A Tribute to the of

Boy, the hit count on this baby drops like a stone when there isn't a new interview to offer, which I understand completely.  It's a lot more fun to learn about a creator than to just listen to my analysis of an old book.  Well, I'm pleased to report that I've managed a couple of new interviews to brighten your day, dear reader and the first follows my review of a story from House of Mystery #236 from October of 1975, sporting a chilling Bernie Wrightson cover.  The title is "Deep Sleep!," written by Jack Oleck with art courtesy of Paul Kirchner and Neal Adams.  Editing is handled by Joe Orlando.

The story contains only 3 characters, namely Alan Trent and his sister Elizabeth, who live in a spooky old mansion that has been in the Trent family for nearly two centuries and our narrator (other than Cain, of course) whose name is John. 

John has come to visit at the behest of his old college classmate and he encounters the pair living in a place that looks as though no one has lived in it for years.  He further observes that the Trent's appear to be "…pinched and withered.  They smelled of death and decay.

John soon learns that Alan and his sister live in morbid fear of the curse of the Trent's and that they must have him stay with them to try and beat it.  Alan is convinced that his ancestors only appear to die and then awaken in their tomb unable to escape.  To deal with it, they've designed their own special mausoleum with custom made crypts containing a chain leading to a bell inside the house so they can alert someone they can trust, like John, to free them when the time comes. 

John reluctantly agrees, but visits the village physician to discuss matters with him.  The doctor urges John to stay with them in hopes it will help, despite their obvious madness and further instructs him to try to get Elizabeth to rest and recuperate.

Sadly, Elizabeth resists John's overtures to take medicine and other efforts to restore her health.  She is as fixated on the mausoleum as her brother and soon takes to her sick bed.  Alan insists it's merely the family curse and even when the doctor pronounces her dead he denies she has left this mortal coil. 

In the tomb, Alan affixes the ring at the end of the chain to his sister's finger.  Afterward, inside the mansion, Alan informs John that they must stay awake for ten days in order to be ready for Elizabeth's signal.  Reluctantly humoring Alan, John stands watch with him, listening for the bell.  After a solid week, however, John is at his wit's end and says he's going to leave.  Alan frantically begs him to continue the vigil, then accepts a drink from his friend.  Soon, Alan succumbs to exhaustion and John retires to slumber himself.

In the morning, Alan approaches John, telling him of a horrifying dream in which he heard a bell, but couldn't respond to it.  In order to allay Alan's fears, John leads him out to the crypt, but when they open it, instead of reassurance, they find Elizabeth frozen in a posture of terror, with one hand just outside the lid, unable to free herself. 

John escorts Alan back to the house and ponders his fate:  "I'm chained here!  I must stay forever in this house of darkness!  In case Alan seems to die.  I owe him that!  Only I know what happened that awful night, and I'll never forget!  I only meant to be kind, but how can I forget the sleeping pills I placed in Alan's drinking glass that night!  The pills that kept him paralyzed in his bed while Elizabeth struggled and died…within the tomb…"

Cain wraps things up with a chilling epilogue:  "John Lawson had a very long wait.  Fifty-five years to be exact.  Then poor John died before Alan.  Alan Trent is still around…a ravin' Loony!  Hee hee hee.

The story brought a couple of things to mind, the first being a few similarities to Edgar Allan Poe's classic, "The Fall of the House of Usher."  If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and do so.  It's short, but appropriately eerie.  The other item I recalled is the old idiom "saved by the bell."  I found this on the web:

There is a widespread notion that the phrase is from the 17th century and that it describes people being saved from being buried alive by using a coffin with a bell attached. The idea being that, if they were buried but later revived, they could ring the bell and be saved from an unpleasant death. The idea is certainly plausible as the fear of burial alive was and is real. Several prominent people expressed this fear when close to death themselves:

"All I desire for my own burial is not to be buried alive." - Lord Chesterfield, 1769.

"Have me decently buried, but do not let my body be put into a vault in less than two days after I am dead." - deathbed request of George Washington.

