “Give it a shot,” but then we put out just a few books. I don’t quite remember all those exact things. It doesn’t seem like a thousand years ago, but it’s been a lot of years.
I never ever thought that would make me as equally well known today in the business as drawing teenage humor and romance books which I’ve been doing for over fifty years. A lot of people in the business never even knew that I was involved in that until the magazine “Alter Ego” did a story on me in one of the early issues. Jim Amash really played up my involvement in all those superhero books. Jack was coming up with new books and Ditko and Don Heck and on and on and on. “Daredevil” was by Bill Everett and Wally Wood. I colored all of them.
How did you start out drawing teen romance and humor books? As you mentioned before you were drawing other things earlier in your career.
It was all Stan. It was a Friday. I remember so clearly because if I would have said no or if I had not done it, I can’t imagine what I’d be working on today. I was in the office bringing some books I had colored. I would come up a few days a week and Stan would like me to hang around. We had some good times together. We found time to have lunch and take long walks. We became close on a social basis. He came to my wedding and we got to know him and Joan quite well. Then other things came in the picture, but when I do get to speak to him, we talk about those days. They were truly special times. In fact he asked me to send him some things, some new stuff I’m working on, and he commented on and we discussed them. He wrote a nice introduction to a hardcover book that came out last year called “The Best of Stan Goldberg.”
That Friday Stan said, “Martin” — who was the publisher at the time — “wants to put out a teenage book and I want you to do it.” I wanted to do a little bit more of the serious stuff but [Stan] said, “Go home and bring something in to me on Monday.” So I brought some stuff in. He looked at it and said, “You’re going to do it. Simple as that.” The book was called “Kathy the Teenage Tornado” and I did about thirty-five issues of that book.
When I did the first book I had a guy named Chris Rule ink it. He was a staff artist, an elderly gentleman who had a very important background in the fine arts, but he took a job in the bullpen. I got to know him and he was a nice guy. So he inked the story and he knew how to handle his brush and pen and it looked like my drawing. After my first ten Kathy books, I thought, “Well this looks pretty good.” Even Stan started complimenting me on them. He’s the best teacher in the world. Back then, Timely, they had these bound volumes of all their comic books. I took those first ten books and they bound those [for me]. I’m looking at my shelves and there’s six shelves with about 180 bound volumes of 15-20 books in each bound volume. I took the assignment and I enjoyed it and by enjoying something, you get results. The rest is history.
You did teenage books at Marvel and DC but most people know you for your work at Archie Comics, where you worked for roughly four decades. That’s a long time to think about, but are there any people or projects that stand out for you in your career?
When I went up to Archie in 1968-69, they already had Dan DeCarlo. I knew Dan fairly well when he was up at Marvel. He passed away in 2001. One of the great artists of all time. He was one of the guys I looked at when I started working, but it wasn’t one guy that I looked at. There were actually three gentlemen that were drawing in three completely different styles but they did lots of teenage comics. There’s Dan DeCarlo, Al Hartley and Bob Oksner. I never met Bob but I loved what he did up at DC Comics. Al did “Patsy Walker” and I did some of “Patsy Walker” also in the early days up at Marvel. We worked together. He did a series of books he lined up, there was a company called Spire Christian Comics and Al did a lot of work for them on their humor and adventure [books]. His humor stuff was just as good as his adventure stuff. His style was great. I loved his work and was a big fan.
From those three gentlemen I learned storytelling, I learned how they approached things, and it’s not something that I planned, but what came out of that was a Stan Goldberg style. I’m not putting myself in the same boat as those three gentlemen. Everybody’s an individual in this field and each one of those guys were giants. I hope in the years that I put in I had a little bit of that glory also and hopefully I still have it. I’m doing some very interesting work right now and just enjoying it tremendously, but outside of my particular field, naturally, the giant of the mall is Jack Kirby. I can name off a couple of other gentlemen, one who happened to die at the age of thirty-two, that was Joe Maneely, who I knew very well. John Buscema, Joe Kubert, John Romita I enjoy and I know quite well. Especially John Buscema, he was my dear friend. We had such a good time working on “Archie Meets the Punisher.” That was a fun book to do.
How did that particular book ever happen? I don’t think anyone would have ever expected that story.
Tom Palmer did the inking and he did a very good job. We had that book completed and nobody knew about it. There would have been a second issue but this is when Perelman owned Marvel and they went bankrupt. There was a lot of things going on but I got paid very well for it. How it was put together, they were thinking of some crazy ideas and you always have to be one step ahead. Even at that particular time it was pretty avant-garde to put those two together. The Punisher, he’s not the best guy in the world. He’s good, but when he kills you he really kills you. When I found out Archie was going to be doing a thing with the Punisher, I didn’t want too much of a violent element taking place in these books. In fact, I eliminated certain things which I didn’t want to draw. You can put them with the Punisher, but I didn’t want the character doing some violent things in there.
The last big story you did at Archie was the Marriage storyline. How did that story come about and what were your thoughts about it?
We always prepared when the 400th issue was coming out, when the 500th issue was coming out, maybe ten issues before that we’d start thinking about what were we going to do. For issue #490-500 I created an Oprah Winfrey-type show in each one of those books and in each issue somebody from Archie’s life goes on this show to say how much they love Archie. The teacher, the mother, each book, and at the end of that particular episode they would scream how much they hate Archie. But then when we got to issue #500 we did it where they all get together and everybody loves Archie. Issue #400 was devoted to when Archie was a little kid.
