A Tribute to the of

Here is the second interview I enjoyed with Sheldon Moldoff:

BDS:I was thinking of you today and I'm going to be calling Jack Adler here soon and it occurred to me that both of you did work on Action Comics #1 if the legends are correct.

SM: Yeah, I did a sports drawing [on the inside back cover], I believe. Lou Gehrig or something.

BDS: Yeah. Exactly. You're in a small club these days, Mr. Moldoff.

SM: I know, I know. The vanishing American. That's true.

BDS: (Chuckle.) Well, of course Jack is 90 years old, so he's just slightly older than you, but he did the coloring on it, of course.

SM: I remember Jack, yeah.

BDS: He's doing okay. It doesn't sound like he's doing quite as well as you are, because he's kind of home bound these days.

SM: Well, there's not too much you can do. I had played tennis until about a year and a half ago. Today's my birthday. I'm 89, so I'm blessed that I played that long and that I drew that long.

BDS: That's nothing to shake a stick at.

SM: I'm very happy that I was able to keep drawing. In fact, I'm going to San Diego in July and I'll be celebrating my 70th year as a professional comic book artist. That's an amazing record. To be in the business or to do whatever you do for 70 years. I'm very proud of that.

Prof: Very few can say that.

SM: I'm very happy, glad that I was able to keep drawing and never had to look for a job. (Chuckle.)

BDS: Amen. In fact you remind me that I saw some sort of ad for that event on the internet about how you, Lew Sayre Schwartz and somebody else was going to be in San Diego as special guests. I can't think of who the other person is right now.

SM: I think there was somebody else.

BDS: It's not coming to me. Right off the bat you two are the last men standing if you'll pardon the term who worked on Batman in the Golden Age.

SM: Well, Jerry Robinson is still around.

BDS: Jerry! That's the other one. Golly, how could I forget Jerry? (Laughter.)

SM: Well, I'll tell you, see, a lot of these guys did it for awhile and then they moved on, but when I first got involved Jack Liebowitz called me into his office and I had an offer to go to Cleveland to work for a syndicate and at that time to work for a newspaper syndicate, that was great because we didn't think comic books were going to last or whatever. And he called me into his office and he said, "We want you here." I said, "Yeah, but this is a great opportunity." He said, "Well, we think that you belong with the comic book. We'll match any offer and anything that you want, we will do and I will keep you busy." "More important," he said, "I have a hunch that eventually the superhero, the big one, is going to be Batman, and Bob Kane can't handle it. We've got to have somebody that we can depend on, because I'm betting on Batman." Now this is the president, Jack Liebowitz, and he had that intuition that it was going to go beyond Superman and that it was going to continue and it was going to be the biggest thing in DC's history or whatever. And it did. Batman is the biggest. There's no question about it. Bob Kane was very difficult to work with, but we became friends and one of the reasons I stayed with him so long was because of Jack Liebowitz. Because he said, "Shelly, I need you there." I honored that and anything I wanted, he gave me. I didn't ask for favors and I never had to ask for work, but when he saw me in the office he came over right away to shake hands, talk to me. "Is there anything you want? Are you happy? Have enough work? Are you making enough money?" He was like a godfather to me. He just had that feeling that in the long run, it was going to be Batman. Of course at that time Superman was the rage, you know. But he was right. Look at The Dark Knight. My God.

BDS: Yeah, that's been probably the ultimate hero movie.

SM: It's taken in a heck of a lot of money. You know Jack Liebowitz lived to be 100, and as I said, every time I came to the office and he heard me he would go out of his way to come to talk to me and see how I was doing. Quite often he had a check in his hand for me and he always seemed very grateful and I found him very good, but he had that intuition. He just had the feeling it was going to be Batman in the long run. He was right.

BDS: A visionary man.

SM: Now Bob Kane was a pain in the ass. He was a sick man.

BDS: That's what I've heard. As one person told me, he was not on many people's Christmas card list.

SM: No. He was not a nice person. Of course I became friends with him. He had a daughter, Debbie, who was the same age as my daughter and I was in New Jersey and had a beautiful home in the Palisades and she would spend many a weekend with my daughter, and so I was a friend and he always considered me a friend. "You're my two friends." But he'd screw me every chance he got. That's the kind of guy he was.

BDS: That's so sad.

