We moved around a fair amount when I was growing up. No, my dad was not in the military, he just couldn't decide where he wanted to live. I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but we didn't stay there long. My little sister was born in Mt. Vernon, Washington and we lived in various houses in and around Bellingham, Washington. From kindergarten through fifth grade I was going to a different school every year (sometimes two). We lived up Albion Ridge Road from fifth grade through 10th, but after that it was back up to Bellingham once more.
It was in Bellingham that I started getting my first professional work. After I drew a couple issues of a fanzine called "Graphic Fantasy," I sent out comics to reviewers all over the place and got mentions in a few comic book trade publications. Those mentions lead to a couple guys hiring me to work for them and those jobs lead to better jobs and eventually it looked as though I might actually be able to do this nonsense for a living.
But I was restless and I found that my most productive work hours were late at night and when I wanted to grab a bite to eat there were few available options in Bellingham. That, and I felt like I needed to move away to really complete the growing up process. I wanted to live in a larger metropolitan area and I wanted to be in a place where I could work with other creative people.
My options were Seattle (which was still "too close to home" as far as I was concerned), New York (I love New York) and San Francisco. I'd met inker extraordinaire Al Gordon at the big San Diego con the previous summer and he seemed like a nice guy. He made it known that there was space available in the studio that he shared with a few other artists and I had a cousin that I could stay with while I looked for an apartment, so it all seemed pretty ideal. San Francisco got the nod.
I moved down. My rent went from $175 to $620 a month. I had socked away just enough that I could pay my rent for six months. I had six months to get regular work so that I could continue to live in the city by the bay.
And it worked out okay. DC's Mike Gold took me under his wing and saw to it that I had steady work. I did an issue of "Secret Origins," a "Teen Titans Spotlight" or two (okay, it was two), some issues of the "Outsiders" and an issue of the "Teen Titans." Mike was trying to see if he could get me onto the "Teen Titans," but others weren't convinced that should happen. I drew one issue, written by Paul Levitz, who was filling in for Marv Wolfman and that was it for me on that title. I drew an issue of "Adventures of Superman" and eventually settled in for a stint on the "Doom Patrol."
If you had it in mind to write a situation comedy based in or around a group of cartoonists sharing a studio, you couldn't do much better than the one called Hot Led Ink on Mississippi Street in San Francisco. It was a gigantic warehouse on a hill. As the hill sloped down, a basement warehouse appeared beneath the rooms above. We were in the second story, down a long hall, past a dance studio and above the warehouse area. We shared the space with cartoonist Steve Leialoha's brother Mark, a photographer. Steve himself alleged to be part of the studio and he did bring folks by the office at times to show people his studio, but he never worked on the premises as far as I knew. He didn't even have a drawing board set up there.
There were four of us in the front room. Mark was set up in the back. There was a kitchen and a bathroom and some storage off to one side. There was Al, myself, Chris Marrinan and Pete McDonnell. Pete did mostly commercial work. He'd drawn a couple comics ("The Marksman," being the longest running), but his biggest strength was doing caricatures and funny stuff, not straight superheroes. Chris was doing a book called "Champions" at the time and Al was working on "Justice League" (over Kevin McGuire). I used to pitch in and add zips to some of the pages. Al was not fond of cutting up and applying shading film, those black dot screens used to show texture or grays. I liked doing it and I was more than happy to help out.
There was one source of music and it was under Al's control. Most often, that was fine, but I was not a big Todd Rungren fan and Al was, but he kept it under control for the most part.
There was one phone. This presented somewhat more of a problem because there were four of us and we all needed to use it at times and that wasn't always possible. It also meant a monthly undertaking, figuring out who made which call. What fun!
Mark photographed a lot of bands and there was a steady stream of disheveled, unwashed guys in leather jackets coming in and out of the place, drumming on the walls and making a racket.
Below, in the warehouse, workers hauling boxes back and forth would be singing loudly and it was quite audible to the group of us.
But the worst of it was the dance studio next door.
Now, I'm not a big fan of tapping in general. If somebody is drumming away with their fingers, it's all I can do to keep from strangling them. My older brother used to annoy the hell out of my by tapping away like a madman. But this was taking it to a whole new level.
Al had his desk along the wall directly next to the dance studio and this was an old rickety warehouse with long crude wooden planks for flooring. The boards under Al's desk and chair were literally the same boards being danced upon on the other side of that all-too-thin wall. So there we were, shut up in a room together, furiously trying to make our deadlines, Al, inking with a brush, while on the other side of the wall loud music was being played as a large group of people engaged in flamenco dancing.
Needless to say, it was not a pretty picture.
Now, I don't know if you're all that familiar with flamenco dancing, but it seems as though (at least with these yahoos) that the whole idea is to stomp and tap and carry on just as loudly as possible and with Amiable Al trying to ink with a brush, it was a recipe for disaster.
The nightly ritual often degenerated into a lot of yelling and storming over there and slamming on walls and cursing. Al kept the makers of white out in business as he attempted to fix whatever mistakes resulted from the continuing tremors and wacky hijinks ensued.
We had the Pips below, belting out off key songs as they drove around hauling boxes of god knows what and a parade of hair-bands while we all waited for our turn to use the phone, followed by an ungodly racket and a large group on nitwits jumping up and down on the floor to beat the band.
And a good time was had by all. Despite the various hardships -- no air conditioning in the summer, pages soaking up sweat and curling -- it was a blast. If anybody needed a hand, there was somebody there ready to pose for you or fill in blacks or supply reference or pitch in.
I lived in an apartment near Pete and Chris and we'd go to work together riding in their big, rusty red boat of a car held together by coat hangers and twine. Or I'd ride the bus or ride a bike or even (in one case when it got too late and the buses weren't running) walk home. I don't recall spending the night on the ratty couch near the entry, but I know it happened with others on more than one occasion.
But all things must pass. Eventually, the studio fell apart. Mark moved on and we found another place closer to home. Chris moved out and then it was the three of us. Eventually, I moved out as well. My girlfriend and I bought a house across the bay and I started working at home.
Years later, after Image Comics started up, Al Gordon created a character called "WildStar" along with artist Jerry Ordway. They did a miniseries, which was followed up with a regular series illustrated by Chris Marrinan.
We still keep in touch, but it's nowhere near as frequent as it once was. Pete moved on and settled down. Chris got married and divorced and has two wonderful kids as a result. Life goes on.
But there are days where I'd really like to be back in that old studio on Mississippi Street, hanging out with the fellows and banging out pages of comics.
But I'd just as soon pass on those fucking flamenco dancers.