A Tribute to the of






Here is part one of the interview I enjoyed with Steve Mitchell:

Bryan D. Stroud:  What contrasts do you see in the business today?

Steve Mitchell:  When comics were a tad younger, everybody had to live within the tri-state area of New York City. This was before Federal Express. Of course, a lot of stuff is delivered digitally today.  But back then you had to be near the offices.  So everybody had a lot of contact.  Everybody kinda, sorta knew most people in the business.  To take that old Hollywood phrase, it was a smaller town back then

BDS:  I can see that.  I wonder, sometimes, if something hasn't been lost.

SM:  The one thing I think that has been lost is that there was a kind of spontaneity about comics that I experienced first-hand, and towards the tail-end of my comics career, that was certainly evaporating.  Guys would talk about stuff.  They would get ideas and they would walk into an office, whether it was at Marvel or DC, and they'd say, "Hey, so-and-so and I thought it might be cool to do (fill in the blank)."  And then whoever it was behind the desk, whether it was Jim Shooter or Dick Giordano or somebody like that, they would react to it and they would say, "That sounds pretty good. Let's do it."  That never happens today based on what I know.

BDS:  That sounds very consistent with what I've heard from other creators.  The "bull-sessions" are all but a thing of the past.

SM:  I'm somewhat removed from comics, so I can't say exactly how it works today, but there was a creative flow back in the day that I don't think exists now.  Comics were a lot more fraternal, and a bit more of a club back then.  What would happen was that once you got into the club or the fraternity and you proved that you could do it, and do it on time, you would get work.  So there was a lot of "I'm going into the office today. I'm going to pitch. I'm going to deliver some work today and find out about more work."  Being a freelancer was not a hard way to make a living in the comic book business once you were "in."  I remember hearing something at a San Diego comic book convention, maybe as many as six years ago, where somebody had finished a job and an editor, and I don't know who the editor was, said, "Looks great, don't give up your day job."  Well, when you worked in comics back in those days, it was your day job.  It certainly was mine for a long time.

BDS:  What an odd thing to pop off with.

SM:  Yeah, it's not the same in so many ways.  But the kind of clubhouse atmosphere of doing comics was part of why it was so much fun. The DC offices at 909 Third Avenue had a coffee room with a bunch of crappy vending machines, sort of a coffee/lunch room that they shared with Independent News, which was the distribution arm of the company.  A lot of "hanging out" took place in that coffee room with guys like Neal Adams. Neal used to have an office up at 909, and he shared it with Murphy Anderson.  They both liked having an office to go to, and DC had two of their best artists on premises, which came in handy from time to time. 

BDS:  A structured environment.

SM:  It was. Free studio space in mid-town Manhattan was not a bad thing. Getting back to hanging out in the coffee room. Especially on Fridays a lot of guys would come in, deliver work, they would usually pick up a check, then they would hang around in the coffee room, show each other their stuff…I'm sure you encounter that word "stuff" a lot, particularly when you talk to comic book people of my generation.

BDS:  Oh, yeah.

SM:  Guys would show other guys pages, talk about the job, what they were trying to do, etc.  It was a great place to be and Neal was the King and held court.  Now I was on staff working at DC in the production department.  I had a job that lasted a couple of days during an Easter vacation in 1970, which got me a summer job in the production department.  So I was around for the Neal Adams coffee room/coffee table reviews and these Friday interactions with a lot of young freelancers.  Guys like Mike Kaluta, Alan Weiss, Howard Chaykin.  I think [Dave] Cockrum would show up.  Sergio Aragones whenever he was in New York would hang out there.  Berni Wrightson would be around sometimes.

A lot of socializing took place after hours as well.  That was an important component of the professional interaction of the younger guys breaking in at the time.  And Neal, of course, was the champion for all of us.  He was always trying to help get the young guys into the club, and trust me, it was tough to get into the club back in those days.  It was very tough.

BDS:  Was it due to a provincial viewpoint?

