A Tribute to the of

I've discussed before the fact that a hero is often only as good as the villain pitted against him (or her.)  Chester Gould understood this with his long list of bizarre criminals for Dick Tracy to catch and incarcerate.  The Flash has a most interesting array in his rogue's gallery as well, but I still think Batman has the edge and certainly has longevity on his side.  Many of his adversaries have been around since the earliest days of the Dark Knight in the 30's and 40's.  That's staying power.  However, in all the nearly 190 reviews I've done to date, I still hadn't done a story that featured a run-in with the Riddler.  The time has come.

The Riddler was first seen in Detective Comics #140 in October of 1948 and was another creation belonging to Bill Finger with Dick Sprang providing the art and therefore serving as co-creator.  Oddly, much like his fellow rogue's gallery member, the Scarecrow, he seemed to go into cold storage for many years, but he came back nearly two decades later in Batman #171 and lives on in current continuity.  He's been a live character, played by Frank Gorshin and John Astin in the 1966-68 Batman television series and by Jim Carrey in 1995's "Batman Forever" on the big screen, (both came off sort of like giggling buffoons, but I guess that's showbiz) and has been animated in The Super Friends, Batman:  The Animated Series and more recently in The Batman, though like the Joker his design has changed somewhat into flowing locks rather than the widow's peaks he used to sport.  He has additionally appeared in video games and as an action figure.  Once again, this is a character with legs who will be celebrating his 60th birthday this October.  I still recall the first Riddler story I ever read, though I wish I could remember the issue.  It was a Bronze Age story and if memory serves the splash page showed Batman and the Riddler wrestling with a question mark while the riddles were being fired at the World's Greatest Detective.  I don't remember the riddle, but I do remember Batman replying to one, "One goes to Penn State, Riddler.  The other to the state pen."  I also remember a snippet of the storyline when Edward Nigma was prowling the dark streets of Gotham with a pistol and was thinking to himself, "I don't need the bread, but my soul needs riddling."  When he finds a mark he asks the man why the ocean is always angry.  The surprised citizen says something like "Okay, I'll play.  It's because…because…I got it!  Because it's always being crossed!"  The Riddler then leaps delightedly into the air and says, "Absolutely correct!  Here, take my money, please!"  He then dashes off while the would-be victim looks over the cash and says that it's refreshing to have a mugger hand over his roll.  If anyone knows which story or issue this came from, would you let me know?  I'd love to track it down.

Anyhow, the issue in the spotlight is Detective Comics #377 from July of 1968.  It appears to be the 5th Silver Age appearance of The Riddler.  The cover art, both pencils and inks, comes to you courtesy of Irv Novick.  The story, "The Riddler's Prison-Puzzle Problem!" was scripted by Gardner Fox.  Pencils were provided by Frank Springer with inking by Sid Greene.

The opening sequence of the story shows Batman and Robin at the Gotham Lending Library where they're checking out a supposed summons on a postcard alerting the Caped Crusader that the book he'd ordered, "Science and Crime Detection" was in.  The librarian says the library didn't send him the postcard (care of Gotham P.D., of course), but they just so happen to have a copy that was just returned.  She then asks for permission to snap a publicity photo and the Masked Manhunter agrees, but takes the precaution of using a yardstick to open the cover.  As he suspected, it was a booby-trap and explodes, just as the shutter closes on the camera.  Batman examines the rapid print photo after the librarian peels the backing from it.  (Remember those?)  Within the explosion a message was hidden.  It said, "Why is a diamond like a stew?"  Robin realizes it's the work of the Riddler and his mentor confirms that their bizarre foe suffers from a psychotic compulsion to give riddle clues prior to his robberies, otherwise he is unable to commit the felonies (an editor's note from Julius Schwartz refers readers to Batman #179), but that doesn't mean he can't try to conceal the clue.  Robin then offers the solution to the puzzle.  "They each have carats (carrots)!"  That indicates that the Riddler plans to rob the Carat Diamond Center.  The World's Greatest Detective counters that it could also refer to the karat that is a measure of weight for gold and since the riddle contained 22 letters, referring to 22-karat gold and that the author of the booby-trap book was Morland, who just happens to be a collector of gold coins that it's the more likely crime.  The Batmobile speeds off to this destination. 

