Welcome back for another installment of CBR’s series featuring conversations with a selection of African American comics creators, past, present, and future in celebration of Black History Month.
Our second interview is with Floyd Norman, writer, artist, animator, and all around creative gentleman. The work he might be best known for is a stint on the classic girls’ comic, Katy Keene. As you will find out, we are definitely speaking with an elder in the comics game.
CBR News: Okay, let’s start out by asking you to introduce yourself to our audience. Please share with us your history within (and without) the comics industry as well as what current projects you’re working on.
Floyd Norman: My name is Floyd Norman, and I’m a writer and an artist. I’ve worked in comic books, comic strips and motion picture animation for nearly forty years. I’ve worked for Archie Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and King Features Syndicate as a comic strip writer. I currently work for the Walt Disney Company as a consultant, and I’m developing a new television show that features music as its theme.
CBR News: How old are you, Mr. Norman, if you don’t mind saying?
FN: It’s amazing how fast time goes by. I’m seventy years old, and I still feel like I’m learning my craft. Maybe that’s what keeps one young.
CBR News: Now, let’s start talking more about the comics industry and you. How did you get your first big break? What was it? As we all are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, would you like to mention any mentors or wise ones who helped you along the way? Also, what sort of challenges or difficulties, if any, did you face getting into the comics biz?
FN: My first big break came while I was still in high school. I met a local cartoonist who was writing and drawing a comic book. I was lucky enough to become one of his assistants, and it was my first job as a professional. The name of the gentleman was Bill Woggon. His studio was located on his ranch in the foothills of Santa Barbara. Bill was my first boss and mentor. I learned a great deal about writing and drawing a professional comic book from him.
CBR News: Can I get you to share a little bit more about Bill Woggon (creator of “Katy Keene”) for our readers?
FN: Bill Woggon was a wonderful boss, and taught me all the basics about working in the comics business. He was a writer as well as an artist, and at the top of his career doing “Katy Keene,” he employed a number of assistants to churn out the number of comic pages and strips. His brother, Elmer Woggon, was also a cartoonist. Maybe you’ve heard of a comic strip he did back in the forties and fifties. It was called “Steve Roper and Big Chief Wahoo.” Mr. Woggon’s studio was on his ranch in Santa Barbara, California, and it was actually called Woggon Wheels Ranch.
CBR News: Very interesting. Now, I want you to delve a little deeper for us, if you’d like. Was your time in the comics industry a mostly enjoyable experience or not? Can you share with us why or why not? And what were some of your most notable experiences in comics?
FN: This first job was very exciting because I was learning so much. It was a very enjoyable experience working with professional artists and writers for the first time and having them share their knowledge with me.
I guess my time doing “Katy Keene” was my favorite time because I was young and everything was fresh and new. Yet, I’ve enjoyed every comic book job I’ve done from the Hanna-Barbera comics in the seventies, to the Disney comics in the eighties and nineties. As far as I’m concerned, every job is special. It’s hard to choose one over the others.
|Just one of the many daily Mickey strips written by Floyd Norman.|
Every job I’ve done has its own unique challenges. I don’t find one job more significant than the other. All are special, and that’s what makes the work so interesting.
CBR News: What about any struggles you faced in comics? Were there any ways or situations in which you felt the comics industry let you down? Or disappointed you?
FN: My struggles in the comics business was no different than the challenges others may have also faced. We all must learn and grow. As your talent matures, there will always be more opportunities. The business cannot let you down. You can only let yourself down.
CBR News: What precipitated the move from comics to animation? Is working in comics something you’d be interested in exploring again?
FN: As far as I’m concerned, all creating is art. Whether I’m writing a children’s book, working on a comic strip or doing a movie, it’s all about story telling. Sure, the medium may vary, but it’s all about telling a story. In my case, I’ve enjoyed moving from comics to film and back again. Another thing you gain is that it keeps you fresh and on your toes. There is always a danger of getting bogged down or in a rut. If one keeps moving and trying new things you never become dull or boring.
CBR News: Do you still keep tabs on the comics industry?
FN: Yes, I’m always in touch with the comics industry. I attend trade shows like WonderCon in San Francisco and ComicCon International in San Diego every year. I meet with cartoonists at least once a month in various comic organizations like Comic Art Professional Society and the National Cartoonist Society. It’s important to stay in touch and know what’s going on. It’s great to meet new young cartoonists who are just getting started in their career. That’s very important to me.
CBR News: What are you currently enjoying, either from a book or talent perspective?
FN: I’m lucky enough to be enjoying new things as I continue my career. I’ve worked in comics, film, television, and now I’m trying my hand at developing computer software. I think it’s important if you’re to grow as an artist you must always be open to new ideas. That’s what I’m currently enjoying.
CBR News: So I imagine you just try to remain open to all kinds of new ideas without picking any favorites. Now, speaking of the future, could you talk about what it holds for you. What’s next? If you can, please talk about any upcoming projects you’re working on in the comics industry or in any other media.
FN: I honestly don’t know what the future holds for me. Like any creative person, I take the challenges as they come. I’ve been developing children’s books for Disney Publishing, and working on an animated Disney feature for DVD. I’ve also been involved with a new children’s television show that features music. So, you see, I’ve really no hard plans for what happens next. It’s actually more fun not knowing.
CBR News: Lastly, as an elder — in terms of your professional status — in the comics industry yourself, do you have any words of wisdom to pass along to the next generation of creators? Any advice specifically to readers of color?
FN: Learn and grow as [a] professional. With hard work and dedication there is no limit to what you can accomplish. And, never, never let the issue of color be a stumbling block in your path.
Believe it or not, there was practically zero racial prejudice in the animation business when I came into it. I know this may sound incredible considering I came into the business in the fifties when the world was quite different from today. There was one incident at the Disney studio in the sixties. I have to make a point that this was one individual, and not the feeling or attitude of the Disney studio in general, and certainly not an attitude acceptable to Walt Disney. I got on Spike Lee’s case for calling Walt Disney a racist. Mr. Lee never met Walt Disney. How could he judge a man he never met, and never worked for? I have great respect for Spike Lee, but in this case he was clearly off base, and I called him on it.
Today, the industry of comics and film is filled with accomplished young people of color. Nothing can or will hold them back as long as they are committed to succeed.
CBR News: Wait a minute. You chastised Spike Lee? Can I get you to expand on that story a bit? Was that meeting in person? How did you know Spike?
FN: Well, not to make too much of it, this all started when I read Spike Lee’s screenplay for “Jungle Fever.” In the script, Spike Lee referred to Walt Disney as a “cartoon drawing racist.” I took issue with this because Spike lee never met Walt Disney. Spike never worked for Walt Disney. How can you make comments about a man you never met or worked for?
On the other hand, I did meet Walt Disney, and worked for him for a number of years. If anybody wants to know what kind of man Walt Disney was — why not ask someone who knew him — not someone who didn’t.
Anyway, I never met Spike Lee. Although, I did work with his wife on a television show she was developing at Disney. Mrs. Spike Lee seemed to have no problem with me working on her show, so maybe this whole thing has finally been forgotten. I still have the greatest respect for Mr. Lee as a film maker, and wish him no ill.
CBR News: Neither do we at CBR. Now, finally, for real, is there a website where our readers can see your work?
FN: If you would like to check out my work, go to The Creative Talent Network.
Thank you, Mr. Norman, for taking the time speak with us here at CBR, especially since he wasn’t feeling well at the time. So please send him your best wishes. I’d also like to thank Scott Shaw! for his excellent suggestion of Floyd Norman and Jonah Weiland for production assistance.
Please join us next week for another edition of Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants.