by Gil Kane ;
Steve Whitaker — 27-Feb-11
The surprising fact that Gil Kane’s comic career spans some 47 years may owe its obscurity to his having been one of Julius Schwartz’s mainstays during DC’s modern superhero revival of the late ’50s and early ’60s. So what was he doing all that time? Well, as a teenager Gil was inking MLJ’s Scarlet Avenger in 1941. Subsequently he spent several years working first for Mary Marvel artist Jack Binder and then DC’s Bernard Bailey (creator of the Spectre) in their comics ‘shops’ doing everything from inking backgrounds to full pencils. After establishing himself with innumerable companies in the ’40s and ’50s, Kane settled at DC working for Julie Schwartz. There he drew for the science fiction titles Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures, working on Captain Comet, Space Cabbie and the like. Kane also made a name for himself as a western artist on such strips as Hopalong Cassidy, Nighthawk and Johnny Thunder. There were also stays on DC’s crime title Big Town and, of course, Rex the Wonder Dog.
1959 brought the first appearance of the revived Green Lantern in Showcase 22, who was granted his own title the following summer. With the ‘Silver Age’ now in full swing, the cancellation of Western Comics – home of Kane’s Johnny Thunder strip – in ’61 permitted the debut of a second Silver Age hero: the Atom. After the customary Showcase appearance he was also awarded his own title in 1962. Gil drew every issue of both titles from their respective premieres right through to 1968.
Come the mid ’60s and the superhero boom caused by the Batman TV series found Kane very much in demand; first as part of Schwartz’s ‘new look’ team for the Batman comics, and then, beginning in 1966, as a sort of soldier of fortune – working for Tower Comics on Noman and Undersea Agent as well as Menthor and The Raven in THUNDER Agents; for King Comics drawing Flash Gordon; for Warren doing filler pages for Eerie and Creepy; for Harvey Comics on Tiger Boy in Unearthly Spectaculars; DC’s new Plastic Man book was graced by a first issue by Gil Kane, and 1967 even saw Gil working at Marvel drawing episodes of The Hulk and Captain America as well as a number of covers.
Mr Kane was one of the few not caught flatfooted by the sudden collapse of the small companies at the end of ’67 – he had two new projects in the works: a self-published black and white magazine called His Name is Savage! and the paperback sword & sorcery epic Blackmark for Bantam Books. Ultimately both projects foundered but they certainly established Gil Kane as a potent force for change in the industry – something that is plain to see in his work with his return to four-colour comics in 1969. DC’s Captain Action, Teen Titans, Hawk & Dove and Green Lantern as well as the complete revamping of Marvel’s Captain Marvel all bore the mark of Kane. The first half of the ’70s provided a steady and varied output from the Kane drawing board – numerous mystery tales for DC’s anthology titles House of Mystery, House of Secrets and The Witching Hour as well as guest spots on The Flash and Adam Strange, Robin and Batgirl in Detective Comics and a new western strip, Outlaw, for the revived All Star Western. An extended stay on Spider-Man over at Marvel Comics was complemented by fill-in work on early issues of Conan and features such as Warlock, Gulliver Jones, Iron Fist, Black Panther, Morbius and a Robert E. Howard adaptation, ‘Valley of the Worm’, in Supernatural Thrillers. Gil also pencilled the vast majority of Marvel’s covers for this period.
In 1977 the cover work was cut down to make way for yet another departure: the syndicated strip Star Hawks, which ran until the early ’80s. In the meantime there was still work on the Inhumans and the John Carter comic at Marvel before another period of artistic freebooting. In ’79 Kane’s syndicated work led to a brief stint on the Tarzan strip and the aborted second Blackmark story was published in Marvel Preview 17 (the original story having been similarly resized for Savage Sword of Conan 1-3). Daredevil 147, 148 and 151 sported the best stories the comic had had for a good few years – drawn by Kane and Klaus Janson – which began that comic’s upward trend (consolidated a year or so later by a young Frank Miller). There are Kane jobs dotted about DC and Marvel Comics over the period leading up to Gil’s recent stay on Superman: the Tales of Zabu strip in Ka-Zar; ‘Whatever Happened to Rex the Wonder Dog’ and ditto Johnny Thunder in DC Presents; the Mowgli strip presented in Marvel Fanfare; the Sword of the Atom mini-series and specials; returns to Conan and Green Lantern; the barbarian Chane in Savage Sword; the Micronauts; and more… Fantagraphics reprinted His Name is Savage! in 1982. There’s also been animation work – on The Centurions among other shows – and Gil’s latest comics project, the much-delayed Talos of the Wilderness, finally appeared in 1985.
This interview was conducted at 1986′s UK Comic Art Convention on the Sunday afternoon with Dave Proctor, Dale Coe and numerous devotees sitting in.
Gil Kane: They were cleaning house, it wasn’t a dispute. Some people went onto pension very early. I remember one of the writer/editors George… er… his brother became treasurer of the company.
Dave Proctor: George Kashdan?
GK: Kashdan! Of course – he was one of the prominent guys who was forced into retirement. I mean, he was fired so he immediately took advantage of the fact that he’d built up 15 or 20 years and began to collect his pension.
Now, what happened back then was that Carmine Infantino came in as Art Director, then editor, then Publisher and Editor… for a while he was even President (of DC, that is!) and he simply turned out those people that he felt didn’t serve his needs and brought in, or at least brought to prominence, those who did. This was around about the time that Neal Adams first joined the company. Neal was obviously an excellent artist and within two or three jobs had become Carmine’s most valued employee.
SW: Seems a bit unfortunate for a lot of people that disappeared around then.
GK: George Papp.
SW: Yes, and Dave and I were just talking about Bernie Sachs – I didn’t even know he was still alive until I saw the work he’s been doing for Who’s Who.
GK: Well, he left comics to go into advertising early on. He was always concerned with making money, and he made, as an inker, more than a great many pencillers. We were quite friendly for a while – despite the fact that I found him one of the worst inkers that I ever encountered. Bernie wasn’t without drawing skills but he was so unsympathetic to what I or Carmine presented him.
SW: The notable team-up is Sachs and Mike Sekowsky…
GK: In fact, you know, when Bernie was assigned to Justice League he almost dropped dead because of all those crowd scenes that you’d have to go through, but fortunately Sekowsky pencilled so simply, without any backgrounds, that Bernie found it suited him even better!
DP: A marriage made in heaven.
GK: That’s right. Unfortunately I also had Joe Giella for years. I thought that Giella was, generally speaking, a nice guy – but he was probably the most inept single inker that ever worked professionally in comics.
SW: Well, we could probably go into an extended bitching session about that…
GK: No, that’s probably my last word on the subject.
SW: It’s puzzling, then, that you worked with Giella so much.
GK: I had absolutely no choice, it was an inflexible situation. Jobs were hard to get at that time and whilst we all tried to assert our personalities the people who had the most luck were people like Carmine because he was Julius Schwartz’s favourite artist. So Carmine had his pick of assignments and tended to drift in the direction of his strengths. Meanwhile most of us were assigned material that we felt totally unsuited to – but that was the kind of ass-backwards quality of the business. Everyone had vested interests in doing as little as possible as quickly as possible – the inkers, the writers, so it was the artist who was left with the need to make something out of the material – he was the only one in comics by choice. The editors were failed in every other level of editing and publishing: the writers were all either ex-pulp writers or people couldn’t make any other kind of place for themselves professionally, and colourists were just the kind of marginal craftsmen that comics were made for.
SW: That’s a shame. I think that letterers and colourists should be thought of as something more than marginal craftsmen.
GK: Yes of course and they very often are but that was the way of the publishers – they made everything into a General Motors assembly line and institutionalized everything in order to get the work out expediently. The truth of the matter is that they never had to worry about content because, for years, everything sold. For years Superman had sales in excess of a million copies.
SW: All through the early-to-mid fifties you had the TV show supporting his popularity. Likewise with the Batman show in the mid sixties.
GK: But magazines like The Flash sold 600,000 copies regularly and those were subordinate titles. Batman and Superman sold 750,000 so you can imagine what the profits were like – not even Marvel has that kind of circulation now. They paid virtually nothing for page rates and within two or three years every major publisher was a rich man. They became such powerful figures that the richer publishers of DC are now the heads of Warner Communications – they own the most stock.
SW: Getting back to the subject of inkers and assignments…
GK: Yeah, I was doing a thing called Space Cabby for a while with Bernie Sachs and even when I got material in the science fiction books (Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space) that I liked, I would find Bernie just changing everything line for line.
DP: All the faces were changed?
GK: Everything. As a matter of fact once, on Rex the Wonder Dog, I had Rex coming out of a plane onto the tarmac of an airport and I left it completely open because I was becoming aware of open space and pattern in my work then… and this will show you how indifferent he was – he put tufts of grass all over this open space, absolutely oblivious to the fact that it was an airport runway. That’s the extent to which he rode roughshod over everything. The inkers had pencillers so controlled that they would complain. Bernie, in particular, would complain to Julie about the fact that Carmine and I were giving him too much to ink and Schwartz gave him permission to cut out what he thought was not essential.
SW: Rather like the old Vince Colletta approach to Jack Kirby’s Thors where he’d just rub out a background figure or reduce figures to silhouette…
GK: Colletta did exactly the same thing. He never worked on anyone without deciding what was going to appear and what was not.
DP: Talking about various inkers over the years, one person you haven’t mentioned is Murphy Anderson.
GK: Well, Murphy is a good friend of mine and I certainly liked his inking better than Bernie Sachs or Joe Giella. The only thing is that Murphy had a very determined style of his own and I felt that he always looked very good on Curt Swan.
SW: George Klein I prefer…
Dale Coe: I think the combination of your pencils and Anderson’s inks are beautiful.
GK: I never thought that Sid Greene was as good an inker as Murphy but I felt that he was more faithful to my pencilling, so I always preferred his rendering – even though there was a kind of scratchiness, a wooliness about it that I didn’t like. The fact remains that I saw everything that I had put down in pencil.
DC: There was more liveliness in it, I think.
GK: That’s the one reservation I always had about Murphy’s stuff.
DC: Yes, it’s very polished.
GK: But also kind of static – I thought there was a kind of stiff, upright quality about the material. You hardly ever saw diagonal shapes or conflicting shapes, you just saw verticals and extending gestures… it lacked any kind of spontaneous quality.
SW: Looks like we’ve covered most of Julius Schwartz’s roster of inkers for the first half of the sixties. It sounds far more “know your place” than I’d imagined.
GK: Julie knew very little about our act but was rigid and authoritarian because he was terrified that the publisher would come down on him for some infraction. He was difficult in that regard. He was a nice guy in that he kept his group together as much as he could, giving us all the work that we required.
SW: So the other side of that coin was that as part of the Schwartz stable you were always working.
GK: We had one other editor that we had to deal with and that was Bob Kanigher – who was, simply, a murderous bastard as far as I was concerned. He was just a vicious personality and he had his favourites – he loved Alex Toth and he loved Joe Kubert – you know, the good guys.
SW: He loved Toth but, if what I’ve been led to believe is true, he’s been held out of a window by him.
GK: No, that’s not at all true, totally apocryphal. Alex was very difficult for any of the editors to work with – he simply wouldn’t take orders. He would rewrite material. In fact he got fired because he’d gotten to the point where he was drawing material and totally ignoring editorial restraints. It got to a point where he and Julie weren’t even talking to each other. I was in the office when Alex came in for a paycheck whilst Julie was on lunch hour. Julie would not stop playing cards on lunch hour to give Alex his cheque – he said “See me after lunch.” So Toth stewed for about half an hour and finally he came in and threatened to kill Schwartz if he didn’t give him his cheque. He frightened Julie because he was absolutely insensate with rage.
SW: This would be back in the early fifties.
GK: Yes – about the early-to-mid fifties, right, and that was the last time that Alex worked for DC for a good many years.
SW: He moved on to Standard didn’t he?
GK: Doing romance material.
SW: He was, in all but name alone, their Art Director wasn’t he? Ross Andru, Vince Colletta, Mike Peppe and other people working there were trying very hard to copy his style.
GK: Well, everyone… I was trying to draw like him too! He was simply the biggest influence in the field at that time. After Jack Kirby left the field, for an interim there was Dan Barry representing a step away from the superhero back to a more representational style and then there was Alex who brought all sort of important considerations in such as better drawing, brilliant design and as a result he filled a vacuum and became the most important artist working in the late ’40s and early ’50s. He was radical and unstable – jobs would change from title to title but they were nearly always brilliant at that period and he was a major influence until just short of the time he went into service, at which point EC came to the fore. Then Wally Wood, Harvey Kurtzman and Al Feldstein became enormous influences.
SW: And Bernie Krigstein, presumably.
GK: And Bernie Krigstein, who did some brilliant work for a short while at DC and was fired, went over to EC and did even more brilliant work.
SW: I remember hearing somewhere… it seems Walt Simonson was asking Infantino how he evolved that lovely fine-line style of his and Carmine said, “Just look at Krigstein’s work.”
GK: I must tell you – Carmine was one of my most intimate associations and so was Krigstein… Simonson didn’t come into the field until 15 years after the fact. Carmine always had that line quality – it has nothing to do with Krigstein; in fact he didn’t like Krigstein’s work.
SW: That’s an interesting statement.
: Yes, what he liked, although he wouldn’t admit it, was Alex Toth’s material. But he was like me – a penciller… Carmine and I used to be partners: I was the penciller and he was the inker. At that time he had the style of one artist that he both favoured – Mort Meskin.
SW: Another man who disappeared around ’65.
GK: He went to work for an advertising agency. He had a nervous breakdown and left the field. He came back once or twice but never was able to stay – the pressure was too great and the money was too short.
SW: So I presume he wasn’t interested in just inking.
GK: No, and the truth of the matter is that his work was getting further and further away from the representational requirement that happened post Kirby during the late ’40s, early ’50s when Barry and Toth brought these Alex Raymond-like styles onto the scene.
SW: The thing that always strikes me about Meskin disappearing just then is that for some reason George Roussos was suddenly in demand as an inker – at DC and Marvel, doing all sorts of inking. But Roussos (also known as George Bell) was like your second-string Meskin – not that I mean to be insulting to George Roussos, a man I admire, but…
: No, that’s okay – he happens to be a disciple of Meskin’s. He loved Meskin, was a close friend of his who shared the same studio – he shared it with two other disciples: one was Jerry Robinson and the other was Bernie Klein, an artist who got killed during the Second World War. Meskin was one of the great forces in the field. He started in the late ’30s, reached his absolute peak in the very early ’40s with the Vigilante and Johnny Quick material and then by 1944 it was all over – he’d gone into the first of his nervous breakdowns. When he came back in ’47 his work was still excellent but entirely removed from that intoxicating fluid style that all of us went crazy about. Everybody copied Jack [Kirby]‘s pencilling and Mort Meskin’s inking.
SW: Of course that’s where Meskin ended up: in the Kirby shop for, what, ten or fifteen years?
GK: Yes he did, he worked with Joe Simon and with Jack. Joe and Jack took over a small magazine and ultimately became its publishers – through that entire time Mort was working with them. When the whole affair finally collapsed both Jack and Mort came back to DC for a short period. Joe became an editor for Harvey Comics. It was bad for both of them because neither one had a representational style and they both took a terrible beating. They put Wally Wood on Jack in order to make his work acceptable.
DP: The Challengers of the Unknown stuff…
SW: They used Marvin Stein on most of the early Challs stories – the first one was inked by George Papp…
GK: The point is that, unlike Jack, Mort pencilled so loosely that no one could ink him so he continued to ink himself until finally the area of disagreement was so wide and Mort was simply finding so much emotional pressure that he had to leave comics. He got a good job in advertising, began to make more money and get more satisfying work… he never came back to comics.
SW: It’s a great shame if, as you say, he was drifting away from realism – another couple of years and who knows?
GK: The fact is that his peak was in 1941/42 with The Vigilante – I would say the first dozen Vigilantes and Johnny Quicks. He was one of the great, great artists. I wouldn’t put Jack above him. Meskin influenced just about every artist with that material.
SW: You can see it in a lot of the next generation that came up in the ’50s who were doing things like western comics – the shirt and trousers type action stuff rather than the long underwear characters.
GK: Right! Add the design – Mort was the only artist to have an extraordinarily sophisticated design sense. As a matter of fact when Alex Toth came in he was very smitten with Mort’s design and whilst he didn’t draw like Meskin he used Mort’s sense of blacks… then of course he was also into Noel Sickles. Essentially Alex, like most of the artists I knew, whether it was Frazetta or Williamson, had a single point of development they would polarize around – with Toth it was Sickles, with Williamson and Frazetta it was Alex Raymond and Hal Foster. As a result, in the beginning, they just copied these guys cold and eventually they assimilated all of their attitudes and didn’t stray terribly far from those original styles. So with that kind of intense involvement, by the time they were 21, 22, 23 they were all excellent but my feeling is that there was a cost for all of that with Williamson and Frazetta in that there was hardly any real development past that point. They weren’t able to take this enormous advance they’d made over everybody else and use it. What happened was that as they pushed it to a certain point it began to fall in one them – without having someone to follow and no attitude of their own my feeling was that, considering how good they were at 21 and 22, their work at 50 and 55 – while it’s certainly more than competent is, in the end, disappointing.
SW: More or less on automatic pilot.
GK: Of course. It’s not even automatic pilot – they just weren’t able to evolve. In other words: it’s one thing to have an emotional, a subjective attitude but it’s another to have an overview that allows you to control elements in order to achieve some specific point. For instance I’ve always found it amazing that none of these artists have ever thought of writing their own material – which is symptomatic of the fact that the drawing wasn’t in the service of an idea, it was an end in itself.
SW: Don’t you think that one of the reasons for that could lie with the American comic industry being more or less labour intensive – at least traditionally – so that with, say, a comic ‘shop’ you have people who draw carpets, people who draw curtains, people who draw, ink, letter in an assembly line.
GK: The large companies did, yes.
SW: Well, presumably, the temptation is to say “My strong point is pencilling – I’ll let someone who can really write do the scripting.”
: That’s not the temptation, don’t you see, what is created is a system that draws people to it for whom the breakdown of work is satisfying. My problem was that I didn’t have a single ‘role model’ – I liked artists who were diametrically opposed in values. I liked Louis Fine and Alex Raymond but I also loved Kirby and Meskin, I loved the poetic, lyrical potential at the same time as loving that powerful, direct, primitive quality – and it just took me years to reconcile those elements. I’ve always felt that if I had to characterize my own work, when it finally started to hit its stride and take on a style of its own, it looked like powerful gymnasts, ballet dancers, trapeze artists – you had a kind of lyrical quality to the body, a poetry of movement but at the same time a degree of power, strength. The artist I felt most analogous to was Reed Crandall – in the early days when he did The Ray and all that stuff for Quality before he went into the army. His work had its focus on classic figure drawing – right out of Bridgman – and at the same time he had a great sense of movement – his figures were so powerful.
SW: The thing I love about Crandall’s work is despite its being brilliantly drawn, the figures are still idealised, you can see they’ve been constructed. This didn’t change when Crandall’s rendering style changed either – I mean, you’re talking about his early, Eisner/Iger shop, Lou Fine style.
GK: Yes, yes, but, you see, that was only external as any technique with rendering is. The involvement with body movement was purely his own. For instance: Lou Fine could not articulate the figures – they always had an awkward kind of brilliantly gangly quality [laughter as Gil demonstrates] but none of his action scenes were believable in the way that people vaulting over low walls and hurtling through the air were in Reed’s pages.
SW: His use of cast shadows, especially with people or objects off the ground, was marvellous.
GK: He did figures in The Ray which influenced my entire approach to Green Lantern. I mean all the superheroes seemed to run when they flew – I wanted to make Green Lantern fly this way [gestures like a diver].
SW: Straining into the air.
GK: Right, and I did that through Reed Crandall’s influence – I tried to reconcile those elements of power and lyricism and it took me years to do it. Alex Toth, Carmine and Joe Kubert – all of us were within a year or two of each other – in fact most of us went to school together – and we all had different stages of development. Kubert was precocious and developed ahead of everybody else and yet the thing that’s developed for him over the last 30 years is he’s become a richer inker and yet his conceptions, his pencilling conceptions, I find are pretty much the same as they were 30, 35 years ago. When he does, say, a Hawkman story you know it’s never as effective as the stuff he did in the ’40s when his conceptions were purer and his drawing wasn’t so hot. So his inking is richer, the black, the play of skin tone and that modelling quality that just drives you crazy…
SW: Not being that familiar with his ’40s work I’m not in a position to judge but I find it hard to agree with you about Kubert’s Hawkman. However, sticking with the issue, it does seem that, as you’ve been saying, people were using certain artists as role models during the ‘Golden Age’ and the minute they shifted away from the superhero books they moved toward a completely new set of ideals – from, say, 1947/48, everyone with a career bridging that rift seems to have had a ’40s style – yourself included.
GK: Oh yes.
SW: And suddenly in the ’50s everybody’s drawing differently. You mentioned before about Infantino having always had that fine line style we all know so well but if you look at Infantino in the ’40s he has a really thick, chunky art style which is radically different from his later stuff.
GK: That’s because he was using a brush in those days and he was heavy handed. That’s why he couldn’t use a pen – he got scratchy lines out of it because he couldn’t control it at all. That was my problem too – I’d either mash the nib flat or I would touch it too lightly. The good inkers were people like Joe Kubert who could handle pen and brush, were never intimidated by them and could use ‘em like a watercolourist.
SW: Were you ever inked by Joe Kubert?
GK: I’m not sure… I think there was one… yes! As a matter of fact I was, Carmine and Joe took on Avon’s Jesse James for a while and Carmine and I were partners again after the war – only we reversed the partnership – he did the breakdowns and I tightened his pencils up… then Joe inked it. We were trying to make money at the time.
SW: So those Jesse Jameses that Overstreet says are Kubert…
GK: That’s the three of us. It’s either the three of us or the two of them. I’ve been partners with virtually everybody in the business – Carmine, Roy Thomas, even Burne Hogarth and almost anyone that you can think of at one time or another. I was never partnered with Al Toth – he didn’t need me.
DC: Vince Colletta follows Toth on the Johnny Thunder strip.
GK: Yes, that’s right, the thing was I worked with him a lot only to the extent that I lifted a lot of him. I followed his precedent but Coletta, Giella and Sachs had a licence to kill as inkers. They were allowed to eliminate pencilling. When they complained to Julie that carmine and I and Alex were giving them too many pencil lines he said that from now on they were going to eliminate anything that didn’t look right to them.
SW: How can anyone complain about having too many lines on an Alex Toth page?! I mean – he’s Mister Economy.
GK: Believe me… Giella was an incompetent and the other two only cared about volume and the amount of money they made.
SW: Those Jesse James comics also had a lot of Everett Raymond Kinstler’s work in them. Did you…
GK: I never cared much for Kinstler. I always thought he was a complete phoney-baloney. He was just a fake with a real facility for rendering and clearly had no interest in storytelling other than to swipe figures or anything else… His inking was powerful though, and it even improved once he stopped following Raymond and started swiping Kubert. His style became so loose at that point that I felt it was bordering on painting.
SW: The odd thing about that strip is that he was being inked by Gerald McCann on the later ones.
GK: All part of the power of publishers to simply do anything that they wanted. This was about the time when Russ Heath came to light – because of the naturalistic style they required – not necessarily better, you understand, just naturalistic. Heath became one of the most important artists of the period – he was simply every editor’s choice… especially for war material. He was Bob Kanigher’s first choice and he was also used a lot by Harvey Kurtzman. It’s peculiar, you know, because Harvey himself was someone whose own style was terribly expressionistic and yet when he worked with artists he preferred ones who were incredibly accurate.
SW: John Severin and Will Elder spring to mind as examples…
GK: Yes, people who did material that had none of the flair or expressiveness that he exhibited. He would never have been comfortable with someone like Williamson but he was totally at home with Russ Heath. Harvey and I became good friends but I wasn’t terribly competent back then – I was just looking to get myself on my feet. I just couldn’t figure out why it was taking me so long when all my contemporaries – Joe Kubert, Carmine and Toth – were passing me by and it wasn’t until I realized I wasn’t them… Kubert could wing things. He never learned to draw the figure but he could fake the figure beautifully and he had an instinct that allowed him to transpose what he saw into very accurate stuff – he gradually formed his own drawing style. Alex, on the other hand, was a worker who did tens of thousands of sketches… Frazetta too – he filled I don’t know how many dozens of notebooks endlessly doing Foster and Bridgman and he was also attending the Art Students League taking life classes five days a week. I found that working like Infantino or Kubert wasn’t doing it for me. Neither of them could draw well but they could fake well enough to get by. That’s when I started to teach myself through Bridgman, through Roy Crane all of the things that I felt I needed to know about – deep space, composition, design, the figure itself – and ultimately I worked out a sort of aggressive philosophy about all of those things. Suddenly, during the mid ’60s, I felt my whole personality pull together and consequently I felt that my work from the late ’60s and early ’70s began to reflect what I had taken the time to assimilate and that was the time when Carmine started to run into trouble. He’d been winging it for a long time and had grasped an enormous amount intuitively but he didn’t know about perspective, he made terrible mistakes there and his anatomy was approximate. All of a sudden it all started to fall apart.
SW: Things don’t seem to have changed much.
GK: But everything has – everything I do now has to be done entirely differently. Miller spends close to a year doing four books. It’s not possible to make a living simply on volume because it’s self-defeating – you can only make it on very personalized kinds of books. I’m anxious to get back and start applying myself in a new way that’ll make books as good as I can without concerning myself about how long it takes, how fast it’s done. I’ve never worked that way before – I’ve always worked under the gun – and I think it will take a transitional phase to reach a sort of definitive style. There’s a real difference between working spontaneously and doing the kind of involved work of someone like Brian Bolland, for instance. Take a look at his inking – you know it takes a long, long time, it’s painstaking. For myself, in order to inject what I think is now essential into the material in order to characterize and deepen it, to give it tone and a certain mood, it will take more work than I’ve ever given it before. I’ve never been a gifted inker, so I feel that I really have to try to work out an approach that isn’t laboured but is, at the same time, appropriate. A more kind of intense effort is required – an effort that I see everywhere. There’s no other way to do it and, in fact, that’s why the monthly books are suffering – they can’t get good artists to do the monthlies, they spend so much time… Garcia-Lopez, who draws really quite well, does four books and it takes him six months – so he has to have one or two fill-in books.
Something else I’ve noticed is that despite there being a far more human scale to a lot of the modern stuff there’s nothing beautiful about the figure work and the strips generally look ugly – not incompetent you understand – there’s just an ugliness about the material.
SW: There is a sort of aggressiveness to the inking, a sort of means to an end approach if you like…
GK: Yes, it’s like taking one aspect of Jack Kirby’s work. There was a beauty, somehow, to Jack’s early work that ultimately got blunted in the last few years. You know, so many of the young guys are doing material that, whilst it’s far more representational, doesn’t have any sense of grace or classic feeling whatsoever in their figures.
Floyd Hughes: They look at the technique and try to imitate it when they haven’t learned to draw.
GK: Right. I used to be able to look at a piece of work and simply by the gesture, the lift of the head I’d be able to say “that’s this artist” and you could see artists swiping them because their attitudes, the feeling of poetry they had for hands, faces, gestures came through. Hogarth and all those artists had distinct qualities that are missing now. There isn’t a single figure that you could identify out of context as, say, Perez or any of those others.
SW: Since you’re talking about the genesis of your style, something I wanted to ask you about was inking your own stuff. I don’t know how much of your western stuff for DC you inked…
GK: I did a couple.
SW: Well that’s interesting because I saw an issue of a Dell western comic called Hennessy that you drew and inked around 1960.
GK: Are you sure? I thought I did breakdowns on all those jobs.
SW: I’ll have to check – what interests me is that it looks like Gil Kane six or seven years on.
GK: Actually what happened was that I needed to fulfil a volume of work that exceeded the amount that DC was supplying me with and despite Dell being one of the lowest paying publishers at the time, I did several TV western comics for them. I think this was about the time that the western titles at DC started to die off – I hated doing things like Hennessy and they were paying so little that I was trying to do three complete pages a day – it wasn’t all that successful, I have to admit.