As usual, Batman is correct, as we see from the new scene where the Riddler and his gang are at the location of Morlund's coin collection.  The Riddler gloats to himself that his scheme is fail safe.  If Batman had even been able to see the riddle, odds are good the blast harmed him and barring that, the clue is so obscure that he won't solve it in time to intercept the felon.  So much for theories, though, as the Dynamic Duo make their appearance and start taking the gang down with Judo moves, including the Yoko Wakare or "Side Separation," and good old fashioned fisticuffs.  Abruptly, however, the Riddler draws on them with a wooden puzzle pistol that emits electrical charges.  Batman and Robin counter by tossing handfuls of precious metal coins into the air, drawing the charges away and dispersing them.  They then pounce on their prey and hustle the Riddler off to the police station where he demands his phone call, which he places to a bondsman to post bail.  Batman cautions him that if he commits a crime while out on bail his substantial fee will be forfeit.  The Prince of Puzzlers responds with a cryptic reply:  "Skip your unasked-for advice, Batman!  I know exactly what I'm doing!  But you'll never know—unless you're willing to go to jail too!"

A flip of the page and a short bit of time elapsed magic and the Riddler is indeed free on bond and Batman comments that he sees that it's his turn to go to jail.  An incredulous Robin asks why and the Riddler replies for his foe that he has no choice.  Soon, The World's Greatest Detective is behind bars and after the Riddler departs he begins to search the cell for black specks.  When Robin queries him about it, his partner explains that one of the question marks on the Riddler's uniform was missing, so he searches for them in order to unlock the next riddle clue.  He soon discovers them under the mirror and then calls for a match so that he can reveal the invisible ink on the mirror with heat.  The Masked Manhunter is successful, but in the process activates the latest booby trap in the form of knockout gas.  Robin notes the revealed clue that says, "Why is a room filled only with married people like an empty room?"  After Batman revives and the duo leaves the police station, Robin says the answer is that it hasn't a single person in it, but he doesn't see the hidden meaning.

Inside the Batmobile they continue to ponder the latest puzzle and Batman suggests it could refer to a bachelor, and thereby the famed Bachelor Diamond engagement ring on display at the Museum of India.

Once Batman and Robin arrive, catching the Riddler and his henchmen red-handed, they respond with hurled containers of glue.  In the fracas following, the Riddler springs a trap on the Dynamic Duo, trapping them inside a room behind an interlocked nails-puzzle grating.  Compelled once again to leave a riddle clue, the question-mark covered crook stacks lettered blocks in front of the grate, but facing away from the Gotham Goliath and his sidekick.  The Riddler also points out that the plastic glue has disabled their utility belts.  After the criminal departs, Batman instructs Robin to grab a handful of jewels from the storage area behind them.  They then use them like marbles to precisely knock the blocks over so that they're in order on the floor before blowing the grating outward with the impact of the utility belt.

Once they emerge and flip the blocks over the last clue is revealed:  "Why must a dishonest man stay indoors?"  The answer?  "So no one can ever find him out."  Another brainstorming session and the Caped Crusaders determine that the hidden meaning to "No one," is number one and that there just happens to be a Canever street just "out" side of town, which is the address to the artistic glass company.

A little later they again successfully intercept the Riddler at Number One Canever Street where they're about to make off with rare and valuable glass artwork.  A few well-placed blows put the plans asunder and the final panel shows a disgruntled Riddler back in a holding cell posing a puzzle to himself:  "What kind of key is a stupid animal?  A donkey—like me!  When will I learn not to try and outwit Batman?"

And it's yet another imaginative tale from the fertile mind of Gardner Fox.  I'd also like to point out that the layouts for this story were pretty unique.  Frank Springer used many different sizes and shapes for the panels and seemed to use a similar technique to Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, as more than once the drawings extended beyond the panel boundaries.  It made for some nifty visual effects, very befitting an action-filled story featuring Batman and Robin.    In fact, I couldn't resist asking Frank about it and here is his explanation:

"Unlike the newspaper comics of that time which had their panels cut apart to fit various newspaper sizes (three rows of four panels, four rows of three panels, two rows of six panels, etc.)  you could do anything within a comic BOOK page and get away with it, ie:  legs and arms sticking out of the panels and using panels of various sizes anywhere on the page.  Go wild."

