A Tribute to the of

Here is part 1 of the interview I enjoyed with Joe Staton:

Bryan D. Stroud:  You've done a lot of work over the years and for so many different publishers.  I've seen credits for Charlton, First Comics, Archie, Marvel, DC and I'm sure I'm missing some.  Was there any place you felt more comfortable working?

Joe Staton:  I was always pretty comfortable at DC.  I always felt like I understood those characters pretty well.  I was very comfortable at Charlton, too.  They let me do whatever I wanted to do.

BDS:  I realize that what with the life of a freelancer being what it is, even though you're doing work for a particular publisher you're still kind of not working for them as such since it's the same home studio.

JS:  Exactly.  Basically you're day labor.  And you never know when your day is over.

BDS:  (Chuckle.)  How long does it usually take you to crank out a page?

JS:  When I was really productive at DC, in the late 80's I would normally pencil three pages a day.  At least two pages of superhero stuff per day and then through the 90's when I was doing Scooby I'd routinely do three pages a day.

BDS:  That's moving right along.

JS:  Well, there's a lot more drawing on a superhero page.  I doubt if I could do that now, but I was pretty productive back then. 

BDS:  Did you do everything yourself or did you get help on backgrounds?

JS:  I never quite figured out how to work with assistants.  I've had people who helped me with different things over the years, but I think the most I ever worked with anybody was with Bruce Patterson when I was penciling and inking Green Lantern.  He did a lot of my backgrounds and he was really good at that and eventually he inked the book.  I'd call Bruce my main assistant or co-worker or whatever the right term might be.

BDS:  Green Lantern had to be a fun assignment.

JS:  Yeah, I really liked Green Lantern.  I bought the first Green Lantern issues off the stands when they came out.

BDS:  Clear back to Showcase?

JS:  Yeah.  Green Lantern was always one of my favorite characters, ever since those tryout issues.  I really wanted to draw Green Lantern, and was glad I had a good run there.

BDS:  At one point didn't you work with Gil Kane a little bit?

JS:  I did.  I was working on E-Man in '73 or '74 and Gil called me up out of the blue and asked me if I'd like to do layouts for him.  He seemed to like the way I did figures in space.  He was annoyed by people who always did close ups with cropping.  He was always trying to cut corners and get people to do his work for him.  I was thrilled to do it.  I think I worked for Gil for about a year and I learned a lot.  I learned quite a bit just by watching Gil put a page together.  After a while I was a pretty good Gil Kane.  (Chuckle.) 

BDS:  Did it intimidate you at all to take on a character like Green Lantern who had been so well established and especially by someone of Gil's stature?

JS:  Of course!  Gil wasn't working on Green Lantern when I worked for him but I certainly was formed a lot by what Gil had done on Green Lantern.  He was mainly working for Marvel when I worked for him.

BDS:  I thought it a bit ironic that Roy Thomas hired you while at Marvel and then Paul Levitz at DC and the irony to me was that in the case of Paul he hired you to work on the JSA All-Star book and Roy is maybe the ultimate All-Star fan.

JS:  Well, Paul actually hired me off the bat to do The Karate Kid.  I was finishing Ric Estrada's layouts, but I guess the next thing up was the Justice Society.  I really loved that title.  I loved the idea of doing something from the 40's and bringing all the Wally Wood stuff into it.  I never really warmed up to Karate Kid that much, but I loved the Justice Society.

BDS:  I fell in love with the JSA when they began reintroducing them in the classic Crisis crossovers in the 60's. 

JS:  When DC did reprints of the 40's material in the back of books, that's when I really got to know.

BDS:  Really classic characters to me and even though a lot of the Silver Age versions are revamps of them, it's always impressed me what Gardner Fox and company were able to do with them.  I sometimes wish Alex Toth had got more involved like he did with the Golden Age Green Lantern.

JS:  Oh, yeah.  His stuff was great.

BDS:  I see you've worked on Power Girl and the Huntress and the Legion, Doom Patrol, Metal Men and others.  Did you take many cues from the prior artists?