SM:  I'm not sure, but I think they hated us long-haired young kids. We were new and they did not trust new. We were the blue jean generation and the guys that preceded us all looked like businessmen.  Because I think they were embarrassed to be in comics on one level or another.  Generally, most of these guys wore suits or slacks and a sports jacket and they were "commercial" artists.  They weren't comic book artists.  In fact, you know how the original art used to be one size and then some time in the late 60's it was reduced down to I think it was 10" x 15"? 

BDS:  Right.  The twice-ups went away.

SM:  Maybe it was to save money on paper. But I think it was partly done because those smaller pages would fit into an attaché case.  And guys could carry an attaché case with pages into the office. That's only a guess on my part, but I'm sure it probably figured in some way or another.

But these guys all looked like they were going into a different business and then there was the blue jean generation where we all had big-ass portfolios, long hair, blue jeans, and we looked like…well, we kind of looked like hippies as defined back in the day.

BDS:  (Chuckle.)  Not a necktie to be seen.

SM:  Not a necktie to be seen.  I'm trying to think if there was anyone that tried to adapt.  Jim Shooter was the only guy that I know who really adapted to that sort of business wardrobe.  We were young, and people who were our age at the time dressed the way that they dressed.  So it was a big contrast.

I think they were worried that we were going to take over and replace them. I've always maintained we didn't want their jobs.  We wanted to sit next to them and do our jobs while they did theirs.  I know that from my point of view, I wanted to bask in the aura of these guys.  I didn't want to kick them to the curb.  I was fascinated by what they did because I was a fan.  They were interesting guys, and I wanted to learn from their experience; I wanted to be a part of their world. I think a lot of guys from that time share that feeling.  There was no animosity at all toward the generation before us.  We loved those guys.

BDS:  You keyed in on something there, I think, based on prior conversations I've had.  There was a completely different mindset with your generation, if I may be so bold, who went in with a passion to do that kind of work, whereas the predecessors saw it as work.  A way to make a living, as you already stated quite correctly, I believe.  It wasn't considered honorable work because there was still that fallout from comics being vilified back in the 50's.

SM:  If you were a commercial artist, you wanted to be an illustrator first, because illustration was a very honorable, noble profession.  And that's mostly dead today, which just makes me sad.  Or you could be a newspaper strip artist.  If you were on the "funny page," and in a major newspaper, that validated you.  A lot of these guys like Leonard Starr, for example, and guys like Hal Foster, Alex Raymond…

BDS:  Caniff.

SM:  Caniff.  These guys were held in very high regard and their profession, while it was unusual to the average working person, I think, it was kind of a form of show business.  Whereas comics were always looked upon as sort of pulpy, second class citizens.  I mean, let's face it:  Comics were created to be cheap entertainment.

BDS:  And disposable.

SM:  Very much so.  The whole idea of collecting comics and them having some sort of pop cultural value was never part of the perception of comics back in the day. If you were a newspaper strip artist there was a kind of legitimacy.  It was a form of illustration.  Take a look at a lot of the comics guys who were influenced by newspaper strip guys.  What guy from Neal Adams' generation wasn't influenced by Stan Drake?  Or Leonard Starr?  Or Alex Raymond?  Or John Cullen Murphy?  Or so many of those guys.  They were amazing artists and legit in the real world. The one real draw for comics was that it was the fastest paying art job you could get in the commercial art world.

BDS:  No, I hadn't heard that before.

SM:  At DC you could put a voucher in on Monday and it would be paid on Wednesday, or deliver on Wednesday and you would be paid on Friday.  Years later they went to a system where you would get paid once a week.  I don't know how it works today, but the whole idea was if you could work fast, deliver, you would be paid fast.  For some guys that was very important.

BDS:  I'm sure you're absolutely correct.  I'm reminded of when I spoke to Ric Estrada…

SM:  An incredibly sweet, warm, delightful man, by the way.

