|Edited by Jon B. Cooke||Comic Book Artist, Eisner Award winner for "Best Comics-Related Magazine", celebrates the lives and works of great cartoonists, writers and editors from all eras through in-depth interviews, feature articles, and unpublished art.|
Wrightson's Warren Days
The James Warren Interview
Conducted by & © Jon B. Cooke
From Comic Book Artist #4Who is Jim Warren? I had no idea other than unsubstantiated stories about a legendary publisher who rocked the industry over and over again in the '60s and '70s, by shear force of personality and the quality of the magazines he published: Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella, The Spirit, and Blazing Combat. After he had utterly disappeared from the field in 1983 (when many thought he had passed on), I was astonished to find James Warren manning a booth at a Big Apple comic show in March 1998, and I worked up the chutzpah to approach him and ask him to write a tribute for the recently-deceased Archie Goodwin. Immediately he said yes—to a total stranger, yet—and since that moment we developed a friendship. I confess I like Jim Warren. He is energy personified, ever the salesman and always "on," but also a man with true heart. His passion for excellence attracted such incredible talent... but, let's hear him tell the story. The following interview took place during two long sessions (on October 17, 1998, and February 11, 1999) in the home of Jim and his paramour, Gloria (who joins in on the talk at times), located in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Jim provided the final copyedit ("Jim! We're on deadline here!!!").
Comic Book Artist: It was mentioned in a Rolling Stone article that you had a wall plaque that read: "Someone has to make it happen." What's the significance of that phrase?
Jim Warren: It means just what it says: Someone has to create the concept; someone has to see it through; someone has to get it into the hands of the public; someone has to make sure it's accepted. Someone has to do it. The deed becomes much more difficult when it involves working with a number of other people. If something simply has to be done—like filling up the bird-feeder—I can do it myself. If it involves two or three people, it comes a little harder because you have to coordinate efforts. If it involves 25, 50, or 100 people it gets a helluva lot harder but it still means one person has to direct those efforts—and if 25 or 50 of those people happen to be writers, artists, editors—creative people—oh boy! You must never lose control, because if you do, you're not going to make it happen. In this business (and it's a marriage of business and the arts, as is the motion picture industry), having to work with creative people is a blessing, a joy, fun. It's also a serious type of brutal torture—but no matter how bad the torture, one person has to see it through. It can't be done alone, and it requires a lot of people with different disciplines—from the magazine wholesaler to distributor to retailer to any one of the artists, writers or editors. The difference between the business people and the creative people is usually light years. One person has to see it through, and has to deal with all those people. Someone has to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Someone has to eventually take the high ground—and the others will follow. Things rarely happen by themselves (except with very few exceptions—the sun rises, and the moon comes out, and even God does that!). Whew! Were you expecting a simple answer to this question?
CBA: Were you an avid collector as a kid?
Jim: You bet! Not only comic books but anything on paper that interested me. The first issues of Life magazine, Look, Boy's Life, Popular Mechanics, cereal boxes with interesting stuff on the back, baseball program books, college football pictures, model airplane plans, you name it. The day I came home from the Army I discovered my mother had thrown out my comic book collection. Now, we're talking Action Comics #1 to about #15. We're talking World's Fair Comics—New York World's Fair Comics (1939 and 1940). We're talking the first issues of Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, Captain America; we're talking an almost complete collection of The Spirit from the Philadelphia Record newspaper. Shall I go on? It wasn't my mother's fault. Dim-witted lout that I was, I forgot to tell her what these cardboard boxes of magazines meant to me. Excuse me, I think I'll cry now.
CBA: [laughs] Did you eventually forgive your mother?
Jim: Of course not. I still remind her of it. Each year on her birthday, I consult the comic book price guides and total up how much the collection would have been worth. I write the dollar figure on a piece of paper and enclose it in her birthday card. Then, when she opens the card, she cries. It's been a running gag in our family for almost 50 years.
CBA: Were you noticing what was going on in comics in the early '50s with EC?
Jim: No. EC Comics started in 1950. I was then 20 years old. I was still in the Army. I was single. I was male. My world didn't include EC Comics during this period.
CBA: What was your world during this period?
Jim: I had not yet found a meaningful outlet for my dubious skills. So it was girls, customized cars, jazz, music, movies, theater, girls.
CBA: You already said girls.
Jim: I liked girls—but getting back to EC Comics: I knew they were out there. I saw them on the comics rack and I looked at them. I'm sure I was impressed by the quality of the art and the stories, but at the time my mind and my interests were elsewhere. I still remember those great Johnny Craig covers, though.
CBA: When did you become aware of Playboy?
Jim: About 1954.
CBA: Did it have an immediate impact on you?
CBA: Were you attracted to provocative material beforehand?
Jim: I was 24. Normal, straight and with the raging glands of any 24-year-old who is not married. Naturally I was attracted to provocative material—but that wasn't all I was attracted to with Playboy. I saw what this young dynamo Hefner had done. This smart, talented guy had created a market that didn't exist before. He changed the cultural pattern of a nation and he did it so successfully on a shoestring, all by himself. He did it right out of his house, in his underwear, in his kitchen, and he revolutionized the market. I thought, if he can do that, I can do that too.
CBA: So you recognized the potential of Playboy immediately?
Jim: Not immediately. It took me about 20 minutes. I recognized it was possible to hit the top in publishing with a new idea, even if you don't have money. If you have the idea, it can be done. Hefner proved it was possible. In addition to the new idea, Hefner also had the talent, the skills, the drive that most would-be publishers could only dream about. Hefner was brilliant; He was an artist, writer, liked science-fiction, incredible mind. (He loved our monsters, by the way.) [Pulls out an autographed picture signed by Hefner.] I first met him at the World Science-Fiction Convention in Chicago around 1961 and, of course, it was love at first sight because we both had the same interests. He was a legend by that time and he loved Help! magazine. So, yes, Playboy had a big influence on me—but not because it was an instant financial success. It showed me what a new idea could do on the newsstand.
