A Tribute to the of

Here is part 2 of the interview I enjoyed with Joe Staton:

Bryan D. Stroud:  I see some notable inkers who worked on your pencils include Dick Giordano and Bob Smith.  Did you have a particular favorite as far as inkers?

Joe Staton:  Well, Bob Smith, who inked me on Plastic Man, is now inking me on some work at Archie.  We've worked together well.  I've always liked Bruce Patterson's work on my Green Lantern stuff.  I mentioned we worked together, but when he inked his own stuff he had a nice, crunchy pen line and his inking seemed real solid.  It always seemed like the people had some meat on them when he inked.  I really liked what he did.  I've done some stuff with Horacio Ottolini out of Argentina.  I guess I'd say he's probably the best inker I've ever worked with.  Remember when I said that the best inker is one who can see where you're going even when you couldn't quite get there?  That's really the best situation and Horacio has kind of a European, kind of a Wally Wood thing going.  I did some Batman stuff with him and some Femme Noir, which is a creator-owned property.  Horacio always made everything seem really real.  I really liked what he did.

BDS:  Do you remember the centerspread that you did for Amazing World of DC Comics #15 with Wonder Woman?

JS:  Oh, with Hitler?

BDS:  That's it.

JS:  I had not thought of that in years, but now that you mention it, I do remember it.

BDS:  Do you remember if it was specifically for that book or was it for something else?

JS:  I have no idea after all these years.  I'm thinking it was for the book, but I really don't know. 

BDS:  Well, it's a really beautiful piece of work.  A nice, big 2-page splash with the Justice Society including the Golden Age Green Lantern. In addition to the Karate Kid I see you also worked on the Creeper over Ric Estrada.  Did you ever get to meet Ric?

JS:  I did meet him a couple of times just in passing at the DC offices.  Unfortunately I never really got to know him.  I think I came in to DC at a time when they were really kind of short of people and Ric seemed to be working around the clock laying pages out and they would be handed off to different people to do finishes on them.  So they were really working him hard then.  He had enough on the page to know what you were doing and they expected you to bring a lot to it.  He was a very hard-working guy.

BDS:  Sounds like you were working off some loose stuff.

JS:  It had everything you needed.

BDS:  It's interesting how some pencils are nearly non-existent and others, like a Jack Kirby almost make you wonder what the point of inking them might be.

JS:  Brian Bolland pencils are more detailed than most finished inks.  Of course he does all his stuff on the computer now, but like you said, "Why do you need somebody to ink this?"

BDS:  Joe Rubinstein was telling me that with the advent of the computer inking sometimes isn't even needed any longer since they can reproduce them in such a way that it comes out as well. 

JS:  You do hear from time to time that one of the companies is going to do away with inkers.  So far it's just been a rumor, but with PhotoShop and many of the younger guys doing such over-the-top full pencils you wonder why is it being inked.

BDS:  It's going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out eventually.  Of course how many times have they predicted the demise of the entire medium?  It does seem to manage to come back from the brink each time, though. 

JS:  I think over the last 40 years I've lived through the-end-of-comics-as-we-know-them at least three times.  Probably more than that.  I remember some time in the early 70's being at science fiction or maybe a comics convention and Maggie Thompson of all people was saying there probably wouldn't be any comics in the next five years.  (Chuckle.)  Fortunately Maggie called that one wrong. 

BDS:  I keep hearing distribution is the big problem.  Maybe digital versions are the future.

JS:  They tell us print is dying totally, so I don't know.

BDS:  It looks like you were the go-to guy on certain special projects.  We already talked about 9-11, but I also saw credits on the superhero stamp album and some Big Books and Heroes Against Hunger, too.  Is that because of your request or someone they automatically think of?

JS:  A little bit of both.  For a long time at DC if there was anything odd that needed doing they knew I enjoyed doing it or maybe guys who are my pals like Paul Kupperberg or Marty Pasko or somebody like that would be editing and they would think of me when they needed something done. 

BDS:  Reliability always shows through.

JS:  You're talking about special projects, one thing I'd like to mention is the Batman book about land mines.  That wasn't something I really had a big interest in, but I really got interested in it while we were working on it and I think I did some of my best work on that book.  Bill Sienkiewicz did an amazing inking job on it and Denny O'Neil gave us a great script.  That's one I'm real proud of. 

BDS:  I'm impressed with Denny's gifts.  Some of my favorite comics from back in the day were written by him and I just love the Knightfall novel he did.

JS:  Speaking of people coming up with good ideas, Denny was at it before I got into the industry and he's still at it.  He's kind of the poster child for enduring writers.

BDS:  He told me a great story about how journalism prepared him for working in comics.  To summarize he said he got used to working with editors and understanding that his words were not made of diamonds.

JS:  (Laughter.)  That's a wonderful thing to know.