I can't begin to imagine how Gardner Fox cranked out so many stories for so long and then to add the further burden of creating some riddles to incorporate into it; well, it just amazes me.  I was glad that this tale wasn't particularly campy, as so many during the era tended to be and that the fight scenes, a staple of any good Batman story, were well done with plenty of acrobatic maneuvering by the Dynamic Duo and even that typical Fox touch with Batman referencing a particular fighting technique, subtlely reminding us that he has mastered many forms of hand to hand combat.  I'll rate this one with a 7.

And now I'd like to present an enjoyable interview with this issue's artist, the versatile, talented and thoroughly enjoyable Frank Springer:

Prof:  Frank, what was your first illustration project?  

Frank Springer:  The first thing I did for money, you mean?  

Prof:  Yeah.  

FS:  I was in the Army and a buddy of mine told me about a drawing I could do and that I could get five bucks for it.  I think it appeared in some small, pocket magazine and I think it was a scantily clad gal, but I really forget the exact subject matter.  But I got five bucks for it.  That was the first one and it was probably in 1953.  I was in the Army from '52 to '54 and it was probably the first commercial job I'd ever done.  It wasn't much, I'll tell you.  

Prof:  It started something, though.  What led you to comic books?  

FS:  Desperate for money, I guess.  

Prof:  (Laughter.)  

FS:  I'd been assisting on Terry and the Pirates with George Wunder and I knew all along that when you're somebody's assistant you can never really go anywhere.  You know they're not really looking for innovation.  They're looking for an extension of themselves and I was becoming an extension of George Wunder and he was sort of an extension of Milton Caniff.  So, I left there and really didn't have anything to do and learned through a friend of mine that Dell comics was looking for guys to do comics and I showed up there and Lenny Cole was behind the desk and he had a whole stack of scripts and he took one off the top and gave it to me and said "When you're finished with the pencils come back here and we'll give you a check and when you're finished with the inks come back here and we'll give you another check."  And then he reached into his pocket and he said, "If you're short, right now I can help you out."  And I said, "No, no problem," and I was desperate, but don't let them know it, you know?  So that's where it started.  I look at the work now and I think, "What was I thinking?"  The title was Brain Boy and I did several issues of that.  Gil Kane had done the first issue, which I found out later on.  It was issue #2 that I worked on and I did stuff for Dell from 1961 until about 1967.  Six years, I guess.  I did all sorts of titles for them and I enjoyed it very much.  They didn't pay a lot, but I was glad to get the work.  I had a lot of fun there.  

Prof:  Well, if nothing else I'm sure it was an excellent training ground for some of your future efforts.  

FS:  Yeah, well, we learn or we're supposed to learn as we go along in this business.  And that really led to everything else.  I guess I started with DC and Marvel in the late 60's.  1967 or 1968.  Maybe a little bit earlier.  By 1967 Dell was just about closing up shop.  Too bad.  I did some movie adaptations for Dell and they were a lot of fun.  You got a whole bunch of 8 x 10 glossy photographs from the particular movie you were supposed to do and it was just great reference for likenesses and the horses and the castles and the costumes and so on.  It was a lot of fun.  I wish it had paid more, but it was fun.  

Prof:  It sounds like it.  Do you remember which titles you did?  

FS:  I did "The War Wagon" with Kirk Douglas and John Wayne and a cast of thousands.  "Cheyenne Autumn" with Richard Widmark and Edward G. Robinson and Victor Jory and a cast of thousands.  I also did "The Raven," a movie with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff and the wife of Don Taylor.  He'd played in "Battleground," and he was the groom in "Father of the Bride" with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor.  Anyway, he was married to this gal who had a huge set of boobs and she was fun to draw.  (Mutual laughter.)  As a matter of fact, Ann Taylor Fleming, who was a TV commentator and so on; I believe she's the daughter of Don Taylor.  Anyway, that was one of the movies.  There were a number of others.  "Twice Told Tales."  A lot of these movies employed actors who were on the way down.  I think it was [Roger] Corman who was doing a lot of these horror movies in the 60's and as a matter of fact one of the actors in "The Raven" was Jack Nicholson.  