CBA: But the financial success accounted for something?
Jim: Sure—but a lot of publishers said, "Look at all that money! Look at those Playboy sales! Let's put out an imitation!" And by the time 35 Playboy imitations came out, mine was one of them. It was called After Hours. I worked at it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I got my first experience with national magazine distributors and retailers, and with large magazine printing plants. It lasted four issues. It was awful.
CBA: Do you have any copies of it?
CBA: Oh, come on!
Jim: I really don't. I saw a copy at a dealer's table at the San Diego ComiCon. The dealer spotted me and said, "Look what I have!" He wanted $250. I said, "When the price comes down to $50, I'll buy it. If you had any class, you'd give it to me." He said, "No, I can get $250 for this!" I said, "Why? It's awful." He said, "It's got your name on it." I walked away feeling good.
CBA: What happened with After Hours?
Jim: Again, I learned a lot. I learned the hard way about Teamsters, truckers, loading docks, slowdowns at printing plants, and bankers who welsh on you.
But with the fourth issue, something good happened: A guy named Forrey Ackerman came into my life. Forrey was a Hollywood literary agent. Forrey, who was reading every men's magazine in existence as part of his agency work, saw a new one called After Hours and he contacted me through the mail. He wrote that he had some stories to offer me for my magazine. I liked what he submitted and ran it. We were featuring "Girls of Amsterdam," "Girls of Las Vegas," "Girls of Singapore," etc., and he came up with the idea, "Girls from Science-Fiction Movies." He sent 8"x10" stills with it and wrote it himself. I saw his writing and thought it had an interesting, offbeat style. The more I read it, the better it became because nobody can write fantasy movie features like Forrey Ackerman. Nobody. He is the best specialty writer on the face of the Earth, bar none—a writer who is so head and shoulders above all other writers for our genre, that nobody will compare with him 100 years from now.
However, after four issues, After Hours folded.
CBA: Weren't you prosecuted for the magazine?
Jim: [laughs] Oh, you found out about that?
CBA: Was Philadelphia a puritanical city?
Jim: Philadelphia wasn't puritanical; it was political. At the time, we had a District Attorney who was running for office. The story goes that he had heard about another District Attorney (also running for office) who was behind in the polls and had no chance of winning, but went out and made an arrest of a guy who was publishing a Playboy imitation. The local newspapers came out with a big headline: "Pornographer Arrested by Crusading D.A.!" And he won that election with the help of all that publicity. Our man in Philadelphia decided to do the same thing. "How can I get my name in the papers for a full month, every day? I'm going to arrest and indict all the publishers from Playboy on down—anything that was distributed in Philadelphia." Hefner was indicted and guess who the D.A. really zeroed in on because he didn't have to go out of state to extradite? There was only one guy publishing a Playboy imitation in Philadelphia. Guess who that was? "We're going to rid the city of pornography! We'll start by arresting the publisher of After Hours."
Gloria: Wasn't there one woman who was bare-breasted in that issue?
Jim: I asked the police, "On what basis am I under arrest?" One of the cops pointed to Bettie Page, bare-breasted in the centerfold. I said, "But that's not obscene! The Venus de Milo is bare-breasted and she's on display in an art museum!" He said, "I know obscenity when I see it." And I was indicted for pornography. The next morning the Philadelphia Inquirer, in giant headline type, announced the arrest of the editor/publisher of After Hours magazine. My name was up there.
CBA: It said "pornographer"?
Jim: "Porn Merchant Arrested with Million-Dollar Business." At the time I think I had $45 in our bank account—but it did exactly what the D.A. wanted it to do: It got him headlines in the paper for two weeks. Everyone was indicted! Even Reader's Digest because they had printed an article on sex education, or some such. He became known as the crusading D.A. who is going to rid the newsstands of this filth and slime which is corrupting our children! Shades of Dr. Wertham.
The D.A. knew it was all a sham but he didn't care. He got his headlines. My father came to me and said, "I'm going with you to City Hall when they book you. I'm going to stand right next to you. Don't worry." I wasn't scared as much as I was ashamed. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I was afraid people would think that I was publishing the worst X-rated stuff in the world, when all I had shown was Bettie Page with bare breasts—and she wasn't even on the cover; it was just the centerfold; and the stories had no pornography in them—they were mildly tittilating (I should use a different word here). The official police charge was, "bare-breasted women depicted in lascivious fashion."
While I was being booked, the press photographers had a field day. Flashbulbs were going off everywhere.
CBA: Wow. The humiliation...!
Jim: Yes. I was ashamed for my family. I was ashamed the cops would come to the house and search it. I knew what cops could do.
News about our crusading District Attorney appeared in the paper and stayed there long enough for him to be re-elected. What hurt more than anything else was that people who I thought were my friends wouldn't take my calls. "We don't want anything to do with him. Porn merchant. Yuk. I don't want to be seen talking to this guy." It hurt.
A month or so later I appeared in front of a judge on the first day of the proceedings. The judge looks at the magazines (there must have been 25 different ones on the table). All the lawyers were there with their clients. "What's this?" the judge asks. "This is the pornography." The judge sees Bettie Page with the bare breasts and said, "Case dismissed!" But it was too late; the D.A. had already won the election. Every single case was thrown out; it was all over. It appeared in the newspaper the next day on the bottom of page 27 and nobody saw it—but I learned about the power of the press and the power of the police state and the power of unscrupulous men.
