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"A Dream Come True!"

A Candid Conversation with DAN ADKINS about WALLY WOOD and Other Phenomena

Conducted by Roy Thomas
Transcribed by Jon B. Knutson

From Alter Ego Vol. 3 #8

DAN ADKINS, who was born in 1937, has been a comic book artist since 1965, when he began working for Wally Wood on the first issue of Tower Comics' T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. We used his interview last year in our TwoMorrows sister publication Comic Book Artist (#7) as a getting-on point for this one. Our avowed purpose this time around was to concentrate on Dan's work with Wood and his early career after he struck out on his own.

Dan with Jeanette Strouse in 1956, at age nineteen.
Photos courtesy of Dan & Jeanette Adkins.

ROY THOMAS: I believe you've said it was EC Comics, including Wood's work, that first got you really interested in comics as a teenager.

DAN ADKINS: Yeah, the whole EC line, but especially the science-fiction. We'd be looking for Wally Wood covers at the drugstore in our home town every Tuesday and Thursday; that's when the comics used to come in. I got in around Weird Fantasy #11 or 12, just when they really started getting good. I don't get that thrill no more! You can't get back that enthusiasm you had when you were fifteen. I liked Williamson and Davis and Crandall and Evans... all the top guys were my top guys. I wasn't into DC Comics or super-heroes at that time. Later on, I got into Kirby.

RT: In this same issue of A/E, Bill Pearson talks about your joint fanzine Sata...

ADKINS: That was just a made-up word. I was a draftsman in the Air Force at the time I met Bill. If a change was made to a building on the base, we'd have to update the blueprints. I also drew a lot of electronics stuff, engine corrections, etc. After I got a second stripe as Airman Second Class, I became an illustrator-from about eight months after basic training, for the remaining three years I was in the service. When I got out I was the equivalent of a staff sergeant.

As an illustrator, I had a whole room to myself with equipment to turn out posters to put in front of the base library or movie theatre. We also did a magazine where we'd list all the happenings. We had to spend a certain amount of money per month in order to get the same amount the next month. And I couldn't come up with enough things to spend the money on, so I started a fanzine! [laughs] The Air Force paid for Sata.

RT: Did they know they paid for it?

ADKINS: I had a civilian boss, and he knew it, yeah. It didn't cost a heck of a lot to put out a little dittoed fanzine.

RT: When were you art director of the Robert E. Howard fanzine Amra?

ADKINS: That was very early. We got drawings from Frazetta and Krenkel because I knew Roy Krenkel. That's one reason they made me art editor! It wasn't for my abilities; it was for who I knew!

RT: How much professional artwork did you do for the pro science-fiction magazines before you went to work for Wally?

ADKINS: I started doing that at nineteen; I was 28 when I started working for Wally. Besides the sf art, when I was about 24 I was an art director for American Druggist and New Medical Material, magazines put out by Hearst. We turned out 92-page biweekly medical journals. We had this big dummy room with all these shelves where we laid out every sheet; you had to order the galleys-what they called thumbnails, which is a block of print that's a photograph. I learned a lot there. I quit after about three months and went into advertising, working for Advertising Super Mart, where I did paste-up mechanicals-then Le Wahl Studios. That's the last place I worked before I went to work for Wally.

RT: How did you meet Wally Wood?

ADKINS: I met him through Bill Pearson. I saw a letter of Pearson's in Amazing Stories [sf magazine]. His address was Phoenix, Arizona, and I was stationed at Luke Field outside Phoenix, so I thought he might know some girls there! I was nineteen at the time. He didn't really want to meet anybody; he was sort of a shy guy. But I went out and talked to him that night, and showed him my collection of fanzines.

Later, up in New York, I was doing art for the science-fiction magazines, but I couldn't make enough money at it, so I worked in advertising while I was also drawing for Amazing and Fantastic and Infinity and Science-Fiction Adventures. Half of these were put out by Larry Shaw, who also published one of the first monster magazines, Monster Parade, 'way before Famous Monsters of Filmland. Part of Monster Parade was stories, for which we did illustrations. While I was doing all this, Pearson had moved to New York, too, and I guess he wanted to get into writing. He had this big apartment in the '70s over near the river, and he got to meet Wally through Krenkel or somebody.

I went up to Wally's with Pearson to get a full-page drawing from Wally for my fanzine Outlet. But Wally was too busy to do a drawing for me, unless-[laughs] Well, he offered me work to help him out! I had drawn nine pages of a war story, but I didn't show him my science-fiction illustrations. Later on, I showed him my sf drawings, and he said that if I'd shown him those, he wouldn't have hired me, because they weren't as good as the war story, which was my latest work! [laughs] So anyway, I started working as Wally's assistant, helping him on the first "Iron Maiden" story in the first issue of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. That was around June or July of 1965.