Prof:  Oh, really?  

FS:  Yeah.  He looked like he was about 15.  And he had almost nothing to say.  He was just there.  

Prof:  Stood there brooding, huh?  

FS:  Yeah.  It came out in '63, I believe and Nicholson is 70 now, so he was born in about 1937 or so, so he was about 25 or so when they made that movie.  So I drew Jack Nicholson when nobody knew who the hell he was.  

Prof:  (Laughter.)  That's a great anecdote.  

FS:  At that time Grove Press got in touch with me.  I did a couple of ads for the magazine "Evergreen Review" that Michael O'Donoghue wrote and I illustrated and that was before we had met.  We finally met each other in an elevator one time at the offices of Grove Press in downtown New York and right about that time started "The Adventures of Phoebe Zeitgeist," which he wrote and I illustrated.  That began around '65, I think or '66 and then later they put it into a book in the spring of '68.  Michael eventually moved on to the staff of National Lampoon in the early 70's and through that connection I did a bunch of stuff for them in the 70's and 80's.  

Prof:  So he was obviously impressed with your work.   

FS:  Well, we got along well.  We were totally different.  He was sort of a beatnik.  A disheveled looking writer.  Huge talent.  I mean the guy just had enormous talent.  He had a beard and dressed in dungarees in the city, which was really avant garde, while I always showed up in a shirt and tie and a suit.  

Prof:  (Chuckle.)  Both ends of the spectrum.  

FS:  We were just 10 years apart and came from different backgrounds.  He was divorced and by that time I think I'd been married about 10 years, but we got along very well and turned out, I think, some pretty terrific stuff.  Because of his writing I had a great interest in illustrating that stuff.  

Prof:  Legend has it that his scripts were extremely detailed.  Did that make it easier or more difficult for your job?  

FS:  No, easier.  I think the more detailed the thing is, the better.  That reminds me.  When he first started writing so-called continuity I talked to him and I said, "You know, you don't have to say such and such.  We can show they're at the airport, so you don't have to say, 'They're at the airport.'  You don't have to say such and such because I show that in the picture."  And he caught on immediately.  And from then on it was though he'd written continuity for years and our relationship was such that I could say, "Look, instead of saying this, why don't we say such and such."  In other words he didn't have the huge ego to dismiss any suggestions and so on.  In the mean time he told me how he wanted this pictured and how he wanted that pictured.  It was a good relationship as opposed to just having a writer that is on the west coast and you just get a script and do what they say.  

Prof:  So you had a much more collaborative relationship and it sounds like it was extremely successful, too, judging if nothing else just by the results.   

FS:  Well, I thought so and I think he thought so, too.  We got along well.  

Prof:  I'm far from an expert on Mr. O'Donoghue, but it sounds like he was a little on the eccentric side and perhaps not the easiest guy to work with.  

FS:  Well, he had a temper, but then so do I.  I never really…I mean some people got on the outs with him and that was that.  I guess he'd never talk to them again.  But I must say that never happened with us.  We had our differences, but it never got personal and it never affected anything else.  It never went anywhere.  

Prof:  Marvelous.  Nothing insurmountable, obviously.  

FS:  No, no and Michael may have looked like a beatnik, but he was in favor of making money and he did later on.  He did movie scripts and he did very well and I think politically we got closer together in the end.  I don't want to characterize his political beliefs, but I think as he got more successful I think he moved more toward the center.  

Prof:  Moderated a little bit.  Some of us mature despite ourselves.  (Chuckle.)  

FS:  There's nothing like a big fat paycheck and to see the taxes they take out to say, "Gee, I've been in favor of Socialism and here we are, already."  Actually that's how P.J. O'Rourke put it.  The first time he got a job and a decent salary and then realized what they were taking out of his salary.  P.J. was one of the writers on the Lampoon at that time.  They had some great ones.  Doug Kinney, who was killed in a hiking accident in Hawaii.  Henry Beard, who was a very funny guy and one of the founders of National Lampoon along with Doug Kinney.  Brian McConnachie, who was just terrific.  I did "Attack of the Sizeable Beasts," with Brian.  They were big squirrels.  Not giant squirrels, but rather big squirrels.  (Mutual laughter.)  God, he was fun.  Terrific.  I understand he's been in a couple of Woody Allen movies.  