BDS:  It's been interesting to learn about how different editors worked in different eras, from the old iron-fisted types to the nearly irrelevant ones at later points when "rock-star" artists could do nearly whatever they wanted, deadlines notwithstanding. 

JS:  The transitional time, like when Bernie Wrightson and others were coming in, had people who were determined to do comics, and because they wanted to do comics and do them right,  you had some very different attitudes compared to the earlier talent, I think.

BDS:  I would agree.  You had the generation who did comics because it was what was available or maybe for a quick payday and then those who came later who really had a desire to work in them. I guess this time with you wouldn't be complete without discussing your E-Man character.  Can you describe that evolution?

JS:  Well, that was when I was young and really enthusiastic.  (Chuckle.)  I had a positive attitude toward the work and Nick Cuti was editing at Charlton.  Nick, and here's another connection,  had worked for Wally Wood and had lots and lots of ideas.  George Wildman, who was editing, was willing to give Nick a shot at a lot of things and at one point they were thinking of a new line of Chalton superheroes.  But management kind of shot that down.  George wanted a chance to do some of the clever things that Nick had in mind, so he let Nick go ahead with his character, which was E-Man. I had worked with Nick quite a bit on the ghost stories at Charlton.  In fact, that was what I started out doing there.  And we had hit it off really well.  I really liked working Nick's scripts and so I was the guy who got called to do the visuals on E-Man. He told me his original idea, and I really hated it.  (Chuckle.)  He originally thought E-Man would be a worker who was caught in an atomic explosion at a plant or something.  I said something like, "Oh, no, Nick.  That's just like some old Stan Lee stuff."  So Nick said, "Well, I'll think of something else."  So he called back and said, "How about E-Man is this life form from an exploding star?"  I said, "Well, that sounds cool.  Nobody has ever done that."  And I think that's true.  I don't think anyone has done a character based on that idea before or since, so we went from there and Nick had all these great ideas.  The great thing with Nick was that he had such likeable characters.  Nick is such a sweet guy and such a nice person that it comes across in his characters. 

BDS:  How can you go wrong?

JS:  Yeah.  We really clicked and he gave me my head on coming up with the visuals.  Throwing in jokes or whatever I felt like.  We worked really well together.  I'm proud of E-Man.  People tell me it's the best stuff I've ever done and I sometimes ask, "Well, what about the other stuff I've done for the last 40 years?"  (Chuckle.)  But it was good stuff.  I'm still proud of it.

BDS:  Rightly so.  I was looking at some of the covers and they remind me very much of the painted covers on the old Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom books.  Were they painted or do you know?

JS:  They were painted.  Pat Boyette lived in Texas and he found the world's cheapest color separator in Texas.  It turned out that you could get painted, color covers separated cheaper than Charlton could do them by hand in house.  So they told us all if we were interested in painting covers, (for no more money, of course,) we could give it a shot.  So several of us did painted covers.  Don Newton did some brilliant Phantom covers and Tom Sutton did some really nice horror covers and painted them.  So that's how that came about.  We had a shot and it didn't cost Charlton any money.

BDS:  So you were the painter on the E-Man issues?

JS:  Yeah.  They were all acrylics. 

BDS:  Beautiful stuff that really stands out. 

JS:  It was different for the time. 

BDS:  Do you color or letter at all, Joe?

JS:  I have lettered--at Charlton.  They'd send you a script and you'd send the art back, inked and lettered.  There were no steps in editorial that had to be done, so I lettered a lot of my stuff at Charlton.  I'm not especially happy with lettering, but I can do it.  When I was doing work for Charlton my poor wife had instructions not to talk to me when I was lettering, because I would start to write down what she said rather than what was supposed to be in the script.

BDS:  (Laughter.)  Occupational hazard, I guess.  I'm reminded of a story Russ Heath told me about working at home and being occasionally interrupted by his wife and it would take him awhile to figure out where he was at, just wreaking havoc with a rhythm. 

JS:  My wife grew accustomed to my saying, "Hold on, I've got to wash my brush.  I don't want the ink to get hard."  You have to laugh at things like that.

BDS:  It's small wonder you guys keep the hours you do.  I'm sure at times it's easier to work in the middle of the night.

JS:  When I first started at Charlton my preferred working hours were to awaken at four in the afternoon and work until four in the morning.  My wife was teaching then, so she would be coming in when I was just getting ready to go to work.  That just really didn't work.  So I eventually readjusted and keep kind of normal human hours now.  It's amazing she lasted through those first years, but she did.

BDS:  I notice that you've inked the very unique work of Fred Hembeck, who is also a big fan of yours.

JS:  I'm a big fan of Fred's and a friend of Fred's, so that works both ways.

BDS:  I've been working my way through his Omnibus and it's been great fun.

JS:  Break out your magnifying glass.