Gloria: And politics.
Jim: And politics. It was one of the low points of my life. I was dead broke, I had no job, I had no magazine. I didn't want to go back to Caloric. I was only 27 years old. The kids I had grown up with were all out of medical school and starting to practice; most were established, married, and had children—they were living a normal, healthy life and there I was, 27 and no money and no job, labeled a pornographer. A failure.
CBA: When did you see the French magazine, Cinema 57?
Jim: Late in 1957 I arranged to meet Forrey in New York City. We had spoken on the phone many times, but had never met. At that first meeting, we looked at each other and it was instant good chemistry. He showed me a French magazine, Cinema 57, and this issue had been devoted to horror films. I looked through the magazine and it brought me immediately back to my Saturday afternoons; here was something I loved—the Frankenstein monster, director James Whale, Karloff, Lugosi, Lon Chaney. (They can make any bloody horror movie they want in Technicolor with all that sophisticated computer imaging, but nothing touches those great b-&-w horror movies made in the '30s.) As I'm looking at these pictures, I'm thinking, "My God! I'm at the movies, it's Saturday afternoon, and my mother's coming to get me at 5 p.m. to drag me out!
CBA: [laughs] "Jimmy!"
Jim: Right! So there I was, in a small hotel room in New York, with a man who looks like Vincent Price's twin brother, studying movie stills of old monster and horror movies.
Let's interrupt this part to bring you some digression: Something was taking place on late-night television. I had been watching it for months. Universal Pictures had collected all their classic horror films, packaged them for TV syndication, and was selling this "Shock Theatre" package to TV stations throughout this great land of ours. These old movies (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman, etc.) were being shown usually late on Friday nights. Each TV station had its own "ghoul-like" host or hostess who generally spoofed the film being shown and provided some live, low-budget comedy relief. Kids were watching these shows, not adults; and these kids were rooting for the monster—not for the townspeople with the pitchforks and crude torches. A switch had taken place. When these films had been shown in movie theaters during the '30s and '40s, the monster was the bad guy. Now it was reversed. These 10-year-old kids saw the monster on their TV sets and embraced him as the protagonist. The townspeople chasing the monster had become the antagonist (authority figure). The kids were cheering for the monster—the anti-hero—to win. This was something different; something new. A magazine version of the TV show, carefully crafted to spoof the monsters and yet treat them as "heroes" made sense to me. The adults wouldn't buy it, but the kids—those millions of Baby Boomers—would. A few weeks later I was in Forrey Ackerman's living room in California, choosing the photos and article content for a one-shot magazine called Famous Monsters of Filmland.
It was a tongue-in-cheek pictorial history of past and present horror-monster movies, printed in b-&-w on newsprint. The cover was in color—showing me wearing a Frankenstein monster mask. We went on sale in February during a snowstorm that covered the Eastern seaboard. The magazine sold out within days—and the rest, as they say, is publishing history.
CBA: What made you think that kids go to the magazine racks? They go to the comics racks.
Jim: Many of those kids also go to the magazine racks. That's where they get Mad magazine. That's why I launched a campaign to get the wholesalers and newsstand operators to position Famous Monsters next to Mad. For years I fought a running battle with the newsstand industry over this very problem. They were putting Famous Monsters in with the movie magazines. They thought it was a movie magazine because Peter Lorre or Vincent Price was on the cover. For the first few years most of the newsstand operators didn't know where the hell to position the magazine.
CBA: You had a print run of 200,000 copies?
CBA: Was it printed in town?
Jim: No. The only printer I could get was located in upper New York state. The had great confidence in the magazine; they wanted the entire payment in advance.
CBA: [laughs] I thought they'd be unreasonable!
Jim: I got some advance money from my distributor but I was $9,000 short. I walked into a bank in Philadelphia to plead for a loan. I said, "I'm not going to tell you anything about the magazine but I need this loan." The banker said, "For collateral, you'll pledge your printing presses and your equipment. We require that as collateral against the loan." I said, "My entire equipment list consists of a typewriter, two yellow pads, a drawing board and me. I have a distributor, an idea for a magazine, and I have a printer but I need $9,000." I told him I wasn't going to leave the bank without the money. I must have sounded threatening because I got the loan. The printer got his money up front. The magazines were shipped, the newsstands sold out and Warren Publishing Company was born.
CBA: Who was your distributor?
Jim: Kable News Company. My relationship with them was bad. They couldn't care less about me (because I only had a single one-shot magazine)—but because of the sell-out, they started to care a little bit. However I didn't like them and they didn't like me. I had to drink with them, I had to lunch with them, I had to spend time with them—but I hated it.
They were from the Midwest—Chicago. They were tough, shirt and tie, went to the right clubs, drank good scotch, and they had their kids in private schools. When they saw that my magazine was a winner, they grabbed Calvin Beck and distributed his magazine, Castle of Frankenstein. I walked in their office enraged and said, "How can you do this? I created this field and this market! I had an exclusive with you!" They said, "No, you didn't." I said, "It's in my contract." They said, "Show your lawyer the fine print in the contract." My lawyer said, "You don't have a prayer. They can do it." Magazines like Playboy and Mad could negotiate an exclusive but the fine print in my contract said they won't give an exclusive unless the magazine sells 90% every issue; and no magazine sells 90% each issue—not even Playboy or Mad.
CBA: Mad magazine and Playboy were being distributed by Independent News—a division of DC Comics?
Jim: Yes. Independent had these two major magazine franchises. If you were a specialty magazine publisher, Independent was your first choice; your second choice was either Hearst or Curtis; your last choice would be the Kables, PDCs, and the Charltons. Independent was owned by three men: Harry Donenfeld, Jack Liebowitz, and Paul Sampliner. I went to them and I begged them to take my magazine. They said, "Jim, come back when you're bigger and you have a line of magazines." It took many years, but by 1980, we were with Independent News.