RT: I met you in either the last week of June or the first week of July, very soon after I arrived in New York myself. You were already working for Wally-on the second issue, I recall.

ADKINS: Wally's studio was around West 76th Street, about a block off Central Park. We had to walk up five flights of stairs. The first four pages of that first "Iron Maiden" story had to be done over. Wally didn't like the artwork, which had been done by somebody else. He said, "Adkins, I'll do a thing for your fanzine, but I'm really jammed up right now; I've got to do this last story over because it's no good. If you'll help me repencil and ink this story, I'll do your drawing." Of course, it was a year later before he did that drawing!

RT: And by then he'd taken over your magazine, which had become witzend. Wally became identified with Iron Maiden, Dynamo's sexy arch-enemy, and yet at the time he might not have even wound up doing her initial story!

ADKINS: He might've laid it out, might have done the breakdowns. I repenciled it at home, almost overnight, and then we inked it together at the studio. That's why it's a little awkward, because I don't think I had the style or consistency with it yet.

Meanwhile, Wally was repenciling the first story in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1. Do you remember the first four pages of the issue, that were like an introduction? These Agents are breaking into a building. Sam Schwartz [editor at Tower Comics] had recommended Larry Ivie to Wally, and Larry had penciled that story, but somehow Wally wasn't satisfied with it, so he did it over while I did the back story. Wally penciled and inked four pages while I did ten or fifteen. [Note: See page 33.-R.T.]

RT: Some time back, Larry sent me a copy of Scary Monsters magazine in which he mentions the cover of Daredevil #10-I think it's the one you talked about in CBA #7-which had these beast-men and DD on a ledge. Someone asked you if you drew it, because the Daredevil figure was a bit unusual for Wally. Larry says he did that cover, or nearly all of it.

ADKINS: I know Wally was finishing up his last Daredevil when I came to work for him. But I don't know anything about Larry doing it. My assumption was that Bob Powell did it.

RT: A lot of people worked on the early Daredevil. [laughs] Stan must've been at his own wits' end. Wally was just leaving Daredevil when I came to work at Marvel in early July of '65. John Romita walked in two weeks after I did and immediately got the Daredevil assignment. The book had sold well under Wally, and sold even better under Romita. So, was your early work with Wally mostly on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents?

ADKINS: No, there was a lot of stuff. We did Total War [also called M.A.R.S. Patrol] for Western or Dell; so we had to keep the word balloons an eighth of an inch from all the borders. [laughs]

RT: They did that at DC a couple of years later, too. It was a really bad idea.

ADKINS: The balloons take up more space that way, and the drawing is affected by it. We also did Fantastic Voyage for them, which was mostly inked by Tony Coleman.

RT: You and Wally must've done a good Raquel Welch.

ADKINS: Oh, yeah, we got some stills from the movie. We got a full script, too, and I think somebody got to see the movie. [laughs]

RT: It's kind of ironic that the first story on which you received a credit for your work with Wally was called "Overworked!"

ADKINS: Yeah, that was around Creepy #11, I guess. Wally was working for Warren while he was also working for Tower and Harvey, as well as for Western.

RT: No wonder he needed a lot of help! Who were the other people working with him then? Was Ralph Reese there yet?

ADKINS: Yeah, Ralph was there a couple of months before me. He was only sixteen. And of course Wally's wife Tatjana was a great inker, and a good colorist, too.

RT: You mentioned a name I didn't recognize-Tony Coleman.

ADKINS: He was there about six months. He also worked on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 or Dynamo #2, the one where he's beating up a bunch of guys in army uniforms on a beach. Coleman was English; he came to Canada and couldn't find work there, came down to America. Joe Orlando sent him up from DC to Wally. He'd lost his portfolio somewhere between Canada and here, also his money, so he was working for freight money to get back to England. He was 34-Wally was 38.

After Coleman left, it was just me and Wally and Tatjana. Ralph didn't do too much except on the Topps Bubble Gum stuff. A lot of those were Ralph's ideas, and Wally and I were just polishing them up. We did some creatures called "The Uglies," people twisted into shapes. Wally and I did six record album covers-War of the Worlds, Invisible Man-remember those things advertised in the back of the Warren books? We did The Munsters for Western, too.