SW: You must have picked up quite a bit of speed during the ’60s.
GK: I did – I think the most successful piece of fast work I did was with Wally Wood’s outfit. I did a couple of features – Raven was one of them – and I was pencilling, inking and writing three pages a day there.
SW: You did some Undersea Agent stories solo as well…
GK: Right. Every day I would start off at about 7 in the morning and by 6 o’clock that evening I had three pages. I still felt that I was slow, though, because a friend of mine named Manny Stallman had preceded me on The Raven and that son of a gun was doing seven pages a day – and I thought it was some of the best work I’d ever seen him do.
SW: I think that was probably because he was drawing them with his hands and inking with his feet – or vice versa.
GK: [laughter] The point is that he was working in commercial art and he just brought commercial art points of view and techniques to bear. For instance he didn’t involve himself with backgrounds – it was just figures and expressive shots. After a while it all became self-defeating, the stuff became so primitive that they weren’t able to use it – and they replaced him with me.
SW: That’s curious after what you said about Meskin. You get someone like Stallman doing just about the fastest and, as you say, crudest comic art I’ve ever seen…
GK: There were a couple of Raven episodes that I remember as being very effective.
SW: Yes, and Stallman did a lovely black and white wash story for Warren around that time.
GK: The point is the economics dictated a great deal and one of the reasons I wanted to ink was not so much to protect my own pencilling but because inking doubled the amount of paid work I was getting from Tower Comics, who published THUNDER Agents. There was a constant battle with DC since they had a kind of Bernie Sachs syndrome going where all they wanted was a clean professional ink job, the kind of work epitomized by Sachs and Seymour Barry. I liked Sy Barry’s work over my stuff, as it happens, I felt that he didn’t bring it down at all.
SW: The same goes for his inking Alex Toth.
GK: Did you ever see Bernie Sachs on Toth? [groans] It was devastating – Bernie would be like a member of your football team and when you kicked the ball towards the opposition’s goal Bernie would catch the ball and bring it back towards your own side. He would simply neutralize what everyone did so that the only person who came out significantly was Bernie. As I say, it was kind of a scramble there, the editors were completely powerful – they could fire, they could hire…. and they could savage. When EC collapsed Wally Wood tried working for Kanigher – and you’d think that he’d be a natural to work for him. He did one job and got so battered and ridiculed and that’s not the worst display I’ve seen – John Severin was the perfect war artist but he managed, I think, four jobs for DC. Have you ever seen in the movies when a soldier has his epaulettes torn off? That’s what Kanigher did to him with every job. He would tear him down, demean him… and I once saw him fling the pages across the room and Severin just stood there and took it – I saw him moved almost to the point of tears at one point. Severin carried a .45 you know – he carried it not because he was aggressive but because had this great sense of impotence. He was never a confronter. It’s like Jack Kirby, with all that hostility and aggression in his work, was the most blithe person. When you dealt with him directly and he had any antagonism – as he did towards Stan Lee – it never came out in any discussion between them, but come lunchtime with a few friends you’d think he was having a fit, he was so angry. And yet he’d come into the office, Stan would say “Jack, would you change this?” and he’d say “Sure.” All of that frustration came out in the work which obviously made it richer…
SW: So you were in this situation of being fenced in at DC all the way through the ’60s and then suddenly you started broadening your horizons…
GK: I was at odds when Kanigher started on me – I used to give what I got but in the beginning he really used to bloody me up – I mean, he was an educated man with a grasp of language that put me in the position where, in order to survive the battering, I started to read critical essays and the kind of material that would arm me. I was no match for him, being culturally impoverished, but ultimately I beat him back and the result was that we never worked with each other again. Julie became mu sole basis for getting work at DC. But then, after a while I began to get tured of Julie sitting on me all the time – so I started taking work from Jack Schiff. Then Stan asked me to come over now that Marvel had started to roll. In the beginning he said “You work is too much like D’Artagnan.”
SW: Is that why they put Joe Sinnott on some of your Captain America pages?
GK: Yes. Stan thought my figures were too delicate.
SW: That’s bizarre – I mean I remember back in the ’60s opening a copy of Tales to Astonish and thinking “Wow!” After playing musical artists with the Hulk strip for well over a year, Jack Kirby breakdowns and all…
GK: Jack Kirby wanted to do the whole thing himself but Stan insisted that in order to spread the quality of the magazines around he would have Kirby break down everything and then bring people in. He felt that Kirby’s breakdowns could survive any pencilling or inking over them – he was almost right.
SW: But getting, say, John Buscema to work over Jack’s breakdowns is…
GK: Buscema assimilated a lot of Jack’s approach and finally got away from the rather sterile Alex Raymond look. He crossbred Jack with his own resourcefulness and produced some very effective material. That’s all down to Stan though – Jack would have preferred pencilling, inking and writing everything himself. It wasn’t just Stan who didn’t let him – back when he was at DC they wouldn’t let him ink or write. They did let him do some small science fiction stories by himself – that was for Jack Schiff. The editor was all-powerful, we had to conform – but there were some of us that simply couldn’t… Alex Toth couldn’t. Many of us couldn’t deal with that sort of repressive situation and so eventually the air went out of the family that DC had through the late ’40s and early ’50s. By the mid to late ’50s new people came in – Russ Heath, Ross Andru.
SW: And DC lost Sy Barry when he went into syndication, which was quite a blow, I’d imagine.
GK: Absolutely. First Sy worked over his brother Dan’s work and then Dan Barry recommended him for the Phantom strip. Around about that time Carmine and Joe Kubert did The Flash and since it was a hit they decided to do Green Lantern. Even so we were all just fooling around until Jack came in. He was the ultimate superhero artist. He started working for Marvel because he was fired by DC.
SW: That’d be over the Sky Masters syndicated strip he was doing. [Kirby's editor at DC, Jack Schiff, claimed he was using ideas from DC material - and Kirby was working with two of Schiff's scripters, the Wood brothers, on both the Challengers of the Unknown and Sky Masters at the time. The strips ever shared inkers - both Wally Wood and Marvin Stein - consequently pressure was brought to bear.]
GK: Jack Schiff claimed that he owned part of it. As a result Jack axed the strip and was wandering for a couple of years until Stan found a place for him – at the lowest rate that Jack had ever worked for. Their rates were poverty low rates but Jack could get no other work so when he fell in with Stan after one of the worst situations he’d ever endured Stan’s total approval of everything did freed him again to a certain extent. Everything started to roll for him – first with the monster stuff and the westerns, then when DC’s superheroes started to hit Marvel took these tired ideas like duplications of Plastic Man and so forth but, you know, through Jack. Lee and Kirby worked together, Jack essentially creating the context for the material and Stan sort of directing it, and they set the field on its feet again.
SW: But Marvel were basically very small-time back then.
GK: The thing was that when Marvel started up they were so impoverished that they had sold off their distribution company – namely Atlas – and they were distributing through DC. Marvel were only taken on because the government had launched an anti-trust suit against DC because they controlled the distributing and publishing – they were forced to take on Marvel as a way of breaking up the monopoly which they enjoyed. Anyway, they restricted Marvel to eight titles and these were the books that Stan and Jack started the monster material with. It wasn’t until ’64/’65 when Marvel was absolutely bursting as a result of their inability to get beyond that restriction that they broke their contract with DC and its distributor to go over to Curtiss and allow for the expansion that built an empire.