CBA: What was the impact of Famous Monsters of Filmland?
Jim: The letters from readers poured in. We knew we had a hit and we immediately started thinking about the second. We rushed out the second issue just in time for Halloween.
CBA: How many months was that since the one-shot?
Jim: The one-shot came out in January 1958. The second issue came out in October '58. Nine months. I couldn't do it any sooner because I had to wait until the money came in from the first issue and Kable wouldn't advance it to me. I selected the material for the second issue, but with an emphasis of talking even more directly to kids in the 10- to 13-year-old range. In that second issue we had a letters column and a subscription coupon. We went out as a quarterly. I again posed for the cover wearing a werewolf mask, holding a sign that said, "Second Great Issue." The material I picked for this second issue was not a duplicate of the first, but of a different category. We had a "What's New" section on upcoming movies, "Fang Mail," "You Axed for It." The only ad we had was for subscriptions and a back issue. This second issue didn't sell out like the first, but it was successful.
CBA: Tell me if I'm wrong but magazines weren't really known for selling back issues. Was the stock overprints or overruns?
Jim: Here's what I knew: I loved the editorial material in my own magazines. I never published anything that I didn't have a passion for. I figured that if I loved it, there's got to be 100,000 people out there like me. All I had to do was find them. These 100,000 people had to be like me: They go to movies on Saturday afternoon. And they also collect like I do! I've been a collector since I was born.
To answer your question: We never printed overage on the issues. Our back issue sales were recaptured magazines plus anything that was left over from the initial printing. The printer was allowed a certain percentage overrun—maybe it was a thousand—and that was what we used for back issues. Plus about 10,000 copies we would recapture from newsstand returns.
CBA: Normally, wouldn't the retailer just tear off the covers and return those? Did you have to take less of a percentage to get the unmarred returns?
Jim: Sure. There was a handling charge—but the cover stripping was only done in the major cities. In the smaller markets they would return the whole issue. Sometimes my field representative would see unopened cartons of our magazines in the wholesaler's warehouse. If the wholesaler had a tough time paying his bills that month and he was short on cash, he would just leave the magazines in their original cartons, and not send them out to newsstands. That was the nature of the business. Here we were, breaking our necks to get a great issue out on time, and somebody in a warehouse somewhere decides, "I'm not even going to take the copies out of the carton this month because we have a cash-flow problem. So take these Famous Monsters and these Batman comics—the stuff from the smaller publishers and just send it back." So we never had a problem getting back issues because there were always wholesalers who would return our cartons unopened.
CBA: You had an ad background: Did you seek out advertising?
Jim: Yes. In the early '60s I was not successful. It was, again, humiliation. Picture this: Madison Avenue, New York City, advertising agency row. I walk in with Famous Monsters and my presentation, in my tie and suit. I'm there to make my pitch, and FM is the perfect vehicle because the agency has a kids' product account. Half the time I couldn't get into the office; they came out to the reception area. I had to sit in the lobby, in the chair next to him, and make my presentation. They would look at this and say, "What the hell is this weird stuff?" I said, "It's not weird stuff. We have X-number of buyers with spendable income. Schwinn Bikes would be perfect for our magazines—and our rate is only $200 a page, fully commissionable. The back cover is $275." They said, "Get out of here with this!" I said, "What do I have to present you with to make this acceptable?" They said, "First of all, we wouldn't put ads in this crap if you gave it to us for nothing." I actually got that from a New York ad agency executive. I had to count to 10 because I wanted to just nail him, put him right on the floor for saying that. You don't say that to somebody—even if it's true, you don't say it—but I got it. I remember that. To this day I remember the guy who said it. Most of the time, however, they were polite and said, "I'm sorry, our client is not interested in advertising in this material."
CBA: What disinterested them? The horror element?
Jim: Yes. Monsters were not something they wanted to be identified with. The powers-that-be thought we were "unhealthy." And at the same time, Parent Teacher Associations were starting to give me trouble. Teachers would see kids reading FM and they would confiscate the magazine, saying, "This is pornographic! It's trash! It's garbage! It's mind-rot!" The same old stuff, only this time from school teachers. The post office, at one point, almost refused to accept our application for second-class mailing privileges because they didn't consider FM a magazine. They based it on the fact that the magazine started as a one-shot but I said, "Legally we have the right to go to quarterly." They countered with, "It's a book, a journal—these contents do not qualify as an official periodical." The guy gave me a hard time. He made me feel bad like I was publishing slop, garbage. (Did you see the monster stamps the Postal Service issued in 1997? They took them right off our covers! So I hope the guy who hassled me is still alive to see those monster stamps. There is, I hope, a special place in Hell for people like like this.)
We had trouble with groups who said we were the instruments of the devil. I had to fight a long battle. I went to PTA meetings. I did my best to convince them that our content was not bad for children—that this was a genre—that these early horror films were works of art. "Frankenstein, Dracula, the Werewolf? How can they be works of art?" They laughed. I told them that the youngster reading our magazine would grow up to become the next generation's writers, directors, movie makers. Again they laughed.
CBA: And look what happened.
Jim: The images, designs and ideas we created in Warren magazines captivated an entire generation of those baby-boomers. They were fans of our magazines—who grew up to create their own scripts, special effects, make-up and movies that went on to win an array of Academy Awards. That's what happened.
CBA: How did you develop Captain Company, the merchandising/mail order arm of Warren Publishing?
