Friday, June 3, 2011

Autobiography Pt. 18

Back to the offices.
Somebody took a picture of Barry Smith with a shirt that had a huge blow-up of his ornate signature.  Barry had long hair and a thin beard at the time. Neal Adams got a copy of the photo and meticulously reworked the signature so it read "Barely Christ".  It was posted on the Continuity corkboard to great laughs, to very many eyes, and smiling faces, on the wall for years.
I knew Mike Hinge during his days at Continuity. An odd character, certainly. One of his biggest problems was his people-skills. His theory was that if he went to see an art director in his ragged clothes, they would see that he needed a job and give Mike one.
Attach yourself to failure? Good lesson, Mike. He frequently called art directors "whores," and this must have been sensed by the art directors, resulting in many rejections.
     I remember him sitting in the front room at Continuity, late at
night, lights off, and the damndest weird Jazz screaming from the record player in the front room, in the dark, pumped up to eleven. Grinning like a Cheshire cat, as our eardrums threatened to burst.
     Ask him where you could get something, his answer was always "Canal Street."
     He liked to work with markers, and favored "German Mah-kus," in a thick New Zealand accent. And, of course, today all of his work has faded because he used German Mah-kus, no matter where they came from.
     He had a great smile, but NEVER used it on the street. I’d see him outside the studio, hands shoved deeply into empty pockets, not quite steaming down the sidewalk, but almost, and a scowl Jacob Marley would envy. Consciously.
“I don’t want to be on the street grinning like a fool.” he once related.
       Continuity was a great place to watch the ebb and flow: The guys who are town today but would be gone in six months, if that. It was the nature of the place, big-hearted Neal would take anybody under his wing and give them a chance. This came out of his art agency work when he was fifteen, and watched Lou Fine work, and answered his questions. Johnstone&Cushing took a chance on him.  It’s kind of an obligation in this business: There are few formal training schools, so how the Hell do you get a start? Neal, due to previous obligations from a previous art studio, seemed to feel obligated to open wings, very kindly.
       Some guys excelled, and some guys failed, but Neal always gave them a chance, and then it was up to them. I remember an artist from Detroit by the name of Bill hitting town. I knew him from Michigan, and had always wondered if he’d make it to the big time. The guy’s stuff was genius: A natural. A guy who drew because he couldn’t stop drawing, and got very good at it because of his compulsion. Neal was impressed and told Bill he’d be welcome around the studio. Next thing I know, Mike Nasser is telling me about our friend Bill’s appointment to show his stuff. Seems he showed up at DC, unannounced, in tights, with a ski mask, and a faux leopard-skin throw rug around his neck as a cape, portfolio in tow, demanding to see the publisher, Carmine Infantio.
       Guards threw him out post-haste.
       A couple of days later, Bill shuffles into the front room and Neal looks him over.
       “When was the last time you ate?” he asks.
       “Last night. Half a tube of toothpaste.”
       “Here’s twenty bucks. Go get a burger.”
       And the big guy peeled off a twenty, out of his kindness pocket.
       Moments later, Neal looked out of the great front window, kicked back his rolling chair and shouted, “No. No. No!
Seems Bill simply went across the street to Alpine Burger, the most expensive burger joint in nine blocks. Nine dollars a burger joint. In ‘70s money.
“Asshole, there’s a Burger King around the corner. You could eat for a week on what I gave you!”
A few days later, Neal mentions that Bill isn’t doing any work around the studio. That he goes out a couple of hours before midnight, and seems to be eating regularly without loans nor toothpaste tubes at dawn.
“What’s he doing?”
Didn’t matter, Bill blew the job Neal got him, and pretty soon Bill disappeared. And a lot of the guys who passed through did. John Fuller was another. A real shaggy Hippie type from California. His stuff had a primitive charm about it, but clearly this guy was in over his head. I remember him doing a sample page of Buggs Bunny for Dell, in an attempt to get work. John grabbed an old Buggs comic out of the library, tacked it into the overhead projector, and very badly swiped the page, cold. A couple of hours later he appears in the front room, page finished, and very excited.
“What do you think?” as he showed it around.
Mike wanted to say something, but couldn’t. Me, not so much.
“What are you going to do if they give you a script to draw on your own?”
John looked a little lost at the idea.
He didn’t get the job, stopped taking his insulin because he couldn’t afford it, shuffled around the studio in stocking-feet, with black rings under his eyes, then disappeared forever back to California with his parent’s help.
Mark Rice, a marginally talented artist, and former child-star came and went as well, and the guy seemed to be another angry young man. We almost came to blows one night over some BEN CASEY daily strips Neal had on hand. Fate sent him to the cornfield as well.
Bruce Patterson showed up, eventually.
The guys from California didn’t seem to last. N.Y.C ate ‘em up. The ones who managed to stick it out could sometimes be a handful.  A couple of dozen kids from all over, scraping by with minimal talent, hungry to get published, or just hungry,  and under pressure. Some of the guys like Joe Brozowski and Bob McCloud were pretty mellow, but others had heaps of attitude. A few of the guys had been assistants for Wally Wood, and you could see why they got along with him. Cynical wise-guys who had a predilection for fire-arms. Living with a near-sneer.
What most of these young men didn’t understand was that if you want to be an artist, you have to be a businessman as well. Show up in a tie and suit, not a leopard-skin throw-rug around your neck. Or in rags. It’s not an especially delicate balance. Show off your artistic skills, as well as your social skills. Don’t think of your art director as a whore, because they’ll get the vibe.
       I remember Funky coming into my broom-closet-studio looking for advice on some art thing. He had some drawing problem he needed sorted-out, and I was flattered that I was me, not our guru in the front room, who always had good advice, in the position of power: Front of the building, center stage. Or not there at the moment.
       “Gimmie five bucks.” I said.
       A quizzical look followed.
       “If I give this to you for free, you won’t appreciate it as much as if you’d paid for it.”
       He coughed it up and I delivered the goods as I knew them.
       Now, usually it’s given for free. Saw Neal do that over and over, because the guys at Johnstone&Cushing had instructed him for free. Comic art is not like many other crafts. There are so few of us that, for years, there were no schools which taught it. The School of Visual Arts being one of the few exceptions. It’s an art of observation, and communication with like-minded people, and I’ve been on both sides. John Chilly showing me how to draw a convincing cowboy hat, to me, and later showing Glenn Barr Jr. how to draw a convincing fedora.
“Some guy showed me how to do this so that I can show you how to do it.”
Very human.
Teaching another human how to do their job better got us where we are today.
       Imagine, if the guy who discovered how to make glass kept it a secret unto himself. It might have taken another couple of hundred years for the world to get glass.
       Impeding the transfer of information is the worst thing that you can do, and if you get information, it’s your obligation to disseminate it to anybody who needs it.
       Especially if you’re a Comic artist.
       Still, if you pay for it, you’ll take better care of it.

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