Prof:  I didn't realize that.  

FS:  I didn't know that either.  I talked to somebody recently who said he was in a couple of his movies. 

Prof:  It sounds like you're dispelling something I was told.  I was told by someone that back in the day that National Lampoon was not a happy place to work, but it sounds like your freelance career there was doing just fine.  

FS:  No, the other way around, I think.  The guys there were, I guess 10 years younger than I was and maybe more than that.  By this time, in the 60's I was in my 30's, and a lot of those guys were in their 20's.  Not much of a difference, but I'd already been married and had kids and was an ordinary guy living in the suburbs and everything else and here these guys were, most of them single and that 10 or 12 years or so I guess made a difference as to your attitude on things and so on.  It was the 60's rather than the 40's or 50's where I grew up.  That was the difference.  But, as a freelancer you show up there on a Tuesday and talk about the script and what you have to do and when you have to do it and so on and chat with these guys and then leave.  So I don't know what went on there hour by hour and day by day.  The impression that I got was that it was fine.  

Prof:  Okay.       

FS:  Different from the impression I got some other spots, but…  

Prof:  I was gonna say, I think you've just about covered the gamut as far as the various publishing houses and so forth.  You mentioned Dell and I understand you did work for Gold Key and Marvel and DC.  Was any particular company a better fit for you?  

FS:  I liked Marvel.  Marvel seemed looser than DC.  A more fun outfit.  I had the impression that DC was kind of like there was some kind of intrigue under the surface which nobody dared to speak of.  I got that impression.  I may be totally wrong.  So it seemed.  People were afraid to speak out or something.  Marvel was more of a looser, "What the hell?  Hey, let's try this," attitude.  

Prof:  Throw it up on the wall and see if it sticks.  

FS:  Yeah, and I think that DC was trying to do what Marvel did, whereas Marvel did what it felt like doing.  Marvel at that time was Stan Lee.  If Stan Lee thought it was a good idea to do such and such then that was a good idea.  So I think that Marvel seemed to set the pace at that time.  This was in the 60's and 70's.  I don't know about now.  Do you think that's the case?

Prof:  I don't keep up a whole lot with the modern titles, but those that I've spoken to tell me that the pendulum swings back and forth and once again many are predicting the death of the medium and who knows?  I'm hopelessly locked in a time warp as far as my interests, quite obviously.  It's interesting.  When I was talking to Gaspar Saladino a few months ago…  

FS:  Oh, Gaspar.  Good man.  

Prof:  Oh, isn't he?  Wonderful guy.  

FS:  Oh, fabulous.   

Prof:  He was saying that Marvel was whipping DC currently, but I'm not sure what he based that on exactly.  

FS:  Well, you know I had the impression at that time that DC was larger than Marvel, but it was the other way around.  Marvel was selling more than DC by quite a margin. 

Prof:  I didn't realize that.  

FS:  I'm talking about the late 60's and through the 70's and into the 80's.  In the mean time I hooked onto doing freelance for the Daily News in their editorial, doing editorial cartoons. 

Prof:  How was that?  

FS:  That was great.  I would show up on Fridays and look through the wire copy and look through the newspapers to try to anticipate what the editor would choose as a topic for the cartoon for the next day; Saturday, in my case.  Then we'd go into the editorial conference where the editorial writer would give his ideas and the editor would say, "Well, let's lead with Mayor Lindsey's latest such and such."  Mayor Lindsey was the mayor at the time.  The Tower of Jelly.  (Mutual laughter.)  And then we'll go with such and such and then we'll wind up with the opening of the baseball season, a paragraph there pointing out that the Daily News has the best sports coverage of any paper not only in the city, but in the nation.  Something like that.  Meanwhile, I and the other editorial artists would be sketching away on various things relating to what these guys were talking about.  And we'd submit them and the other freelancer was there to do Monday's cartoon, which was not based on current news.  You know, because who knows what's going to happen in two days?  It was more of a generic kind of thing.  Mine was more of a current kind of thing.  And you'd get your idea OK's and we'd go into the bullpen section of that floor and do the cartoon and go back to the editor, get it OK's and take off. 