Jim: When I realized I couldn't get outside paid advertising, I knew I had to roll up my sleeves and become "our own best advertising customer." I studied the mail that was coming in and I knew I had a rapport with my readers. I went back to the same formula: If I like it, they're going to like it. I'm like them and they're like me—we were all born under the same umbrella: We are collectors and we like certain things that are not readily available in the corner stores. I remember as a kid how much I loved the old Johnson-Smith mail order catalog. I loved sending away for things—loved it. I thought, "I'm going to find the items that appeal to me. I know I'm 29 but I also know I'm a supreme case of retarded development, so I can think down to an 11-year-old, and I know what I would like if I were 11." So I spent a lot of time—a couple of months—searching for things I thought would be right for our audience. FM was a horror/monster magazine, so I looked for the horror/ monster items they couldn't readily find or see in their local stores—the monster nails, Frankenstein mask, Horrible Herman in the box, spy camera, shrunken head, the Venus Flytrap. "Stephen King, Stevie Spielberg, Georgie Lucas—here they are! And please enclose 25¢ for postage and handling."
CBA: Was the first issue of FM pun-filled and humorous, or was it straighter?
Jim: It was pun-filled and humorous. Forrey wasn't crazy about it, but I insisted. We reduced the number of puns in later issues when I realized the readers were serious about the genre. The reason I had Forrey fill the first issue with puns was because I knew the humor was necessary for pulling the sharp edge of some of the heavyweight horror content.
CBA: When did you move to New York?
Jim: The year was 1960. In the publishing world at that time, there were no faxes, no e-mail, no Federal Express. Today you can publish out of Oklahoma City—but in the '60s, you had to be at the center, where the action was. I had to be within three blocks of my distributor and I wanted to be in a place where writers and artists could get to me. They weren't going to come to Philadelphia. Besides, I always wanted the glamour of New York. I wanted to work and play in New York. The city has everything. Every new movie, every old movie, every theater. I found a duplex penthouse in midtown Manhattan. I lived on the top floor. The bottom floor was the office; the living room, dining room, bath and kitchen, were the official editorial offices for Warren Publishing Company. Upstairs was a bedroom and bathroom. Captain Company offices remained in Philadelphia.
CBA: Did you keep Captain Company in Philly for your family?
Jim: No. Captain Company's overhead was a great deal less in Philadelphia. It was a matter of economics.
CBA: Did you have many artists working on FM?
Jim: You're looking at the sole interior artist on FM. The covers were done by freelance artists living in New York.
CBA: When you mention artists and writers in New York, are you alluding to Creepy and Eerie?
Jim: No. In 1960, Creepy and Eerie did not yet exist. Our line of titles consisted of FM, Wildest Westerns, Spacemen, and Help! magazine. Help! required many artists and writers. It also needed production facilities which were much better in New York than they were in Philadelphia.
CBA: What was the genesis of Help!?
Jim: Help! magazine got its start the day I picked up my first copy of Mad, laughed my head off, and then zoomed to the contents page to see who was responsible for this great, funny stuff. The name that stood out was Harvey Kurtzman—the same Harvey Kurtzman I had seen listed as editor of Frontline Combat.
I followed Harvey's career—through Humbug and Trump—but had never met him. Needless to say, I was in awe of this gifted man. We finally met face-to-face at Harry Chester's magazine production studio in New York. I had heard some unhappy stories about Harvey and Bill Gaines, to the effect that Harvey had demanded control of Mad magazine. I believe he told Bill that unless Harvey got half of Mad, he would walk out, take all of the artists with him, and start a rival magazine. Gaines showed Harvey the door, made Al Feldstein Mad's new editor, and the rest is history. Unfortunately the history did not favor Harvey. Mad went on to even greater heights and Harvey suffered through two big failures when he tried to create his own satirical magazines, Humbug and Trump.
Humbug was financed by a group of Harvey's friends and associates who had worked with him on Mad—Arnie Roth, Will Elder, Jack Davis, etc. I thought the contents of Humbug were terrific, but doomed to failure because of its digest size and the inability of his distributor (Charlton) to market it correctly. Harvey's next venture was at the other end of the spectrum—Trump—a glossy, very expensive, overproduced humorous magazine Hugh Hefner bankrolled and published. Trump lasted two issues and lost a lot of money before Hefner pulled the plug, leaving Harvey right back where he had been after walking away from Mad.
Enter Jim Warren, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to do with Harvey Kurtzman what Hefner and Humbug could not do, namely to create a satirical magazine edited by Harvey that would succeed where Humbug and Trump failed. I was 30 years old, single, and absolutely confident I could harness Harvey's genius (and he was a genius), add to it my own skills, and come up a winner. Because I was single I could make my own hours, and was prepared to work 18 of those hours each day to make this happen. At the same time I was editing and publishing my own line of magazines, running Captain Company, and trying to be a New York man-about-town (as well as a great American and a wonderful human being); and then—the brilliant Harvey Kurtzman enters the Warren fold! Life didn't get any more exciting than this, I thought.
I needed to know if Harvey and I could work together before I structured a deal for a humor magazine we both envisioned. Coupled with this was Harvey's need for immediate income. Warren Publishing gave him a proposal he couldn't refuse. I envisioned a magazine called Favorite Westerns of Filmland, done satirically, using photo stills from old western movies plus the then-current crop of western-oriented shows which had captured the imagination of America's TV audience. Who better than Harvey Kurtzman to edit the first issue of this title? I gave Harvey a very, very large fee to do this. I also supplied the movie stills and the production facilities (Harry Chester and his studio) and we were off and running on my first magazine project with Harvey.
The result was a magazine that was hilarious. The old Kurtzman brand of satire swept through all 64 pages of Favorite Westerns. Harvey's graphic use of stills—and his ability to use them just as a cartoonist would design and plot a comic strip—was incredible. The project was doubly successful: It produced a very funny product, and it showed me that Harvey and I could work together on a magazine. We immediately made plans to create and produce Help! magazine.