I did maybe eighteen or twenty "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" stories for Wally, including the "Dynamo" ones. He usually broke them down on typing paper, and I'd take it from there and do tight pencils. There were four stories for which I did the layouts myself, even the little breakdowns. The penciling on those was all mine, and those are the ones I got credit for.
I showed Wally where Steranko was doing "S.H.I.E.L.D." over at Marvel, and he was getting credit. Wally could see I was a little jealous [laughs] and he gave me credit that day! It said, "Adkins and Wood." Which led most people to think it was penciling by Adkins and inking by Wood, but it was actually the other way around.

RT: Basically, your job was to make it look as if Wally had done it all, right?

ADKINS: Yeah. There was one story, "The Black Box of Doom," which I penciled with no breakdowns from Wally. And Wally didn't like it too well. [laughs] So it was inked by Chic Stone! If Wally and I had done it, it would've looked a helluva lot different.

You've got to remember that Wally was still the lead character there; his style was on everything. The jobs looked great mainly because of Wally, not because of me. There's just that little extra bit that's better. When I went off and did my own stuff, like "Day after Doomsday" and other things I did for Creepy, then you get an idea what my talent was, but I don't think anyone comes up to Wally.

RT: He was certainly a major talent. Was the Weed character in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents based on him?

ADKINS: It looks like Wally, but that character's based on Ralph, I guess. Dollar Bill Cash was supposed to have been Wally, too.

Dan informs us he penciled this page from T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 (June 1966), including what he calls its "terrible machinery." It's "all Wally inks," he says, "except NoMan's back in Panels 1 & 2-that was inked by Tony Coleman." Ye Editor still thinks the agent called Weed looks a lot like Wally! Repro'd from photocopy of the original art, in the collection of John Harrison.
©2001 John Carbonaro.

RT: I know Wally smoked all the time. Flo Steinberg, Stan Lee's secretary back in the '60s, says her job when he had story conferences with Wally was to try to keep the ashes from Wally's cigarettes from dropping on the floor.

ADKINS: Yeah. I was just thinking-I don't think we ever had the radio on, though I do remember a few times hearing talk shows. We mainly just worked-no music, no TV, nothing. There was one drawing board, and I had a lap table. Tatjana used to sit in one of those ill-fitting beanbag chairs with one of those lap boards. There was a board where you'd cut things-and that was it!

RT: I've heard it said Wally was slated to go from Daredevil onto the then-upcoming "Sub-Mariner" solo series in Tales to Astonish, but that he had a falling-out with Stan. Did you ever hear anything about that? I never heard about any fight, though I know Wally's thoughts about Stan were never too kind, to say the least. [laughs] And that last Wood DD cover [#12] was just a stat, so maybe Wally refused to do a cover for his last issue!

ADKINS: One of the reasons Wally left Marvel was that he wanted a percentage, and I don't think anybody was getting percentages.

RT: [laughs] I don't, either-including Stan!

ADKINS: They might've been getting bonuses. But Wally had this ideal of his work, and he would ask me occasionally, "How many people do you think know who I am?" And I'd say, "I don't know... one million? Two Million? Ten million?" [laughs] Then he'd go back to work. Then he'd say, "You think they should have a Wally Wood Parade down Fifth Avenue?" And I'd say, "I think you're reaching!" [laughs] A weird man. I think he got decent rates; he got $200 a page for his stuff at Mad, and that was in the '50s and '60s.

RT: I know Stan certainly liked having him at Marvel. Wally got his name on the covers of some issues, even once when he was just inking The Avengers. At that stage, even Stan and Jack didn't have their names on the covers-but Wally Wood did!

ADKINS: Yeah, they gave him good promotion.

RT: I think Wally was just one of those guys who always feels exploited.

ADKINS: He was!

RT: Of course, we're all exploited to some extent-surprise, surprise! [laughs]

ADKINS: When I first started penciling for Wally, I got $4 a page!

RT: Yeah, so you were exploited by Wally! [laughs] Like Bob Dylan sang, "Everybody's got to serve somebody!"

ADKINS: Wally was getting the other $16 a page. By the time I quit I was getting $18 a page and he was only making $2 a page on the deal. And he made us write stories. I wrote an airplane story for Harvey. I wrote a V-1 story... and they made me read novels to get the background information on the V-1. I wouldn't have done this for anyone else! But I really enjoyed working for Wally. I liked Wally; I liked seeing the work. He was one of my favorite artists, so this was like a dream come true for me.

RT: What do you think are the main things you learned from him that you might not have learned if you hadn't worked for him?

ADKINS: You learn the essentials of what to put in, and not to just put in and put in. See, what happens when an artist begins is, he doesn't know that much about it, so he just keeps putting stuff in, hoping it'll look better. "Yeah, this'll save it!" Basically, what art is about is knowing what not to put in, learning that a lot of stuff would clog it up. Of course, Wally put in all kinds of stuff in the beginning of his work, but he knew more about what he was doing. And, later on, I think a lot of people thought his art wasn't as good because he didn't do all that stuff any more.