"Swear to make them cut me open, so that I won't be buried alive."- Frederic Chopin's last words. Just as real were the devices themselves, several of which were patented in England and the USA. These were known as "safety coffins" and designs were registered in the 19th century and up to as late as 1955. 

All in all, a fascinating romp in the House of Mystery.  And now, the main event.  I recently enjoyed an e-mail interview with our penciler, Paul Kirchner, who spent some time at Continuity Associates back in the day:

Bryan D. Stroud:  It looks like you had some art training.  What sparked your interest in the field?  

Paul Kirchner:  I was a comic book fan as a teenager. After high school, I moved to NY in 1970 to attend Cooper Union School of Art. I got a job working in a comic book store and began attending comic conventions. I wanted to get into the field myself.  

BDS:  What led you to Continuity?  

PK:  A classmate of mine at Cooper Union knew of my interest in comics and was a friend of Larry Hama, who was Wally Wood's assistant at the time. I went to visit Larry at his apartment in Brooklyn to show him my work. That same night, he took me up to meet Neal Adams at Continuity, then located at 9 E. 48 Street.  

BDS:  Were you strictly a colorist at the time?  

PK:  I did some coloring on Neal's storyboards when there was a crunch. I also penciled a job that he then inked, "Deep Sleep." (He had to pay for the pencils out of his own pocket as he had had his portfolio stolen when he was sleeping on the subway, and it contained a penciled job he was supposed to ink, among other things.) At Continuity, I did a lot of assisting work for Ralph Reese, penciling in backgrounds, etc, as did Larry Hama.  

BDS:  Who did you meet there?  

PK:  Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Jack Able, Ralph Reese, Vicente Alcazar, Russ Heath, Mike Hinge, Pat Broderick, Scott McLeod, Lynn Varley, Ed Davis, Mike Nasser, and Cary Bates (with whom Larry shared a small office) all had desks up there at one time or another. Frequent visitors included Gray Morrow, Al Weiss, Howard Chaykin, Jim Starlin, Al Milgrom, Rick Bryant, Joe Barney, Denys Cowan, Sergio Aragones, Frank Brunner,Greg Theakston, Val Mayerik, Alan Kupperberg, Joe Rubinstein, Walt Simonson (who always had a blanket over his shoulder like Linus, for some reason). Cartoonists who came into town to drop off a job at Marvel or DC would often drop by Continuity and hang out for a while. It was casual and there were always people there. Jim Steranko and Bernie Wrightson sometimes came by and there are other people I'm probably forgetting.  

BDS:  How long did you spend time at the studio?

PK:  I was up there pretty regularly when I lived in NY, from 1972 – 1975, and then would come by and hang out whenever I was in the city for about ten years after that.  

BDS:  What did you learn?  

PK:  I learned a lot from working with other people, getting their often harsh criticism, and watching how they went about things. Picking up the tricks of the trade.   

BDS:  How was payment handled or were you there more for the association?  

PK:  You got paid based on what percentage of a job you were responsible for. You generally had to wait until the check came in to get your share, though Neal gave people loans when they needed the money. A lot of the time I was just hanging out, though.  

BDS:  Do you have any particularly fond memories of the time spent?  

PK:  Yes, lots—enough to fill a chapter. We did a lot of things as a crowd. We'd all go out to eat together, or to catch a new movie. We had a lot of parties.  

One time, Larry Hama brought us all down to Chinatown to watch authentic, non sub-titled kung fu movies, and we were chastised by a woman in the audience because we were making too much noise. "This is not Disneyrand!" she said in a strong accent.  

When Neal was away for a weekend, a bunch of us played a terrible practical joke on Joe Rubinstein, pretending we were all high on LSD and messing up the studio. (Mike Nasser had dummied up a fake piece of Neal Adams original art that we defaced.) Joe has never forgiven us, to this day.  

We all went to a strip show together when it came out that none of us had ever been to one. Chaykin reached onto the runway to pick up a sequin that had fallen off the stripper's g-string and told her, "I'm saving this as a memento for my Nipponese friend," handing it to Larry.  