CBA: How long did Help! last?
Jim: About five years. Our first employee was Gloria Steinem. Harold Hayes (the brilliant editor of Esquire) recommended that we hire her as an editorial assistant. Help! was to be a sophisticated Mad in which we created stories with photographs and word balloons [fumetti—Italian for "puff of smoke"]. We set up the scene and the actors just like a movie and we shot it like a movie. We used celebrities on our covers. It was Gloria's job to get the celebrities—and she got them! From Jerry Lewis to Ernie Kovacs, to Mort Sahl to Jonathan Winters to Woody Allen. What an incredible collection of wild, funny, interesting people! And you asked me why I moved to New York?
CBA: [laughs] Gloria was quite vivacious. If any woman epitomizes charm, it's Gloria.
Jim: Well said. Steinem got Jerry Lewis to come to our photo studio for three hours. No one got paid for this; it was all done for no fee. We would never have gotten these celebrities without her. It was a heady, wonderful, exciting, bittersweet experience—and it lasted for a few years.
CBA: It must have been fun.
Jim: At first it was—but then the fun stopped. Dame Fortune stepped in and killed it. Things happened that shouldn't have happened, causing trouble in paradise. An unhappy situation developed and Harvey and I grew to dislike each other.
Help! featured news photos with word balloons. Adolf Eichmann [the man in charge of Nazi Germany's concentration camps] had been captured in Argentina and had been taken to Israel for trial. He was subsequently hanged as a war criminal. One day, I walked in the Help! office—I had been away for a week—and saw the proofs for our next issue. There was a full-page picture of Eichmann, head and shoulders shot, and the balloon was saying, "Ever get the feeling that the whole world's against you?" I thought it was awful. There were still people walking around with concentration camp tattoos on their arms. I said, "Harv, we need to talk." He said, "Is there anything wrong?" I replied, "Harv, you and I had a long talk before we started Help! and you told me your ideas about what constitutes humor. You said that anything goes, as long as it was in good taste. Do you remember that?" He said, "Yes." I said, "This Eichmann thing is not only not in good taste, it's abominable, it's shameful. Don't you know what the holocaust was, and what this man represents? This is not a subject for humor." Harvey's face is getting red as I'm talking because I'm saying, "Editorially, you're wrong." And you don't say that to a Harvey Kurtzman; but this time I had to say it. He said, "It's all right; it's okay. It's in good taste." I said, "Harvey, nothing about 6,000,000 Jews dying is in good taste. It has to go. Take it out." He replied, "Jim, you specifically agreed when we started Help! that I would make the editorial decisions." I said, "Yes, I did; but this is one I can't let you make."
CBA: Harvey Kurtzman was defending a picture of Eichmann?
Jim: Yes. I said, "Take it out, Harvey." He said, "You're like all the rest of the publishers. You don't stick to your word. You shook hands with me and you told me your word is your bond and people don't even have contracts with you, that your handshake was worth more than any contract, and all that bull." I said, "It's not bull. It's true, and I'll live up to it—but do you realize what you're doing?" He said, "I think it's all right." I said, "Harvey, I'll have to sleep on it." I went home, agonized over it, came back the next day and said, "I gave you my word and I'm sticking to it; but I implore you—I'm pleading with you—to take that out." He said, "If we take this out then you'll find something next issue and the issue after that, and I can't let you do this. We agreed that I'm the editor." And again, his face is getting red and he's upset and excited. I thought he was going to have a heart attack. I took a deep breath, gave in and said, "All right, Harvey. Have it your way." From that day forward, things were never the same between us. We were civil to each other, but he knew I didn't like him for what he did and I knew he didn't like me because I dared to question him. It was sad. The joy wasn't there anymore. We were doomed, star-crossed. I never forgave him for running that—and I never forgave myself for letting him run it.
CBA: Was there fallout from publishing it?
Jim: Yes. We had a lot of letters and they were printed. I insisted that they be printed. Again Harvey and I fought over this. The situation between us got worse. In 1965, Harvey and I parted company. We seldom spoke after that. As I said, Harvey was an authentic genius. He could recognize and attract talent better than anyone in the world. He was absolutely the best at what he did. I was crushed because I could not understand his idea of good taste. There was nothing we could do about it. I couldn't change, and Harvey couldn't either. When you have two guys working together on a monthly magazine, you have to have rapport; but we no longer had it—and I knew we would never have it again. Camelot was over. I lost interest in Help! It was my magazine—I was publishing it—and I didn't like it. I lost my passion for Help! and for Harvey.
CBA: Did Bill Gaines see Help! as competition?
Jim: No, not at all. I spoke with Bill about it many times. Mad was read by kids and young adults. Ours was read by a more sophisticated, Woody Allen crowd.
CBA: Was Help! side-by-side with Mad on the stands?
Jim: No. Again, they didn't know where to place it on the newsstands. It didn't belong next to Mad. They wouldn't put it next to the New Yorker. Distributors were fed up with me because each time I came out with a new magazine it created a new category. They didn't know where the hell to put it. The fact that I was breaking new ground and creating a field that didn't exist before didn't matter to them. Of course, if it was successful, 25 competitors would come in and they'd enjoy the business; but it didn't matter to them. "Here's another strange Warren magazine! Where the hell are we going to put this one?" It didn't belong next to Mad or FM or TV Guide, so where did it belong? "Why the hell doesn't Warren give us normal magazines like all the other publishers?" You tell me. Hearst was our Help! distributor and I told them, "All I can tell you is where Help! shouldn't be—it shouldn't be with sports, women's, or TV Guide. The closest I can think of is to position it with Playboy." They tried—and failed—but the thing that killed Help! was not the distribution problem. I had lost heart. I lost my passion and enthusiasm. I also lost $50,000—a lot of money in 1960. We stopped publishing and I don't even think Harvey and I shook hands when we closed the office in 1965.