RT: He would disown that early work, like the EC stuff. And of course to many of us that was his best art! But he probably did get technically better.

ADKINS: What he didn't quite understand is, art is more than just the drawing. He put more Wally into that early work, more of his love for it, and that shows in everybody's work. It shows when a person is having emotional problems, too. It'll show up in their work if a person is having a hard time in their regular life, you know? It'll show a lack of confidence.

RT: So what made you finally decide to take that walk down to see Archie Goodwin about doing some solo work for Creepy and Eerie?

ADKINS: Wally had already said a few things to me about T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents not selling that well. There was resistance from distributors about carrying 25-cent books. Tower was having a hard time getting their books out there in the marketplace, as well as selling them. So Wally said, "You know, we might have to cut back." And sure enough, after I quit, they only lasted another three or four months.

I did about three stories for Warren. Then in late '66 I went in to Marvel with my samples and saw [production manager] Sol Brodsky, and he took me in to see Stan. Stan asked me who I'd like to do, and I said Dr. Strange and Sub-Mariner. So Stan and I came up with a plot for "Sub-Mariner."

RT: Tales to Astonish #91... the one with the undersea "It" monster.

ADKINS: Yeah. But while we were talking, Sol Brodsky came in with a "Sub-Mariner" story penciled by Bill Everett, and Stan handed it to me. "You want to ink this first?" [laughs] Maybe they just wanted to see what it would look like. As for our "Sub-Mariner" plot, Stan gave me an index card and I wrote it down. And Stan did all those poses and stuff-told the story, you know? He was up on a chair, doing this... [laughs] in silent movies. He was trying to tell me you've got to overdo it, and overact.

RT: II wound up dialoguing the second chapter of that story, in Astonish #92. I don't believe I was involved with the plotting, though. It says "by Rascally Roy Thomas and Dapper Dan Adkins." But it really doesn't say who did what.

ADKINS: We didn't give much credit for plots back then.

RT: So why didn't you do any more "Sub-Mariner" penciling after these two stories? You did do a couple more covers for Astonish later, though-the one on Skull Island...

ADKINS: And one where some fat guy's lifting Sub-Mariner up over his head, which was touched up by Sol Brodsky. The left leg is different from the right leg. I don't know why they touched up that leg, but I guess mine looked awful...

RT: With the same cover date as those "Sub-Mariners" is X-Men #34 that you and I did together-with the Mole Man and Tyrannus warring beneath the earth, and that stone giant.

ADKINS: Oh, yeah-all my swipes in there. Jesus!

RT: I think that stone giant might have been lifted from Prince Valiant. It was a giant soldier. I've even seen it used in a Mexican "Conan" comic in the mid-1960s-that same warrior.

ADKINS: What's funny about Mexican comics: I made up some rockets for that "Iron Maiden" story in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1, and I put a lot of detail on them, and Wally took the job away from me and he wouldn't let me ink for a while. I inked on that first job, but then for about six months I did mostly penciling, because I'm doing it like Virgil Finlay, with all the little details. But anyway, that same panel was swiped for those black-&-white Mexican comics three months later. [laughs]

I remember, in that X-Men, someone touched up the heads of one of those young characters. And in the opening sequence I used one of those girls from the Martian stories Wally had done. It was just one of a few fill-in stories I did before I got "Dr. Strange." You'd just come into the office-that's when I lived in New York-and they'd just need someone to ink a story, or do a cover.

RT: You also drew the cover for the next issue-X-Men #35, guest-starring Spider-Man.

ADKINS: Yeah. People give Kirby credit for laying that one out. But he didn't. The Spider-Man is a direct swipe from Ditko, just redrawn a little bit. The X-Men figures were all swiped from Kirby.

RT: You put them together in a nice layout. I was proud of that issue, because except for a couple of panels I'd written into an X-Men a few months earlier, #35 was the first time Stan let anyone besides himself write Spider-Man into a comic! You also inked a Werner Roth X-Men or two, and Tales to Astonish #100, with that book-length Hulk/Sub-Mariner battle that Marie Severin penciled.

A recent Adkins Dynamo drawing. "This is the type of stuff I sell on eBay these days," says the artist.
Art ©2001 Dan Adkins; Dynamo Dynamo ©2001 John Carbonaro.