I had never met Michael Uslan, but when he came on the scene, that was the idea. I started getting scripts from him. I loved ninety percent of the stuff he was writing. He’s a good writer. There’s one situation I had to change and I guess he agreed with me. The wedding when [Archie] marries Veronica, he had that wedding taking place at the new Yankee Stadium. First of all, it was in the process of being built at that time. It would have not looked nearly as good as if the wedding were taking place at the Lodge Estate. At the Lodge Estate you could have helicopters and lines of cars and events inside the estate and Josie and the Pussycats entertaining outdoors. There’s a lot of things I could draw that would work out better than doing something at the new Yankee Stadium. But after that there was a lot of good stuff and I got to know Michael. It was an idea I had no input at all except for that little sequence. The wedding worked out well. It turned out to be a big hardcover book which I went all over signing at bookstores.
You mentioned earlier the book that was released by IDW last year, “Archie: The Best of Stan Goldberg.” You were the third artist to be featured in that series, after “The Best of Dan DeCarlo” book and the collection of Bob Montana’s comic strips. What did you think of the book?
Well for Danny’s book they went to the very early days of Danny up at Archie. They did the same thing with me, but I had some input into my book. Very little. Danny’s book printed a lot of stuff from the ’50s and very early ’60s and ’70s. I think Dan was really rolling in the ’90s. For my book they went back to the ’70s. I didn’t know who was doing it. I had no control over that at all. I got to know Chris Ryall up at IDW and I said, “Chris, I would like a little input in this book if it’s possible. I’m going to send something to you that if you could include it in the book, I would greatly appreciate it.” In the book you see the fashion pages that they use, there’s about fifteen of them that I designed, I pencilled and I inked them. I’m a good inker, but I don’t have the time unless I’m doing a fashion page. He also did a couple of other things that I’m very very happy about. I sent him my pencil drawings of all six of the wedding book covers. What you see with those six drawings, very few people see that artwork of mine. They printed up very well and I’m proud of those six covers. There’s a nice picture in the back of the book with my wife and I, and Archie is a little drawing off to the side playing a guitar. When the book came out and I saw that picture I was very pleased with what Chris and the other people who put the book together did. I would have picked out a lot of different stories and I’m sure if Danny was alive he would too, but Dan never did a bad job.
Bob Montana was another boy genius. Those early strips when he was just a young guy, boy, could he draw. When you look at it today the style might appear a little bit old fashioned, but it doesn’t bother me one bit. There’s so much life to it. He was good.
You’ve mentioned a few times in the course of our conversation that you’re no longer working for Archie after many, many years. It’s been a little while now, but do you want to talk about it?
Well, I’ve been asked this a number of times and let me put it this way, I would still be drawing Archie. I know that leaves a door open. It doesn’t have anything to do with money, either. It’s kind of strange.
The six book “Wedding” series took me quite a few months to complete because I had to approach that differently. I couldn’t think of them as sixteen years-old. I did a lot of model sheets of how they should look when they’re 23 and 24 years-old. I would show them to my editor and go over them and tell him what I’m thinking. Let me put it this way, Stan Lee was my editor, and thank god I had him for my first twenty years of my life. Doing those books I had to prepare myself. I did half the work that I would normally do each day. I have two sons and I would think of when they were sixteen and how they looked when they were 23 and 24 and now they’re much older and married and have children, but I made model sheets of my boys as a way of getting into this. Bob Smith had been my inker for the past thirteen years and he did an excellent job.
I’m glad we did it, doing the Veronica wedding first, because that sets the stage for people being very upset with Archie marrying Veronica instead of Betty. People took it to heart. Some people were quite upset. I can’t tell you the letters I’ve gotten from successful writers who grew up reading “Archie” magazine. Articles about how he should have never done this and never done that and it sets a bad example to boys and girls that he should go for that type of a girl and on and on and on. I’m thinking, “It’s a comic book — no more, no less — with a lot of good art and a lot of good story in there.” I’m proud of those books. And that’s the last thing I ever did for them. All my life, the job I’m working on is the best job, but that particular job was a special one.
One of the best, I think, was #599 around the time of the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival. It was a story that dealt with a big music festival being held in Riverdale and it was based on the Woodstock Festival and I had so much fun drawing that and basing it on the characters who were at Woodstock fifty years ago.
There are a lot of other issues I can think of offhand, but I’ll leave it at, I would still be working with Archie, but I don’t want to go into [it]. I know that leaves a lot of things hanging. A lot of guys in the industry did some things on my behalf. For forty-one years I drew Archie and that was quite a stretch.
I can understand wanting to leave it hanging and not wanting to say more.
It’s an unfortunate situation. People in the industry like what I did and they didn’t give me another teenage book to draw, they gave me other things to draw. When I think about it, I succeeded. A lot of the things I’ve done in the past year were quite different. This one I’m working on now is a four book series. I’m inking it, also.
I’m still a fan of this industry. I’ve been a fan all my life. I still like to look at new stuff that’s coming out. If there’s something I look at and it doesn’t please me, I just won’t look at it again. The good stuff still blows my mind. It’s a good industry. In a lot of respects, it’s not a good industry, but what industry is? It’s just one of those things. You try to make the best of it. I was given this talent and a lot of hard work with that little bit of talent has let me draw my pictures. I’m the toughest critic of my work.
Charles Schulz, Sparky, told me once if you’re working on something successful, keep it looking the same, but make it different. We knew each other for a while. I always thought that the strength in my art was the storytelling. One story I’m doing for these books, sometimes a couple of pages can go by and it’s basically just talking heads. I have to do it in a way that will make it as interesting as possible. I think I succeed most of the time. Not 100%, but I try very hard.