Ten years later, 1975, at a Phil Seuling New York Comic Convention, Phil invited all the comic industry biggies to a private cocktail party. Harvey was there. It wasn't an enchanted evening but I looked at him across the crowded room. Harvey was surrounded by people who had not seen him in a long time and I thought, "I don't want to go over there; let him have the spotlight. Later I'll go over and shake hands." Before I got that chance, Phil Seuling rapped the tabletop podium and introduced Harvey. Much applause. Harvey went to the podium to say a few words. I stood in the back of the large room. Harvey made a nice speech during which he said, "The industry needs many kinds of people; we need talented people but we also very badly need people like Bill Gaines and Jim Warren, both of whom are credits to the industry." I almost dropped my vodka tonic. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. In a million years, I never thought Harvey Kurtzman would say that about Gaines or me! But he did and I wanted to kiss him for it. I think Harvey had a change of heart in those ten years. Maybe he had had time to reflect.
After he left the podium, I waited a while and then maneuvered over to Harvey and spoke to him. We shook hands and I gave him a hug. He was smiling and happy, and so was I. It turned out to be an enchanted evening. I wish it had happened ten years sooner. Later that night I thought about Harvey Kurtzman and realized that a large part of me loved him. The Beatles said, "All You Need is Love." And then they broke up.
CBA: Terry Gilliam replaced Gloria Steinem as editorial assistant. What was he like?
Jim: Strange and brilliant. Terry was a free spirit and a funny, off-the-wall, innovative, wild guy. You saw his work on Monty Python? Only Terry could do that! I never thought that Terry would emerge as a filmmaker. Who knew? Look what he has done with his talent! His movie Brazil was named one of the top 100 films by the American Film Institute. He has worked hard—and it shows. All of his films are "must-see." I hope he has a long career.
And let's not forget that we published art spigeleman—and Robert Crumb...
CBA: Did they come around the office? In some ways, that's where the counter-culture began.
Jim: Harvey had them come to the office. They were a colorful bunch. They were rebels, it was a rebellious time, and these kids were all young and destined for greatness. It was the early '60s, and it was their time. I forgot to mention that we also did a lot of partying... and worked all night. I ordered in sandwiches from the Stage Delicatessen. We ate tons of food, and worked all night.
Gloria: Tell him about how you would lock the doors.
Jim: When we had a tight deadline and I sensed the people were tired and wanted to go home, I would lock the doors and say, "You're not coming out until you finish the job!" [laughter] "Here's food; I'm sending in food."
CBA: What was Gloria Steinem like?
Jim: Have you ever seen her on television?
CBA: I've met her on several occasions.
Jim: Great lady; superior mind—I agree with most of her views, but not all of them.
CBA: Gloria told Rolling Stone, "Jim Warren is a great operator. We used to kid him about it; about being a Sammy Glick-type character. Y'know, great big cufflinks. I don't know if it's true, but it's entered into the apocryhpha of James Warren that he used to do things like ride around in the Summer with the windows rolled up so people would think he had air conditioning." Is that true?
Jim: I've always had immense regard for Gloria. I've read most of her books. It was not very nice to say, but in those days, Steinem felt it necessary to make up cute things that would make her look good in print and this was one of them. There were no cufflinks—I never owned cufflinks; my shirts were custom made, with small, dark buttons. I never owned a pair of cufflinks because I didn't like French cuffs. I didn't own a car. During those years in New York I only knew three cars—Hertz, Avis and limo. Gloria still rates very high with me. I liked her then and I like her now. She's a good woman.
CBA: You were quoted as saying, in the same article, "At a party a long time ago, I think in fact it was Gloria Steinem who said, 'Watch out for him. He's laid everything except the Atlantic Cable." Did you party?
Jim: If I ever got around to counting the number of dumb things I said when I was young, it would come in at 7,952. That was one of them.
CBA: Did you have a good time? Were you a bon vivant?
Jim: Me, a bon vivant?
CBA: Gil Kane told a couple of stories.
Jim: Are you asking this question in order to inflict discomfort on me? What did Gil say?
CBA: That... ahhh... you guys womanized and partied.
Jim: That's outrageous!! Nothing like that ever took place! And if Gil says it did then he ought to be hanged upside-down like Mussolini! That's the most ridiculous thing I ever... oh, all right, so we did socialize a little.
Look, I was in my early 30s. I was single. I was working hard to build Warren Publishing and I was playing hard. However I worked more than I partied. It reminds me of that famous Dean Martin expression: "If I had as many women as people say I have, my testicles would be talking to you from a test tube at the Mayo Clinic." [laughter]
Gloria: He remembers too many Saturday night television programs!
CBA: So you dated Carol Burnett? [laughter]
Jim: We never actually dated but we did spend a wild weekend in Palm Springs.
Gloria: You never told me about that.
Jim: It happened during a decade I don't remember much about. Anyway, I worked more than I partied—but I was not a womanizer. I was merely a credit to my gender.
Gloria: Over the years, I have heard from a couple of women who dated Jim; they always described him as a fabulous gentleman—very kind, sweet and fun.
Jim: Who could ask for anything more? Look, for 10 years the company office in New York was housed in a duplex penthouse apartment. The offices were downstairs and I lived upstairs. People thought that any time there was a woman in the office I would grab her and take her upstairs. Not true! I let people think it was true; it was good for my image. Hell, I loved my work but when it was time to relax, it was New York, and it was a fabulous city to party in.