SW: Since we’re on the subject of distribution, can you tell us anything about the squeezing-out of Tower Comics in 1967. They were more or less put out of business by their distributors, weren’t they?
GK: No, it was just bad management. I was working for them at the time their magazine began to fail. Harry Short was the publisher – he was the editor of MLJ through their highest point back in the late ’40s and he eventually started this company, hired one of the Archie artists – Sam Schwartz – and set him up as an editor. They began by producing exact duplicates of the Archie material [Tippy Teen] and then decided to enlarge their line with regular comic stuff [THUNDER Agents, Fight the Enemy, Undersea Agent, etc.] – nothing sold and they never got real distribution, the books couldn’t get any support because of such faulty, spotty exposure and ultimately Harry Short put the whole operation under because it was losing money.
SW: That’s interesting – I was under the impression that Tower were squeezed by DC and Marvel. I mean, they were definitely producing a very superior product with no adverts…
GK: The first mistake they made was selling for a quaretr when everybody else was twelve cents. They stayed at a quarter and as a result they never got a real proportion of the market. As a matter of fact, when any of the companies – DC included – made the jump from twelve cents to fifteen, Marvel benefitted by staying at twelve cents and were improving their circulation in exact proportion to DC’s loss – that’s how critical small changes in price were.
SW: I still think that both companies benefitted from people like Wally Wood being available again.
GK: Don’t you see? Wally Wood was a meaningless figure back then – he wasn’t productive and after the DC stuff nothing he did was really ever successful. Sam Schwartz was in charge at Tower but he would delegate: he would let me do what I wanted and likewise with Wally. Both of us were intent on making money – Wally made money by involving as many people in his operation as possible and getting them to take as little for it as possible – I tried to make money by doing as much work as I could all by myself.
SW: Did you letter your strips as well?
GK: No, as a matter of fact that’s the only thing I didn’t do. Anyway, so that was the situation: the magazine failed because there was no support, they were overpriced for the market and at that time individual artists were still not terribly important to the public – in fact the publisher, traditionally, had so much contempt for the individual creator that he wouldn’t allow them to sign their work. We were simply reduced to individual skills – the editor would mix and match, take this artist here and this writer and this colourist, this inker and just put the whole thing together as a mosaic – a mosaic for which he would take the whole credit. That’s the way it was until EC started and ever though the editors there controlled the material, they wanted individual quality and excellence in the work – so certain artists and some writers started to come to the fore. Then when Marvel hit its stride Stan put over the brilliant idea of involving the reader, making the artist a familiar figure – the writer was, of course, mostly Stan himself – and ultimately they realized that Jack sold more books than anybody and Steve Ditko sold quite a few books. Out of this came the new style of working where we didn’t work from scripts – the artist not only dramatized the material but actually constructed the basic narrative. This changed the position of the artist in relation to the previous situation of being under the control of the editor, the writer and the inker. Consequently for years comic stories became nothing more than fight scenes and spectacular splashes but eventually some stronger writers emerged who really collaborated with the artist. They would talk over storylines, the writer would do a couple of paragraphs which summarized what they had discussed, the artist would then build a 20-page book out of it and the writer would then be in a position to second-guess the art so he was able to relate his script to the art far more thoroughly which made the material richer and far more vivid as far as I was concerned.
SW: So you were in this highly creative climate – pacing up and down your cage so to speak – and with your working for companies outside of DC, actually getting to write and produce the whole thing yourself. Do you think this was the moment when Gil Kane arrived? You said earlier that you were particularly happy with your work around then.
GK: Yes, and I finally felt strong enough to go out and challenge the situation. I wanted to do my own stuff: Savage, Blackmark… I felt I had attitudes for the first time that I could carry through successfully without someone telling me there was some better way to do things.
SW: Could you give us a rough chronology including Savage, Blackmark, working for Tower and your leaving Green Lantern and The Atom?
GK: Well, the big problem was I took a studio. Jim Warren wanted me to do some work for him, I wouldn’t unless he rented a lavish apartment for me in a building in which he owned a studio and office – he had the penthouse at the time. I never thought he’d do it. Once I got into the studio I never wanted to work at home again. I had to justify the existence of that studio, I had a luxury apartment all to myself – something I’d dreamed of since I was Jack’s assistant and DC had rented a lavish apartment for him in a place called Tudor City in New York, overlooking the harbour. So, despite it being a dream come true, once I was in there the rentals were so high I had to find work. I got rid of Warren – for whom I’d never really wanted to work – and around this time Wally Wood called me. I knew Sam Schwartz and I knew Harry Short so they called me down there and I started doing fill-ins for Tower Comics. In order to get everything done, however, I had to upgrade my production.
SW: This would be around 1966?
GK: Yes, right around ’65/’66. Anyway, I was doing that work and soon found myself coming into my own strength and, at least in my own mind, becoming quite authoritative. I decided I wanted to do a book of my own. Harry Short had talked to me about the idea but he offered so little support financially and at the same time clearly wanted all the rewards the book might make so I decided to do it on my own. I went to a distributor and they responded well to my proposal – His Name is Savage! – and while I was doing it I had the idea for Blackmark and got my lawyer to make an appointment with Bantam Books. They were only going to give us ten minutes… an hour and a half later we had agreed to put a book out – in fact I didn’t even have a name for the character, I just showed them my ideas for the paperback format and said “Pick the kind of material you want.” He wanted sword & sorcery so I made up Blackmark. That was my richest and most satisfying period – I was still doing Green Lantern and The Atom for DC at the time and when Blackmark came through I went and told them I was leaving. I had a whole new world starting for me.
SW: You must have been fairly demoralised by that time – I mean, at one stage you were inking Green Lantern and getting the look of your other, non-DC stuff when they presumably came to you and said “We’d like to stick Sid Greene on you and make the thing like a DC comic again.”
GK: They still let me ink any covers I did but what happened was that eventually Marvel came to me and asked me to do Spider-Man – John Romita was not able to produce pencils for the book every month. I came in and proposed a radical change from what they had been doing.
SW: You started with the drugs issue.
GK: Yes, it was the drug issue – a sensational way to grab the headlines. I made up a story and Stan put in the copy. I never thought that issue was anything special – it was simply that we didn’t get a Comics Code stamp. Anyway, Stan liked what I was doing and so, for the next several issues, I did Spider-Man with him. It was a first-rate process, he taught me a lot – he was very critical of certain things and knew what he wanted in the Marvel style and ultimately he showed me how to apply it. Stan made so many requirements of me as a writer, though – a couple of times I said “Look, if you don’t like what I’m doing, do it yourself!” but he didn’t want that, he just wanted to take the artwork home at night and there, from after dinner until 2 or 3 in the morning he’d write a book – and it was some of his best stuff. Then Roy Thomas and I became friends – You always wanted to work with me – and he took over on Spider-Man.