ADKINS: Yeah. I did nine pages of that in the last day! Roger Brand helped me out with the backgrounds. I inked one "Sub-Mariner" story by Gene Colan, too. It was written by Archie Goodwin. I remember because I called Archie up and asked him, "What the hell's in this panel here? I can't make it out! You wrote some dialogue here, but I don't know what's going on." And Archie says, "Well, I don't know what's going on, either." So I let the colorist figure it out. [laughs]

RT: What was the last thing you did working with Wally Wood?

ADKINS: "A Bullet for Dynamo," I think.

RT: It wasn't something for Creepy?

ADKINS: No. The only story I did with him for Creepy was "Overworked!" I did "Battle of Britain" for Blazing Combat. That story is almost purely all my penciling and a lot of my inking, but the credit is just for Wally. He won a Reuben Award [from the National Cartoonists Society] for it! [laughs] I worked my ass off on that one. You see all this nice maneuvering by the planes, and it's not the way Wally would have done it. If you go back to Wally's EC stories, his are more confusing. I took these shots from real photographs. There's a panel where there's some business in the sky, and most of that's Wally, but I did most of that story.

RT: One thing at Marvel that still showed a bit of Wood influence, perhaps, was that "Starhawks" story you and I did for Marvel Super-heroes that didn't get printed.

ADKINS: I did get back all nine pages we did of it.

RT: We'd made a good start, and then [publisher Martin] Goodman saw the cover, and it had the "three R's" that he hated on it: rockets, robots, and rayguns. He said, "Those three things never sold comics for me," and he promptly cancelled Marvel Super-heroes, which hadn't been selling very well, anyway! So then you went onto "Dr. Strange" in Strange Tales, which was the other character you had wanted to do.

ADKINS: Yeah. They told me to draw it like Ditko. I did that for the first two or three stories. Then they started letting me do my own thing, and I slowly changed the appearance of the whole strip.

RT: Those two issues of Dr. Strange you and I did together, starting with #169-the first solo issue-they're not Ditkoesque any more.

ADKINS: And not quite Wally Wood anymore, either. If I'd gone on penciling, instead of inking, I probably would've ended up being a pretty good artist! [laughs] But I used to look at all the beautiful stuff by Kirby, and even Gene Colan's stuff, and Buscema was tight-penciling instead of just doing layouts... so I drifted toward just inking. I ended up doing about eight Silver Surfer issues over Buscema, and some Sub-Mariners.

RT: Did you and Wally part on good terms?

ADKINS: No. We parted on bad terms, but later we made up. He got mad because I left without fully discussing it with him. I didn't see any reason to tell Wally until it was a sure thing, and then after it became a sure thing I didn't see any reason to tell Wally at all! [laughs]

RT: I can see where he might have been annoyed. And he was known to have a temper.

ADKINS: Yeah. In fact, when Tony Coleman wasn't doing too good a job on Fantastic Voyage, Wally broke a bottle-he smashed it down on his desk. It scared the hell out of me. [laughs] So there's Wally standing there with his broken bottle, and I thought, "Jeez, the guy's become a maniac!" But he just started cursing Coleman.

RT: You've said Wally never drank much during the time you were with him.

ADKINS: He was drunk two weeks or so out of the sixteen months. Most of the time, he was happy, and he didn't carry on with me like he carried on with all those other guys.

RT: Do you know when was the last time you talked to Wally?

ADKINS: Yeah. It was at Phil Seuling's first big convention in the early '70s.

RT: Around that time-well, weren't you the one who started this rumor that went through the industry like wildfire that Wally had died, nearly a decade before he really did?

ADKINS: Yeah. [laughs] I was guilty as sin. I'm a sick guy!

RT: Was it just something you did impishly on the spur of the moment?

ADKINS: I had rheumatic fever when I was a kid, and I was paralyzed from the waist down for six months. My mother had to go off to work and leave me alone for three hours, and my psychiatrist says this made for feelings of "abandonment" or something. Since that happened to me when I was about eleven, I'll blame it for the Wally Wood lie! Here's what set it off:
Do you remember that big bust, when they found that [New York football star] Joe Namath was linked with gamblers or something? He actually broke down and was crying on TV, and that upset me. When I got depressed, a guy could drop the ball in the outfield of a baseball game and I'd start crying because I felt sorry for him. That's how bad you can get when you're clinically depressed!

Anyway, I must've been going through a bad time, because this Namath thing depressed me. And I thought, the most depressing thing to me personally would be that Wally Wood had died. So I called up Steranko and told him Wally had killed himself-just to make him share my grief, you know? So that was my motivation, if it makes any sense.

RT: Well, you were going through your own problems, obviously. I didn't mean to pry.

ADKINS: Oh, I'm very open about everything. It was actually great working for Wally, and I didn't have a hard time with him.

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