BDS:  Absolutely.  I loved him immediately.  One of the things he mentioned was that he had a large and growing family to provide for, so he said, "I loved doing those little six-page backup stories.  Because I could turn those around and turn them into cash and buy groceries."

SM:  I met Ric when I was a fan and he was very nice to me; then and later, after I got into the business. He was the kind of comics professional they don't make any more…a very human being.

BDS:  We are poorer for his passing.

SM:  Absolutely.

BDS:  How did you end up at Continuity, Steve?

SM:  I was part of the firmament at 909 and I knew Dick [Giordano] and I knew Neal.  At one time I was the youngest guy in comics. When Dick and Neal decided to go into business for themselves they needed assistants. Alan Kupperberg, who is a friend of mine and who I went to high school with by the way, we were the first.  They needed (laughter), slaves, so we filled the bill.  Alan was Neal's assistant and I was Dick's assistant. I was inking backgrounds and then when certain advertising jobs would come in to Continuity I would help out with those.  By the way, it took forever to get paid when we did those jobs.  Dick and Neal said, "When we get paid, you get paid."

BDS:  Oh, no.

SM:  On some of that advertising stuff, it took months to get paid.  The work was interesting and it paid better than comics. Mostly, though, I worked with Dick on comics stuff.  Alan and I also were general assistants around the studio so we did other crap as well. Some of it got pretty boring.

BDS:  Alan told me you guys had a lot of scut work.

SM:  More or less.  My day started when Giordano showed up and he'd give me a couple of bucks and I'd go across the street and get him coffee and a roll, and so I was fetching him breakfast, which, by the way, I didn't mind, because he paid for mine as well.

BDS:  Was Dick as nice as I've heard?

SM:  He was. Dick was a charming, delightful, and very smart guy.  He was a real grownup and a real professional.  By the time he and Neal decided to go into business together, Dick had spent quite a lot of time as a freelancer and he'd spent an enormous amount of time as an editor and as an editor-in-chief.  My understanding was the reason he left DC to start up with Neal was he didn't like working with/for Carmine Infantino.  I think that Dick felt that Carmine was not really equipped for the job as the guy who ran the company. I do remember that most of the people who worked in comics did not really think that Carmine was a good comics executive.  Wonderful artist.  Amazing artist.  Unique artist.  Iconic artist.

Carmine, to me, was kind of an enigma.  On the one hand I think that he was a pretty ballsy guy, and then I think sometimes he was an insecure guy. I think he almost blackmailed his way into the job, from what I understand.  Carmine had a contract with DC, but I think he wanted to step away from the board and have a somewhat easier life.  I think that's how he kind of got the job.  He sort of said, "Listen, I'm going to leave if you don't promote me to some kind of creative position."  And I think that's how he got that job.

BDS:  Could be.  It's interesting how he went from art director to the executive ranks.

SM:  Listen, everybody wants to move up in their life.  Nobody is satisfied in just doing what they do.  I think it's different in today's world.  I think in today's world if you're an artist and can make a living doing what you want to do, that's actually pretty good.  Actually, for the blue jean generation, we just loved comics.  We loved being in the comics business and loved being around guys that were our heroes.  Making a living was the dream…the goal.

If you were a professional, you went to work every day and turned out a certain amount of work every day and you made a living.  But then again, and I think this is true for anybody who gets into their 40's, perhaps, they start to go, "I don't want to work that hard, but I want to get paid more money."  Remember now you had guys like Giordano, Orlando, Kubert, those professionals who had turned out so many pages of work.  I think they wanted to be recognized as elder statesmen and not have to sit behind a drawing table to make a living.  They became editors.

I know Joe Orlando was at a point where he could not just sit behind a drawing table and draw for a living. Frankly, I just don't think he could handle the grind.  But he was a fantastic editor. The Joe Orlando books were some of the best books that DC ever put out.  Dick was also a very good editor. Kubert as well.  But things were changing.  Guys wanted to step up a little bit.  I think Carmine was one of those guys.