SM: I had a favorite story with Bob, because he was really something. I said, "Bob, you know what? I think that closet you have in the hallway, I know there's a painting in there, and it's a painting of you." He looked at me and he said, "What are you talking about?" I said, "You know the story 'Dorian Gray?'" He said, "Oh." I said, "Yeah. There is a painting of you in that closet, and all the sins that you commit are on that painting." He laughed. He said, "You know, Shelly, you're crazy." I said, "No, that's how I feel about it. You look great. You're always handsome and the ladies man and all that, but the sins that you have committed, and will continue through your life; that's your style, they're on that painting. I'm dying to look at it." He would laugh and say, "Shelly, you're a riot, you know?" That's how I would get in and needle him, because I knew he didn't have a painting, but you could compare him to Dorian Gray. He was that evil, and that's why I made the comparison, because he was sinful. That was Bob.

BDS: I think you're exactly right. That certainly corroborates what some of the other creators have told me. Everybody talks about what a shafting poor Bill Finger got as far as who actually created Batman.

SM: Well, Bob created it. I hear that bullshit also. Let me tell you something.

BDS: Please.

SM: You cannot take the credit away from Bob. It was his idea, period. Now, whether he wanted to put Bill Finger in the byline, whether he wants to put Jerry Robinson or me, or anybody as a byline, or Lew Schwartz, that's his prerogative, because he is the creator, and he doesn't have to do it if he doesn't want to, and he certainly doesn't want anybody's name next to his. He wouldn't allow that. And we don't have a right…that's how I felt, and I did more work for him than anybody else; than all of them combined. I felt I don't have a right. It's his property, and if I'm not happy, I quit. Do something else. But as long as I'm working for him, and he's paying me, then I will do the best I can. At least one day he said to me, "Shelly, I'm going to give you a byline." Well, that's fine. But I felt I don't have the right to do it. And so I never pushed him on it, but I'm very different from most of the other guys. I've seen these guys claim so many things it makes me sick. On many panels they say, "Who created the Catwoman? Who created this? Jerry said this. Who said this? That guy said this. He created that." I said, "Let me tell you the truth, because you'll get nothing but the truth from me. The writer and the editor are responsible for keeping that book alive; that character. And every week or so they get together and think of new plots, new stories, new villains to keep the interest in that particular character and the book. That is a lot of hard work. So I give credit to the writer and to the editor. Now they may come up with a character that could be called The Frog or The Penguin, whatever you want. We get the script. As artists we read it and then it's up to us to determine what The Penguin is going to look like. But the creation of characters is primarily done by the writer and the editor. And they work their butt off. Because in order to stay alive, they have to have stories that will compete with other magazines. So I always give them the credit. I give the writer and the editor the credit. Then I get the script and if there's a villain it's up to me to try to figure out what it looks like. Like the Bat-Mite, or something like that. It's all in the story, but the artist has to figure out what they're going to look like, so that's our job. But they create the character. They create the Catwoman and Poison Ivy and all these things. It comes out of the minds of the writer and the editor. But I've seen so many guys, I don't want to mention any names, "Oh, I created this; I created that," it's all such bullshit. It's a team job, and if you keep a book alive, and you're successful at it, it means you did a good job. Because there's plenty of competition out there. A lot of hard work, and you've got to really work hard at it, and not everybody can do it.

BDS: It does take an incredible amount of dedication.

SM: I've met many artists who came up along the way, and they were good, they were terrific artists, but they could not maintain the schedule where they could make any money. They couldn't work that hard. They couldn't do that quantity of work. And so a lot of them would leave the field. They would go on to something else. Because to make a living drawing comic books, you've got to be able to turn out a lot of pages a week, otherwise you're not going to make any money. I could do a whole book in a week and have no problem with it.

BDS: My goodness.

SM: So I didn't have a problem. I did more than just Batman. I did the Hawkman. I did so many things. But I was able to sit there and do it. A lot of good artists can't do it. They can't work that long. It's not easy.

BDS: No, not at all. I've got to tell you, Mr. Moldoff, that's one of the most sensible points of view I've ever heard. I applaud you for that.

SM: Well, as I say, I had a different attitude, and when I decided to go to conventions, I want to say I met with overwhelming success. They were waiting at my table before I got there. And I wouldn't be there 20 minutes when everything was gone. It was amazing. And I would never say how much money I made. I would never say how many drawings I brought, because it's a sensitive subject with a lot of people. You know many artists, and I know so many; they go out there and they work for a weekend and didn't even cover their expenses. It's not easy. But I treated the fans great and I treated the dealers as they were my friends. Many of them I took to dinner. You remember Dan Barry?

BDS: Yes, I sure do.