BDS:  Oh, yeah.  A few of those did not reproduce well and some of that copy is really tough to pull out, at least for these middle-aged peepers.  At any rate one of the segments mentions you specifically and how much he loved your work on some title that escapes me at the moment.  I just thought it was neat that you guys got to collaborate later. 

JS:  I really liked what little bit of inking I got to do with Fred.  I think he's like Jules Feiffer with his characters commenting on the world.

BDS:  An apt comparison.  I have to confess that initial exposure to his work left me scratching my head, but it grew on me in a hurry.

JS:  And then the curlicues on the knees.

BDS:  Gotta have those.  (Chuckle.)  I was looking at a particular story you'd done, "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne," and was really struck by the retro style art kind of reminiscent of Dick Sprang…

JS:  Oh, yeah.  That was on purpose.

BDS:  Was that directed or something you came up with?

JS:  I think it was my idea and I don't think anybody objected to it.  It was based on the approach I took to the Justice Society, except I was looking more directly at Dick Sprang.  I had one of my very best inking jobs ever on that in George Freeman.  With George that was definitely a case of an inker seeing where you're going and taking it the rest of the way.  We really meshed on that one.

BDS:  It's a neat job.  I love the retro feel to it and yet it still manages to be contemporary in its own way.  I think it showed your chops as far as adaptability, too.

JS:  Alan Brennert did that script.  He doesn't do many comic strips but when he does he really hits all the human notes and makes it seem like people relating to people. 

BDS:  That reminds me of Denny again.  He told me he much prefers writing human-scaled characters and for that reason really loves doing Batman.  He said something to the effect that how do you relate to a Kryptonian who cannot be hurt?  I'd never really thought of it in that way and it stuck with me. 

JS:  Alan Brennert also wrote the origin of the Black Canary story that I did in Secret Origins. 

BDS:  I haven't had the pleasure.

JS:  I think it was in the last issue and practically nobody in the world saw it.  But it has the Earth One Black Canary dying of cancer while the second Black Canary from whichever Earth we are, is at her bedside and I practically wound up in tears drawing that story.  It was all about the humanity of these characters.  It was just really lovely stuff.  And Dick Giordano inked that one.  If you ever get a chance, compare the inking that Dick did on that Black Canary story to what George did on the Bruce Wayne Autobiography.  They're two of my best inking jobs and two of my best stories, but they look completely different.  To me they don't look much like the same person had anything to do with them.

BDS:  I'll make it a point.  It was announced awhile back that you've got the Dick Tracy daily.  Now that's not the first time you've worked on that character, am I right?

JS:  Which direction are you approaching this?

BDS:  Well, you're not a stranger to Dick Tracy.

JS:  I always say I was reading Dick Tracy before I could read.  (Laughter.)  Which, I think, is true.  I was so impressed and drawn to the world Chester Gould had created that I would look at Tracy even before I could read the stories.  I think one of the things that drew me into comics was Dick Tracy. So I'm kind of winding up where I started.

BDS:  I've speculated more than once that a lot of the success that Batman and maybe to a lesser extend The Flash enjoyed is because they've got the most interesting gang of villains or rogue's gallery and I think that goes right back to Chester Gould.

JS:  Yeah.  A lot of people compare Tracy to Dick Sprang's Batman.  A lot of that overlaps for me.  It's kind of a world of its own.

BDS:  Well I know that back in the day it was certainly the brass ring to land a syndicated comic strip.  Is this something you've pursued actively?  Is it as prestigious as it used to be?

JS:  It's not the big deal that it was at the height of the comics, but it's something I've really wanted to do and I've always been able to think in terms of comic strips because I came to Tracy so early.  For a while in the 90's I penciled Mickey Spillaine's Mike Danger strip, which didn't get a lot of distribution, and I did one of the first graphic novels for Andy Helfer at DC.  A crime story done in four panels on a page, so it looked like a comic strip. Some people feel that the few panels in a strip constricts you too much and you can't go crazy with layouts, but I don't know.  I think it's a good way to tell a story.  I'm comfortable with it. 

BDS:  I certainly wanted to congratulate you.  It's got to be a very satisfying achievement in more ways than one. 

JS:  Thank you.

BDS:  Any other interesting projects you're doing?

JS:  Well, I just did some work for Archie where Archie and the gang are trapped in computer games, like in Tron.  And I also recently completed an illustrated version of Ayn Rand's "Anthem" for Penguin and that's out now.  So I guess I'm still doing odd things and returning to the old.  I'm currently working on an issue of Green Lantern Retroactive, written by my old friend, Len Wein.  Whatever you're doing, I'm your man.  (Chuckle.) 

BDS:  Still fully employed and it's served you well for, what, 40 years now?

JS:  40 years as of April 19th.

© 2011 by B.D.S.

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