BDS:  Logical.  Artists are in kind of a difficult position because with obvious exceptions, it's not the sort of work you can do forever.  Eyesight and motor skills begin to dwindle with age and your back can't continue to be hunched over a drawing board for 12 to 20 hours at a stretch.

SM:  I think that's mostly true.  One thing you didn't mention is that your hands go.  Your hands are just not the same.  Part of that is the evolution of your talent.  Part of that is your hands just can't quite take the having to hold something and whack away.  It's a tool.  A brush or a pen or markers, they're all tools, but your hand has to sort of cramp into a claw-like position and I just think that guys who are mentally as good as ever but their hands aren't as good.  That's part of what happens.

BDS:  And of course the computer has put a whole new spin on everything from lettering to coloring to the art itself.  Collaborators can now be literally across the globe, which is kind of "gee whiz," but…

SM:  It goes back to what we were talking about earlier. It's amazing that the world has become a smaller place, but at the end of the day, what you have and what you've lost is a sense of community.  Part of why I liked being in comics was that sense of community.  It's just different today.  Today if you want to get to know people in the comics business you have to go to the San Diego Comic-Con and walk around to the different booths, and Artist Alley.

BDS:  That's true.  They're scattered to the four winds.

SM:  You got that right.  One of the things that was also nice about being in New York back in the day:  I'm sure you've heard stories about the Phil Seuling Comic Con. Phil would throw a cocktail party for the guys in the business.  It was Phil's way of saying thanks for showing up and supporting his show. It was usually a pretty nice cocktail party, and sort of the social event for the summer. It was nice to meet guys who lived out of town like Joe Sinnott and Jim Aparo and other guys who would sometimes make the trip into Manhattan for that party.  Also, there was the DC Christmas party, which was a pretty big deal and another chance to interact with people that you would not normally see very often.

BDS:  Sounds fantastic.

SM:  I can't remember a bad DC Christmas party from back in the day.  I always had a great time.

BDS:  Speaking of those you don't run across, I've heard Ditko would show up at Continuity on occasion.  Did you run into him?

SM:  I had an interesting relationship with Steve Ditko.  It wasn't very deep, but it was a little bit different than everybody else's.  I know that we're talking about Continuity, but this is worth talking about.  When I was a kid I used to go around and barge in on artists in their studios so they would do a sketch for me. I grew up in New York City, and just decided I had access to these guys.  So one day I looked up Steve Ditko. He had a studio on 44th Street and 8th Avenue, which was kind of a funky neighborhood where there were strip clubs and porno shops. He came to the door, was maybe a bit surprised that it was a fan boy…literally, but he talked to me in his doorway for about an hour.  We were always on a first-name basis after that.

My other sort of intimate Steve Ditko experience (chuckle) was when the James Bond movie "Diamonds Are Forever" opened up.  I think it was Christmas of 1970.  I went to go see it one afternoon at the DeMille Theater on Broadway in Times Square, and going into the same show was Steve Ditko.  We sat next to each other, totally silent until it was over.  He hated it, because the hero didn't really save the day and I kind of got an insight that Steve had very strong and defined ideas about hero fiction.  Steve Ditko was what you would call an odd duck. He wasn't unfriendly, but he had very strong opinions about things and kind of stuck to himself. Personally I thought he was a nice guy.  I liked him.

He would occasionally come to Continuity, getting back to your earlier question, but not a lot.  Continuity became the "new coffee room." So when guys like Gray Morrow and Jay Scott Pike and Jeff Jones and Berni and Vaughn Bode occasionally would come into New York to deliver work, they would drop by Continuity.

Guys would come in and hang out. Neal was friendly. I think he enjoyed the company and interacting with whoever dropped by.  So I think in some ways the fact that Neal's studio was a social destination, it also became a place for and of certain kinds of ideas. 

© 2011 by B.D.S.

Interview copy edted by Steve Mitchell


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