SM: Well, he was a terrific artist and he spent most of his time in Europe. He was a painter and he did Flash Gordon for like 25 years. He came back a few years ago and he wasn't well. He was a sick man when he came back. I met him, and I'd never met him before, and he said, "Shelly, the next time you go to a convention is it okay if I come along?" And I said, "Sure. I'd love to have you, Dan." And so we became friends and whenever I was going to a convention I'd call him and I'd say I'm leaving and give him the dates and he would go. So we went to a half a dozen conventions before he passed away, but when he came, he would try to sell his stuff, but there was really no demand for it, you know? But I would pick up his bar tab all the time and he would come to dinner with us and everything and I treated him very nice. He said to me, "Shelly, you're very generous." I said, "Well, I don't know. I'm me. I have a tremendous admiration for you. You're a terrific artist, and I'm glad we're friends. Anything I can do is fine. I hope you can start selling some of this stuff, but you've been out of the public spotlight for so long they don't really know you." So we went a half dozen times to some conventions, but there was no demand for his stuff.

BDS: That's a shame.

SM: It's a shame, yeah, but he was a very talented guy. I saw some of his stuff and he was great. But you know not everybody makes a financial success out of the field. It's not easy.

BDS: No, not at all and as you said it requires a great deal of effort and dedication and of course some talent.

SM: You have to be able to get along and it's not the nature of everybody to get along with everybody. It's not easy.

BDS: You're right. You make me think of an old quotation that I'm sure you're very familiar with that says success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.

SM: Yeah. My life has been interesting.

BDS: It surely has, and you've been part of history.

SM: Well, I wanted to draw and I ended up drawing all my life and I'm very content with that. I've met a lot of people and a lot of different things and I was always available for DC and as I said I became Jack Liebowitz's friend and he wanted me on his side. He needed me. And I stayed and it was well worth it. It wasn't easy keeping Batman alive. There was a lot of competition in the books. A lot of competition.

BDS: Yes, and it was amazing to me as I began to study the history a little bit about how close that character came to be cancelled in the 60's. I was just stunned.

SM: Oh, yeah. Sales were lousy. Sales were terrible. There was a time when Jack Schiff was handling it and boy, he was searching all the sales to find out what sold. Then he'd say, "This magazine last month sold. It had a picture of a gorilla on the story, so let's have a gorilla on the cover." Hoping for different things that might sell. But it's a very competitive thing. Very competitive.

BDS: Oh, yeah and if you can't get decent distribution. There are just so many factors.

SM: Oh, distribution is a big factor. You've got to get out there and serve everybody. Your book has got to be up there or else it's going down the drain. It's a competitive field and it's not easy to stay alive so long, but it (Batman) stuck there for some reason. It did stay and of course it changed many times. The form, and it had different artists and they started using more illustrating, but I always kept it in the vein of a cartoon. I always felt it should be kept as a cartoon, not as an illustration.

BDS: That's what Lew Sayre Schwartz was telling me, too. He said, "These aren't supposed to be anatomy charts."

SM: That's right. That's right. It's a cartoon character.

BDS: And this year is Batman's 70th birthday.

SM: Yeah. This is my 70th year as a pro.

BDS: Who could have ever predicted?

SM: That's a long time to stay in a job. (Laughter.)

BDS: Yes, it is. Congratulations, Mr. Moldoff. You've done very, very well.

SM: Anyway, I appreciate your calling me.

BDS: Nice talking to you, sir. If I don't speak to you between now and then I hope you have a great time in San Diego.

SM: Yeah, I'm looking forward to it.

BDS: One thing I thought I'd mention real quick: I don't know how many people I've quoted you to from when we talked the one time and you told me that comic book people are usually pretty good people. I've mentioned that to I don't know how many folks and everyone nods and smiles so you've got a definite insight into human nature.

SM: I'll tell you, I have a lot of friends that are dealers and I'll come up to their booth and they'll be sitting there reading. They can read the same comic book over and over and over again. They do not get tired of it. They just love it. They love the comic book, and they're so devoted to it and they work so hard to set up and then go to another convention and another one. There was a time when they made good money, but they don't make good money any more. It's very hard to make a living today in comic books. Years ago they used to average 50 grand. An outfit could make 50 grand, but they can't come near that today. They love the comic book. They can sit there and read the same stories over and over again. They're just dedicated because they have a sincere love for the comic book. Anyway, it's been nice talking to you.

BDS: My pleasure, Mr. Moldoff. Thanks for taking the time.

SM: It's my pleasure, too. 

© 2012 by B.D.S.

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