Prof:  Nice.  Not a bad gig at all.  

FS:  And of course get a check.  I enjoyed that.  I did it for about 5 years.  I did some sports cartoons also at that time.  Something that I had thought when I was younger to be a great thing to do for a living.  But two things happened.  Number one, there are almost no sports cartoonist's anymore and number two there are some sports that I just had no interest in at all and you would have to cover those and try to feign interest in something you couldn't care less about.  Hockey and basketball come to mind.  They're great sports, but it's not something that I was ever remotely interested in.  As far as I'm concerned I'm dormant until the baseball season opens in the spring.  (Chuckle.) 

Prof:  You and my grandfather would have been famous friends.  He absolutely adored baseball and used to take me to the farm league games when I was a kid.   

Prof:  I see where you were a special guest at the Boston Comic Convention this last July.  How was that?  

FS:  That was fine.  I sold some stuff, did some sketches.  It was fun.   

Prof:  Do you do many conventions or was that a rarity?  

FS:  Well, I was a guest out in San Diego about 4 years ago in 2004.  That was a lot of fun.  What a zoo!  Holy mackerel, that huge building and they had a hundred and some odd thousand people come there that weekend, so you could barely move. 

Prof:  Yeah, Jim Mooney was telling me he used to go to that and he said it was a ball, but you had to plan going to the bathroom.  (Chuckle.)  According to my notes they gave you an Inkpot that year.  

FS:  Yes.  That's right.  You got an Inkpot Award for showing up.  

Prof:  (Laughter.)  

FS:  I was very happy to be there and it doesn't happen very often, but when you're asked to talk about yourself; well that's a subject you know everything about.  

Prof:  Yeah.  The undisputed master.  

FS:  So, how tough is that?  If I had to get up in front of people and talk about just anything in general then that would be something else again.  As a matter of fact, I recently got some publicity up here.  You know when the Spider-Man movie came out?  

Prof:  Yeah.  

FS:  I don't know how they got my name, but anyway I'm probably the only guy in Maine who ever touched Spider-Man.  They suddenly realized, "Gee, we've got a guy who lives in Maine who actually drew Spider-Man on occasion."  So the local newspaper and the local TV and so on came out.  It was a lot of fun.  

Prof:  Oh, I bet.  Has there been any similar interest since the Transformers movie came out?  

FS:  No.  

Prof:  Okay, that's not as well known that you worked on that.  

FS:  No, and I hated that.   

Prof:  Really?  

FS:  Yeah.  Because, well, I thought that I could draw girls pretty good.  I was pretty good at humans and these weren't humans, and they certainly weren't females, and you just went crazy when you're drawing these things as to what kind of feet this one had as opposed to what kind of feet that one had.  What kind of a design this one had on the top of his head and so on.  I did a bunch of issues…and it shows you what we do for money.

Prof:  (Laughter.)  

FS:  Just about anything is the answer.  (Chuckle.)  But I thought, "This is stupid.  I can draw people and they've got me on this thing.  Why not get people who are weak on people to draw these machines?"  You know some guys can draw cars and trains much better than they can draw people.  Put them on it.  But they didn't.  I wasn't running the show, they were.  

Prof:  That sounds similar to what Carmine Infantino told me about doing Star Wars.  It about drove him crazy.  He said, "R2-D2; I never want to see that again."  

FS:  I didn't even like the [Star Wars] movie.  For one thing the hero; the guy flying that machine.  He sort of had that turned up nose, I'm pushing my nose up, so it kind of looked like rabbit teeth, just that kind of a face and the gal that he was rescuing should have been a really good looking gal instead of…Princess Leia, was that Eddie Fisher's daughter?  

Prof:  Yes.  

FS:  Well, get some gal that really looks good, okay?  I mean, her mother's a doll.  I loved Debbie Reynolds, but the daughter I think had too much of Fisher in her and not enough of Reynolds.  Not the kind of movie that I liked, although you know I inked some Star Wars issues, I think.  I say, "I think," because at this point I've forgotten half of the things I've done.  I mean they just slip my mind.  So many comics.  

Prof:  Well, yeah, you've got a huge body of work and it looks like you did horror titles and adventure and jungle and war and…  

FS:  I know.  