JS:  I generally tried not to make too abrupt of a change from anybody else.  I would kind of pick up on what had gone before.  You can't help changing things a bit, but I always tried to be respectful of what had gone on before. 

BDS:  Is it true that you got to work some with Ross Andru and Mike Esposito on the Metal Men? 

JS:  Actually I did not work with Andru and Esposito on the Metal Men.  I did work with Ross on an issue or two of the Justice Society.  The Metal Men I did was with Marty Pasko.  I think I inked that job myself.  I was a later generation on the Metal Men, but I certainly would have loved to work with them.  I'm a big Andru and Esposito fan.  I loved Ross, what little contact I had with him.

BDS:  I've heard many great stories about Ross and it was a real pleasure to get acquainted with Mike.  I've wondered what Ross was like, but I understand he wasn't as gregarious as Mike.

JS:  (Chuckle.)  I wouldn't say he was gregarious, but he was an awfully nice man.  We hit it off because his father was, I believe, a classical violinist in the Cleveland Symphony, but he didn't have any records of his father's performances.  One of my best friends was Leslie Gerber who was a dealer in antique records and an authority and we tracked down a record for Ross of his father. 

BDS:  Fantastic!

JS:  I had a good connection with Ross.

BDS:  That must have made his whole week.

JS:  It certainly made his afternoon.  (Chuckle.)

BDS:  Apparently you and Marv Wolfman developed the Omega Men.  How did that come about?

JS:  It was pretty much Marv's idea.  Marv wanted to generate DC's version of the X-Men, so it was generated off Marv's ideas and I did the design.  We went back and forth a little bit on those and we came up with the stories.  Marv was always good with ideas. 

BDS:  I'm always impressed with how prolific some writers can be.  Len Wein's recent work for DC showed me he hasn't missed a step.

JS:  So many of the writers are just great that way.  For the artist it's often just a matter of endurance.  After a while you've sort of been there and done that, but the writers have to come up with new ideas all the time.  I don't' see how guys like Marv and Len and Steve Englehart and Mike Barr, a lot of the guys of my generation, just kept coming up with good ideas and adventures all the time.  That's got to be even harder than drawing.

BDS:  The two disciplines certainly have their pros and cons.  Maybe more mental versus physical, for example.

JS:  Joe Orlando once told me that old comic book artists are prone to bad backs and alcoholism.

BDS:  (Laughter.)  Joe would have known.  He's another I've heard many great stories about.  I know that Carmine Infantino has had some physical ailments directly related to his chosen profession.

JS:  It will do it.  You have to get up and move around every once in a while.

BDS:  Of course the whole problem, if you can call it that, with being a freelancer is if you don't produce, you don't eat. 

JS:  That's right.  Nobody pays you for showing up.  (Chuckle.)  Joe told me that when he was hired to edit on staff at DC it was like retiring.  He'd go into the office and it didn't matter if he did anything, they gave him money.  (Chuckle.)  It wasn't like having to actually work or draw or anything. 

BDS:  That did seem to be the brass ring at the time.  I noticed you served for a while as art director at First Comics.  What was that assignment like?

JS:  We basically proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was not cut out for management.  (Laughter.)  I don't think I was too bad at it, but my way of working generally is "Tell me what you need and come back when you want it and it will be done."  Being an art director involves sitting in meetings and everybody decides what to do and figuring out who has to do it, make sure they've done it and if they haven't done it to keep on top of them…  I'm just not cut out for that. There was one time I was proud of being the art director.  We had shifted from one printer to another with a different kind of separations and we brought everybody in who could hold a brush and Bruce Patterson was involved in that, Doug Rice, and we all kind of re-colored the entire line overnight.  When you can bring people in and get them to focus on something like that, that's a good feeling.

BDS:  That does sound like a satisfying and Herculean task. 

JS:  Yes it was.  (Chuckle.) 

BDS:  Let's talk a little about some of your special projects.  I saw a credit for the 9-11 Project, for example.

JS:  The comics companies wanted to do something to contribute after 9-11.  Everybody wanted to do something.  I had such a long history with Paul Levitz and had worked with him so much that he picked me out as one of the guys to do a page with him.  I was really proud of that.  We did our page, which I think stands up.  It's a really sweet page.  I was very pleased to be involved with that. 