SW: You know, I almost forgot, then I was writing a profile of you for the convention booklet, that you did quite a considerable block of issues on Spidey. I tend to think that was because of your work being buried under John Romita and the whole less than tasteful early ’70s Marvel thing…
GK: Giacoia, Frank Giacoia was also inking Spider-Man and he was very heavy-handed – he was a better artist than, say, Bernie Sachs but, firstly, he would impose a regular angular construction on my drawing and secondly he never left any open space so his background man would simply litter street scenes with paper and refuse where I wanted open space to sort of contrast the patterns and the buildings. Nevertheless, I thought some of the pencilling there was some of my best. The most rewarding work up there was when I started working with Dan Adkins and we did Captain Marvel. With my pencilling and Dan’s inking we did the best work on the character before they dropped him – Stan didn’t like the direction the book was taking.
SW: It took something like two years for those last five issues to come out – I remember being amazed to see the second-last issue, I thought the book was cancelled! Then were the Gulliver Jones episodes and Conan…
GK: I was the first one to want to do Conan as a comic, so when Savage came out I’d made a deal to do Conan as the sister magazine – that was before anyone in the field could be bothered with it. The guy who published Conan was called Marty Greenburg and he owned a small hardcover publishing house called Noel Press. We had debated whether to try Conan in that format and then, when I did Savage, I decided to try it in comic form. I made a deal with the agent who handled the Robert E. Howard estate. The agent’s name was Oscar Friend – he was an old pulp writer and, in fact, he gave me a box to take home which contained everything they owned that Howard had ever done. I found original manuscripts there… letters from H.P. Lovecraft to Howard… also letters from… who was that wonderful writer? She married a science fiction writer called Henry Kuttner.
DP: That’s C.L. Moore, isn’t it?
GK: C.L. Moore! Of course! She was working a bank as a teller and she wrote letters to Howard that he kept – they were the most beautiful, poetic, lovely, intimate letters… they were sensational. They talked about how she wanted to write. I went through every scrap of paper in that box and held onto it for about nine months – I thought that Friend had possibly forgotten about it but he didn’t. What happened was Friend became quite ill and the Howard estate’s bank wanted a new agent for the material and they got Glen Lord who was a fan down in Texas. He took things over and he wanted the box back. What I did was, through Glen Lord, I auctioned a couple of stories – I owned ‘Valley of the Worm’ and ‘The Blonde Goddess’ which I used as the basis of the two Conan issues that I did.
SW: With some lovely inks from Ralph Reese.
GK: Right – and also Dan Adkins on the second issue. I must say here that I hated Ernie Chan’s work on the ‘Valley of the Worm’ adaptation I did [for Supernatural Thrillers] but then I was unhappy with quite a few of my inkers at that time…
SW: But the work with Adkins and Roy Thomas continued with Warlock.
GK: I was plotting all those stories and when we got to the third or fourth issue which had some sort of warthog character (all the villains were evolutional mixtures of men and characteristically nasty animals). I thought it was one of the best pencil jobs I’d done in a long while – Adkins did an absolutely sensational inking job on it and I also got a good job on the colouring and that made a difference. It actually marked a break because I remember walking down the halls of Marvel and being stopped by different people who told me that they loved this Warlock job. At that point I stepped over a professional line of sorts and I started, happily, to get all the top rates from different companies.
GK: In the period I was there I did something like 878 covers over ten years and at the same time I was doing almost as much work as Buscema and Kirby – I was doing pencilling on a lot of features. For a while I was doing a story a week – regardless of what they gave me – either that or forty covers in pencil.
SW: Did you have an official position at marvel, though?
GK: No I didn’t – I just went up there and Roy, who was editor through that period, and John Verpoorten, the Art Director, were two friends and they would simply give me carte blanche. I did whatever I wanted and whenever Roy had a new book coming up he would insist that he and I do it. So we did the first issue of Iron Fist [Marvel Premiere 15] and many other debut issues and it was Roy who insisted that I do most of the covers.
SW: A great deal of them inked by Tom Palmer.
GK: They only let me ink the western covers. My own feeling about Palmer was that he was better suited to Neal Adams. If only I could have worked with someone like Dan Adkins – but Dan kept drifting in and out of the field like a hobo and he was very slow.
SW: A shame, that. If we can backtrack a bit, what about Captain Action?
GK: I worked with Wally Wood on Captain Action. Jim Shooter wrote the first two issues before I took over the writing – I also inked most of the remaining issues and I had a great time! In fact I kept the prints because nobody remembered that i did that stuff and I thought it was pretty good writing, some of my best material all round.
SW: I look at those short-lived ’68/’69 titles as a spate of mini-series before their time – they were all cancelled more or less within a year. You took on The Hawk & the Dove when Ditko left it…
GK: Yes, I was working so fast that, I’m not sure if you realise but on one or two of the books I did the pencilling and the outlines of the figures and Wally did the blacks – just putting in the blacks and stuff, Hawk & Dove 5 for example. It was a great and satisfying period for me, I was working like crazy with no obstructions.
SW: Your scripts took on a lot of character – you could begin to recognise a Gil Kane style.
GK: I wanted to write my own stuff. I always had men crying, you know, I loved doing things with a tragic quality.
SW: That second-last Captain Action! It’s got all those incredible, heart-wrenching figures – the dead wife and mother, the son, the father…
GK: That’s right – but I have to tell you that Julie never thought much of them.
SW: But then… that really isn’t his style – all the overblown emotion and such isn’t the Schwartz style – he goes more for that cold, calculating “educational science fiction for kids” stuff.
GK: Absolutely – so I found that I never had a comfortable berth riding with DC until Giordano came in and let me do westerns which I was able to write.
SW: You did Outlaw in All Star Western.
GK: I also worked for Joe Orlando who also let me write some of the material for the mystery books. So, I was able to go back and forth between Marvel and DC at that period – any time I had an argument with Roy I would go right over to Joe and Dick would find me something. I worked between two companies until I got the syndicated strip.
GK: Yeah, and with the syndicated strip the original idea was to put two standard 3-panel strips on top of each other. I said “You mean to say that you’re not going to break up that space more creatively and dominate the page?” You know, it took me weeks to convince them that the material should be handled that way.
SW: A battle that you eventually lost, sadly…
GK: Absolutely true, they gave me about eighteen months.
SW: How long did it last as a one-tier strip?
GK: Eighteen months. Some way through the first year I thought I did some of my better work but everything was easy subject matter for me. I must tell you, nothing took much time – which was just as well since I needed money. Eventually I had to go back to Marvel and do some work for them whilst I also did the Star Hawks and Tarzan strips.
SW: Didn’t you do some animation work as well? We see “Gil Kane” flash by on the credits.
GK: They needed someone adaptable and since I was so crazy about lyrical, poetic art styles coupled with being crazy about Jack, it gave me a range that allowed me to adjust to situations like animation and advertising work. Handsomely paid work too.
SW: Around the late ’70s it was almost a treat to find a Gil Kane job somewhere. You dig out the comics and come up with something like ‘Whatever Happened to Rex the Wonder Dog?’ or those beautiful Jungle Book features you did for Marvel Feature.
GK: Those Mowgli things were printed ten years after they were pencilled.
SW: Seriously? So that’s why they put a Marvel script hack on the last two.
GK: That’s right. They were originally done with Roy Thomas as the editor and me adapting but by the time they were ready for inking Jim Shooter thought the better of it. The book was going to be called Wild Boy but they ran into problems with the copyright.