Prof:  Was any format preferable for you?  

FS:  I liked doing few pages for a lot of money as opposed to a lot of pages for a little money.  

Prof:  (Laughter.)  

FS:  I ended up doing a feature for Sports Illustrated for Kids where I was doing at minimum two pages, and maximum four or five pages per month for a really hefty per page rate.  And I enjoyed that and again the writer and I had a very good relationship.  I could call him up and say, "Why not do it this way instead of that way?"  And they were a good group to work for and of course they made money and they paid a lot.  

Prof:  That wouldn't be hard to take at all.   

FS:  I was never a speed demon at this stuff.  So the more money you got per page the better off you were.  Some guys were phenomenal in their speed. 

Prof:  Yeah, Al Plastino, of course, used to work with your successor on Secret Six, Jack Sparling and he said he was just incredibly fast and said it kind of influenced his speed a little bit.  

FS:  Jack Sparling was one of the guys I met while doing stuff for Dell.  He was doing stuff for Dell then also.  And when we started at Dell I was doing the comic pages on one half of a Strathmore sheet.  You know, they were huge.  I think the Strathmore sheet was 29 by 27 or something like that and I'd cut one of them in half.  It was a gigantic page.  And at one point Jack Sparling said, "No, I do mine 9 inches wide."  Just up a third.  You know ordinary comic book art is 6 inches wide in printed form.  He did it 9 inches wide.  Just tiny.  And you can cover a page in a much shorter time.  So that was one of his secrets of speed.  So I started doing that and my work was sort of sloppy and so on because you're trying to rip through the thing and everything, but it got by, I guess.  But it's not really the way to do it.  You really shouldn't do something just to get by; you should do the best you can no matter what you're being paid.  

Prof:  Sure.  Your style is quite a bit more illustrative in many cases; do you think that had any kind of effect on the assignments you received?  

FS:  I hope so, but it didn't have any effect on the Transformers.  The way comics used to work I think was this way:  If the pencils were lousy they'd give it to a real good inker figuring that he could draw with his pen and fix up the crummy pencils, or if the pencils were great, they'd give it to some lousy inker, figuring, "How bad could this guy screw up these terrific pencils?"  So it was always this not great, but just good enough to get by kind of an attitude, I thought.  But that's the nature of the business.  In commercial art, you were always turning out work that was perhaps 85% or 90% of what you could do if you had more time, and if that drives you crazy, then don't go into commercial art.  

Prof:  You're in the wrong business.   

FS:  Yeah, and the key is, of course, if your 85% is better than the other guy's 85%, well you're okay.  If it's lousier than the other guy, well, you're not going to get the assignment.  But you're always churning out work that was a little short.  And this would go for Saturday Evening Post covers or anything.  All this stuff is churned out under deadline, and so you're never, or you're rarely turning out anything that's absolutely perfect.  And if that drives you crazy then get out of the business.  I read N.C. Wyeth's biography a couple of years ago.  It's a great one, by the way, written by a guy named Michaelis, the one that wrote the new one on Charlie Schulz.  Anyway, N.C. Wyeth was always unhappy that he was "just an illustrator."  He featured himself as a fine artist.  And the thing was, his fine art…it was just beautiful paintings, but it was kind of dull.  Well, a farmer leaning against the post; a guy with a scythe; somebody else pitching hay.  I mean big deal.  Whereas his illustrations were exciting.  You know, these cutthroat pirates marching across the sand with shovels and muskets and sabers with mean looks on their faces.  Guys that you wouldn't want to meet in a million years in any situation.  That was great stuff, to me anyway.  

Prof:  Well, sure, there's a dynamism in that which would be missing from what you described before.  

FS:  Yeah.  But he was unhappy doing illustration and he was probably one of the greatest illustrators that ever lived.  Of course Norman Rockwell was more or less satisfied with his career and his painting although he suffered from depression as did N.C. Wyeth.  But Rockwell was more on an even keel I think and figured, "Hey, this is a good life,' being probably the greatest commercial artist that ever lived.

Tune in next time for the second part of the conversation with the great Frank Springer, and don't forget to pass along your comments or questions to:  professor_the@hotmail.com

Until then…

Long live the Silver Age!

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Interview copy edited by Frank Springer

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