BDS:  It sounds like a great honor.  I don't know precisely how many people were involved, but I'll bet it was a limited pool.

JS:  Yes and you know everyone wanted to get in on it. 

BDS:  You both pencil and ink.  Although I've learned in speaking with other artists that's not completely out of the realm as a lot of wonderful, well-known inkers also pencil.

JS:  Yes, but even a good penciler will sometimes get an extra finger on a hand or lose count of just how many panes there are on a window or something.  It's better if an inker can actually do some drawing and figure things out while he's working on it.

BDS:  Do you have a preference between the two?

JS:  Actually, I really like doing both.  Sometimes I'm not that thrilled inking my own stuff because there are certain lines I'll make by reflex that I'd rather not have in the drawing, so it's better to work with an inker who can take my stuff in a direction that I'd like and maybe couldn't do it myself.  There are also things of mine I'd like to ink.  Specifically, doing something that I know matches the kind of lines and shadows that I'd put down.  Then there are times I've just inked…actually I've inked quite a bit of other people's pencils, I've inked Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema both on The Hulk.  One of the best times I had was inking Elfquest over Wendy Pini's layouts.  That was a lot of fun.  Looking at how Wendy inked her own stuff, I tried to approach her layouts bringing her feeling for textures and things over into my inking. It's good, especially if the penciler has his or her own style and you can compare what you're doing to what they've done and you learn a lot that way.

BDS:  That had to be excellent grist for the mill.  I know that when I saw that it struck me as how different a project it was compared to other work you've been involved with. 

JS:  One funny thing I realized was that my inks on Wendy ended up with a lot of Wally Wood in them.  Mainly because of bringing in those black and white patterns and working on the space  the way he would.  It seemed to match up with Wendy's style pretty well. 

BDS:  Ah, Woody.  What a gifted man.  It's heartbreaking how things ultimately ended up for him.  And now mere mortals cannot afford the pages he worked on.

JS:  When I started at DC on the Karate Kid, he was doing a lot of finishes at that time so I looked a lot to his work.  I'd always followed his work, but I tried to pick up on how he used his space especially.  The way he would set such a solid, three dimensional setting with the use of black and white.  I tried to pick up a lot from him.  I had the chance to meet him just a few times toward the end, but I really thought a lot of his work.

BDS:  Yes and it's kind of neat that you got to do some work on Power Girl, which was one that he and Ric Estrada first worked on together.

JS:  That's right and according to Joe Orlando every time Woody brought Power Girl back he tried to make her bust larger and see if anyone would try to stop him.  (Mutual laughter.)

BDS:  It's funny how the Comics Code was to deal with at the time.

JS:  Well, didn't Kirby have to draw shorts on the Silver Surfer for more or less the same reason?

BDS:  It might have been.  Perhaps even more ridiculous was the shorts on Fin Fang Foom.  (Mutual laughter.)  Shorts on a dragon.  C'mon.

JS:  That's right.  Where do dragons buy their shorts?  (More mutual laughter.) 

BDS:  And how is it everything got shredded off the Hulk but those pants?

JS:  Atomic irradiated purple pants.

BDS:  Or one of my all-time favorites, Elasti-Girl's amazing growing costume.

JS:  I always wondered about Elasti-Girl growing so large and yet having that short skirt.

BDS:  And how about the Atom?  His costume materializes when he shrinks, but what happened to his street clothes?  Julie Schwartz, where are you when we need you?

JS:  He could have probably given you an explanation, too. 

BDS:  I wouldn't be surprised.  He was there pretty much from the beginning.

JS:  And in addition I think he was H.P. Lovecraft's last agent.  His memories went back beyond comics. 

BDS:  Exactly.  I've gathered that a lot of the sensibilities he brought to the comics, such as coming up with a cover and then building a story from it hailed right back to the pulp era.  Apparently it was a common technique then. 

JS:  It makes sense.  You'd need more lead time to get your color separations done, then to have a writer knock out 120 pages overnight or something.

© 2011 by B.D.S.

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