SW: Kipling’s been in the public domain for ages, surely…
GK: Well, in England it’s fifty years after the death of the author and in the States the copyright had worn off so we could use it but it wasn’t possible to reprint it anywhere else.
SW: Getting back to animation…
GK: I was about to say – DC even suggested I do Rambo.
SW: With Ditko doing Chuck Norris – why not?
GK: I was called by a syndicate which got the rights to do Rambo as a newspaper strip. They asked me to do it and so I did some sample material. Anyway, it worked out fairly well, we’d agreed on money and everything and then we found that no newspaper in the United States would carry the strip because the subject had become so stigmatized that they all felt that public opinion was too much against it. At the time I was working at the movie studio so I suggested that they try for Rambo. They did and they let me do the presentation designs for the characters. They liked it very much and we got the contract so I started designing all the other shows like Centurions and so on. Jack had been designing most of them before I got there but over a period of time Jack’s stuff had become less representational…
SW: Just abstract shapes.
GK: Yes, right, so as a result they found that I could bring some of Jack’s force, if not his invention, to the work and at the same time make it look realistic enough. I used sort of an elaborate, dramatic approach which seems to have worked out really well – in fact it’s worked out well right up to this moment.
SW: Is it very different working that way?
GK: I work on big boards – enormous 20×30 ones. Once I had a board that was so big that I couldn’t reach. It was like working on a mural. I had to put it on the floor and stand over it.
SW: Jackson Pollock!
GK: Yes, it was sensational and the thing was a success – I only had a night to do the whole thing. Anyway, I’m ready to come back to comics – the only thing wrong with working in animation is that while it pays a lot, you’re simply serving up a skill.
SW: The artist as a commodity…
GK: Right – you’re just a commodity and whilst it’s good to be skilled, at the same time it’s the producer who really puts things together. He’s the one who hires the artist, the writers, the directors, the painters and so on, and to some extent you can’t not give him what he wants and still hold on to the job. Of course, they pay you for the privilege – which is good – but it destroys your sense of identity. You have to suspend your judgment in so many situations and stick strictly to the point of view that they advance.
One thing that I love is new work and the reason I came here wasn’t because of the convention. My wife and I had planned the trip anyhow; the con was just a nice thing that happened on the way. We intended to come here and Paris to see everything that we weren’t getting. I had the feeling that we just weren’t seeing what was really happening over here. I saw some European stuff which could absolutely turn you around – it was just devastating.
SW: Yes, everything from Moebius to Hugo Pratt who is, sort of, Europe’s answer to Alex Toth. And the creative freedom is so different from that of America.
GK: The range there, compared to the range in America, seems enormous. There’s everything from highly expressive, stylised efforts to very literal, representational, photographic efforts.
SW: I think people like Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz are picking up on that – you can see that Miller has looked at a Enki Bilal’s work as well as Munoz, McMahon… and I hear Sienkiewicz is interested in a guy called Sergio Toppi, an absolutely masterful artist.
GK: Primarily I feel that their great strength is essentially that of a designer. Toppi’s a great designer but none of these guys are strong in terms of being narrative. Now there’s an artist over there called Arno – do you know his work?
SW: I’ve seen some.
GK: I think that Arno is one of the greatest storytellers I’ve ever seen – I also like Munoz.
SW: Yes, what a brilliant man. Keith Giffen should be tarred and feathered for what he does with Munoz’s stuff.
GK: Well, at least it suggests that he’s sensitive to better work – I think he’s trying to get away from the standard.
SW: I think it’s pretty insensitive to just trace panels by someone else and then get paid for producing ‘original art’.
GK: I think that’s true but practically everybody in the business traced and copied. I know that the Thun’da book by Frazetta is 90% cold swipes from Foster’s Prince Valiant, there’s simply no question about it, but it was a means towards an end – what was ultimately presented was more Frazetta than Foster. I don’t like Giffen’s work but I recognise how he is struggling to get rid of the standard institutions, the house style that Marvel and DC have developed between them.
SW: Well, Giffen had already worked up quite a reputation by copying Jack Kirby for quite some time – it seems to me that “old habits die hard” is what it boils down to. Just because most artists swipe doesn’t make it all right… that’s saying it’s an institution just like all those others he’s supposed to be struggling with.
GK: Well, in any case I think it’s good to see a wide variety of work. There seems to finally be some kind of internationalisation happening whether we want it or not – everybody in Britain, in America, in Europe seems to be moving towards a common meld. I see that the British material is so much more sympathetic to the American point of view than the French…
SW: That’s true, comics for kids…
GK: You know, all of the war books look as though Jack could have been involved in them early on.
SW: What’s odd is that something like 50% of them if not more are drawn by Spanish studios.
GK: Is that right? Do you mean that Judge Dredd and those characters are drawn by…?
SW: Oh, I thought you were talking about war books. Well, even 2000AD use a lot of Spanish artists – out of Barcelona mostly. I think their page rates are, how can I put it? Highly competitive.
GK: Well, I recognise that and I know that they worked on the war libraries because I was approached by them myself – but I thought that mostly Bolland and McMahon and all those people were responsible for Judge Dredd.
SW: Judge Dredd was originally designed by Carlos Ezquerra, a Spanish artist, although at the time Mike McMahon did a lot of work on the early Dredds in a style heavily influenced by Ezquerra and his colleagues. You can see some interesting European influences on his later work – like Toppi, for instance.
GK: I think McMahon is a really first rate artist – I heard that he hasn’t been working for a couple of years for health reasons.
SW: Okay, well just to wrap things up we’d all like to know what’s coming next – we haven’t heard from you for a while…
GK: Well as I say, I’ve taken two years off to get rich and now I can afford to go back into comics. I was to go back now because I want to exercise my own judgment. This time I want to be in control of the material to the full extent that comics will allow. My current situation doesn’t allow me nearly as much freedom as I want so I’m already working on Talos of the Wilderness which should come out some time in ’87 – it was supposed to be a maxi-series but they kept us waiting so long that I lost interest, the writer lost interest… so we agreed on my just wrapping it up in one big 40-45 page special and then we’ll see what happens. DC want me to do some Atoms and then I’ve got a couple of other projects that I’ve talked over with them… and some others.
SW: Have you thought about what sort of format this is going to take – it’d be good to see your work away from the newsprint, with some classy colouring.
GK: It just so happens that we have one format that I have evolved which is my favourite and it’s something that I’m already contracted for. I can’t say too much about it but I will say that I think it will be some of my best stuff simply because it offers all the things that I think are important to the medium. In many ways things have come full circle – I’ve been lucky over the years in that each new cycle starts at a level just above the last. I feel that the last sequence I started was the Superman and the Sword of the Atom material which I thought was a cut above what I’d previously been doing and now I feel that, with this new experience, I expect, I hope to start at another level. I look forward to challenging some aspects of contemporary material. One of the things that gets me about today’s stuff is that it’s so powerful that it doesn’t care about anything but its own power…
SW: Presumably today’s generation of comic producers didn’t have Foster and Raymond as influences – or Sickles, Crane, Caniff…
GK: Well, an old ballet dancer like me…
SW: We’ll take our poetry where we can find it. Thank you for talking to us, Mr Kane.
Gil Kane sadly died in 2000, at the age of 73.