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NYCC: Legends Behind the Comic Books

by  in Comic News Comment
NYCC: Legends Behind the Comic Books
Stan Lee and Irwin Hasen at the Legends Behind the Comic Books panel

As the third year of the New York Comic-Con launched, nine of the founding creators of the comic industry led off the show with a panel devoted to a retrospective on their careers and experiences. Hosted by author and comics historian Michael Uslan, the panel consisted of Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee, Captain America co-creator Joe Simon, Spider-Man artist John Romita Sr, Batman artist Jerry Robinson, pioneering female artist Ramona Fradon, DC artists Murphy Anderson and Irwin Hasen, and longtime inkers Joe Sinnott and Dick Ayers.

Uslan began the panel by asking Stan Lee what accomplishment in his career he was most proud of. Lee first responded by cracking “Living long enough to come here!” but went on to say, with a mixture of humility and grandeur, that he would “leave that to posterity to judge” which earned him a chuckle from his fellow panelists.

The next question went to Jerry Robinson, who was asked when he first realized that comics were being taken seriously as an art form. He related an experience when he hosted a show at the Kennedy Center on the influences of pop art on modern art. They were displaying a rendition of the Joker by a famous artist, and next to it sat Robinson’s original drawing of the Joker. Ruefully, Robinson said, “His painting was insured for $100,000; I was only originally paid $100 for my drawing.”

Ramona Fradon looks over the crowd during the panel

Ramona Fradon was then asked what it was like being a woman coming into the comics industry in those days. Summing it up, she said “Scary.” Elaborating, she explained that when she would enter the bullpen on any given day, it was a wild place, with the guys throwing things at each other, hurling insults, and generally acting up. “I didn’t like that”, she confessed. But she was also quick to emphasize, “I never felt there was any discrimination.”

Joe Sinnott revealed that he actually enjoyed his pencilling more than inking. He came into inking almost accidentally; he had already been pencilling for Marvel, when Stan came to him with a rush job from Jack Kirby and asked him to help out by inking. It worked so well that more assignments followed, including their legendary run on Fantastic Four. Appreciatively, Sinnott related, “I’ll never forget when Stan said to me ‘Joe, whatever you do, don’t leave us.'”

Joe Simon got a hot button topic when he was asked for his thoughts on Captain America being created during the Roosevelt administration, and, as Uslan put it, “being killed during the Bush administration.” Steering away from the political implications, Simon simply expressed his desire for the return of the original Captain America, “without the popgun and the knife.”

Murphy Anderson at the Legends Behind the Comic Books panel

John Romita Sr. was asked how it was different for his son coming into the comics industry than it was for him. Romita put it in starkly economic terms, saying “When I was coming up, we knew not to take out a loan, because we might not be able to pay it off.” He contrasted this with the booming ’80s when Romita Jr. made his mark. Romita also reflected on the fact that his son broke into the industry on the strength of his storytelling skills rather than his skills as an illustrator. “There were a lot of guys who could draw pretty pictures, but John knew how to tell a story,” he said. The audience got a chuckle when Romita pointed out that his son never sought to imitate his style, but instead was a John Buscema fan. “I was too,” he laughed. He mentioned that whenever he sees Joe Kubert, they kid each other on how lucky they are to both have offspring who took off in the industry.

Murphy Anderson talked about his relationship with longtime DC editor Julie Schwartz. Anderson reminisced about how he and Julie would have lunch together frequently, and said their collaboration was great. A lot of this was founded on their common interests, Anderson said, “We both loved sci-fi.” Asked whether he preferred pencilling or inking, Anderson surprised the audience by saying “I prefer to do a complete job”, explaining that he found it frustrating when an inker would mishandle his pencils. Romita concurred with this, but threw a compliment to his fellow panelist Joe Sinnott, saying, “But if I had an inker I knew I could trust, like Joe, it was fine.”

With time running low, Uslan chose to wrap the panel up by asking each member of the panel to answer the same question; who was the most creative person they worked with in the comics industry? Stan, of course, named Jack Kirby, calling him a “born storyteller and an endless source of ideas.” Joe Simon also naturally went with his longtime partner, saying Kirby “invented an entire form of dynamic storytelling.” Romita too bowed to the King of Comics. Jerry Robinson name-checked Mort Meskin, Irwin Hasen mentioned Sheldon Mayer and Bill Finger, Ramona Fradon cited Linda Fite, whom she worked with on several stories, and said her words instantly conjured vivid imagery. Dick Ayers listed Frank Giacoia, John Severin, and Gene Colan, while Murphy Anderson mentioned Will Eisner and Lou Fine.

With that, Uslan appealed to the audience, here in the town that gave birth to comics, to show their appreciation for the men and women behind it all. He was not disappointed as the crowd rose to their feet in a raucous round of applause, proving that the decades have not diminished the enthusiasm and appreciation for these legends.

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Classic Comics forum.

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