Chaykin was an extremely funny guy. When he and Alan Kupperberg got together it was like a professional comedy team the way they played off  each other.  Ralph Reese was very funny, with a sort of devastating sarcasm. No one could deflate you like Ralph. Neal was the alpha dog; he's a mover and shaker, he motivates people and gets things done. He was always trying to form a union of comic artists in those days. That didn't happen, but Neal was one of the people that helped get creators more rights.  

BDS:  Did you rent any space at Continuity?  

PK:  No  

BDS:  Did you interact with Neal much?

 PK:  Yes, a lot. Neal had his desk in the front room right in the center, with desks on either side. I think there were five or six drawing tables in the front room. Neal liked to talk while he worked and didn't enjoy people who had no conversation. There was one guy who was pretty laconic and didn't pick up on Neal's conversation starters. Finally Neal stated, "You'll never make it as a comic book artist." "Why is that?" asked the guy, startled. "Because you don't have anything to say," answered Neal.  

Every once in a while someone would come up to the studio to show Neal his portfolio. This would always interest the rest of us because of the suspense: if the guy was good, Neal would make a few calls and get him work right away; if he wasn't, Neal could be devastating. I once saw him start flipping through the pages of a guy's book faster and faster and making fart noises with his mouth. One of the regular visitors—already a working professional—wanted Neal to appraise a page he was proud of. "There are so many things wrong with that that it will take me about 20 minutes to go over them." Neal said, "I'm too busy right now, but could you come back in two hours?"  

It sounds cruel but Neal would actually explain what he thought was wrong with your art and that was invaluable.  

BDS:  It looks like you took a page from his book in your focus on advertising work and storyboards.  How did you settle on these specialties?  

PK:  I was doing comics and then got into doing toy-based comics like He-Man and Go-Bots for Telepictures, a company that put out magazines based on toy lines. In 1986, an ad agency was impressed with my work on the Go-Bots and brought me in to do storyboards on that line. From then on, I got steady work from then and still do today. I find storyboarding fun and I am fast at it.  

BDS:  Were there any particular benefits to your association there?  

PK:  Yes, I got to meet a lot of great people and had a lot of fun. I miss the camaraderie.  

BDS:  Did you enjoy your comic work?  

PK:  Yes, but I always worked too slowly to be very successful at it. It was only when I got into toy design and advertising, where the deadlines are tight, that I learned to pick up my speed and work efficiently.  

BDS:  You did some strip work.  What was that like?  

PK:  The first professional work I did was on the "Little Orphan Annie" strip, assisting Tex Blaisdell. Neal recommended me to Joe Orlando, who was an editor at DC. Joe gave me some horror scripts to pencil that Tex would ink. Tex was a friend of Joe's and Joe wanted to help him out. By teaming us up, he could give Tex a high inking rate and me a low penciling rate (which I was happy to get). Tex and I hit it off and he had me assist him one day a week on Orphan Annie.  It was the day before the week's strips were due, and I would bring them from Tex's house in Flushing back to the Daily News building in Manhattan, where I would slip them under a door at about 2 am.  

Outside of that, the only strip I worked on was "the bus," for Heavy Metal, and that only had to be done once a month.  

BDS:  I see you were one of Wally Wood*s many assistants.  What did you learn from Woody?  Did you enjoy the experience?  

PK:  Working with Wally Wood was a life-altering experience. I wrote about it at length in a piece that was published in the Comics Journal and reprinted in Bhob Stewart's Woodwork. Woody was a great friend and mentor.

More Paul Kirchner?  Check out his Blog about his work on the Dope Rider and his Website, showcasing current efforts.

Paul was gracious and I thank him publicly for his kind indulgence here.

Speaking of thanks, thanks for your time, oh faithful reader.  The webmaster and I try to make it worth your while and with any luck, we're enjoying some small success.  Feel free to let us know how we're doing with an e-mail to: professor_the@hotmail.com.

We'll be back in about two weeks, as usual, with more items to ponder.  Join us then and meanwhile…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2012 by B.D.S.

Interview copy edited by Paul Kirchner

This feature was created on 05/01/00 and is maintained by



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