CBA: You were obviously friends with Gil?
Jim: I liked Gil. He was a good artist and a good guy. All of our artists were nifty guys. Each was different and individual and there was something to like about each one. Al Williamson (another great fun-loving guy), Wally Wood (an absolute maniac), Frank Frazetta (the wildest of them all in terms of being able to drive you crazy)—but I loved them!
CBA: Marie Severin mentioned that Angelo Torres, Al and Frank would hang together and be the Bad Boys.
Jim: They looked like they were bad boys and put on the appearance, but they weren't. They were pussycats—pussycats who were also top artists, top pros, top you-name-it.
Let me tell you a Frank Frazetta story: I was at Frank's house one day, and during the course of conversation I mentioned that another artist had gotten sick and couldn't deliver his painting for one of our Eerie covers. Without saying a word, Frank went downstairs into his basement and returned with a piece of old plywood. Right in front of my eyes he put the plywood up on his easel—and 30 minutes later he finished the Neanderthal cover [Creepy #15]. It's monochromatic because he didn't have time to use colors! He hands me the plywood board (I get a splinter from the damned thing!) and says, "Here's a cover!" That was Frank.
CBA: When you were conceiving Creepy did you intend it to be the next generation of EC Comics?
Jim: Not exactly. I wanted to present the very best artists and writers I could find, but I didn't want to continue the same EC story level. I thought many of the EC stories were not suitable for Warren Publishing. The EC taste level was not my own. I knew we could make it with great art and very good stories; I didn't think we needed the old EC bad-taste shock appeal to sell great art and very good stories. I didn't want to be the "new generation of EC." I wanted to be the first generation of Warren comics—and Creepy was exactly that. The great Archie Goodwin said it beautifully in the introduction he wrote for The Best of Creepy paperback:
He called it: "The Spell of Seven Sorcerers."
"In this collection, as perhaps no other, vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of the night and the darkness of men's soul live. The magic that brought them life comes from Reed Crandall, Steve Ditko, Frank Frazetta, Angelo Torres, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, and Wallace Wood. That magic is wrought, not by incantations or mystic potions, but with brush and ink, and mastery of an American folk art, neglected, as was jazz, but slowly beginning to come into its own—the comic book form.
"At a time when fine art is increasingly reduced to a series of fads, and illustration is the province of the designer and photographic renderer, the last refuge of the artist as a storyteller is comics. The seven men represented here have long been rated among the best in that field. Horror and fantasy stories, with their many opportunities for graphically portraying what a camera, and even a skilled writer can rarely capture, provide spectacular vehicles for their abilities.
"In 1964, James Warren, publisher of Famous Monsters, brought these men—and others equally talented whom space hasn't permitted us to showcase—together to produce Creepy, a collection of illustrated horror stories, assembled in magazine form and done in black-&-white (as opposed to the color normally, and often inappropriately, used in comics). Nothing quite like it had been tried in nearly ten years. The form and the artists contributing to it meshed well. Today, Creepy, along with two companion magazines, still thrives. Comic book professionals and fans alike still talk about the work done in those early issues."
I asked Archie to write the preface to this.
After he wrote it, and before I gave it to production, I added this:
"Through either modesty, or in the interests of alliteration, Mr. Goodwin failed to mention an eighth sorcerer involved in these proceedings. Archie wrote most of the stories appearing here, and was the guiding force, and the editor of Creepy at the time they were done."
Archie wouldn't mention his own name; you know how modest Archie was. The direction was set. I didn't want to produce horror per se; I wanted to produce the best artists that I could afford. They were paid $35 a page—a lot of money for Warren Publishing at the time. I know because I know what I went through to provide the budget for these men—Reed Crandall, Jack Davis, Frank Frazetta, Gray Morrow, Joe Orlando, Angelo Torres, Al Williamson, Wally Wood. Nobody had ever put them together between the same covers. It was like having a Hall of Fame in a magazine.
Here's something interesting: At the San Diego Comic Convention last Summer, there were 19 nominees for The Will Eisner's Hall of Fame. Of these 19 people, Warren carried the work of nine of them (Neal Adams, Vaughn Bodé, Gil Kane, Jack Davis, Archie Goodwin, art spiegelman, Jim Steranko, Al Williamson, and Basil Wolverton). Of the 20 recipients of the Eisner Award (as of July 1998), eight of them appeared in our pages (Steve Ditko, Will Eisner, Frank Frazetta, Robert Crumb, Harvey Kurtzman, Alex Toth, Wally Wood, and Jerry Siegel).
It isn't generally known, but we published two of Jerry Siegel's stories in Creepy or Eerie. Someone tipped me to the fact that Jerry Siegel was down and out, living in the New York City area, and trying to sell stories to general interest magazines. I said, "Are you talking about Jerry Siegel of Siegel & Shuster? He's here? In New York?" "Yes, here's his number." I dropped everything, reached for the phone, dialed the number, and a voice answered, "Hello?" I said, "Is this Jerry Siegel?" "Yes," the voice replied. I told him who I was and that I was sending a car to pick him up at his home and take him right to our office—so that we could load him up on writing assignments. He replied, "Well, I do have a couple of stories you might like." I sent the car to get him and soon in walks the legendary Jerry Siegel—from whose teenage head and vintage typewriter came Superman. He was somewhere in his 50s, looking awful, wearing a shabby raincoat in the dead of Winter. My heart sunk. I asked him about Joe Shuster and he told me that Joe was legally blind, unable to draw, and living elsewhere. He had with him four or five scripts. I read them. They were not publishable. I said, "Jerry, I'd like you to take home a dozen of our magazines. Familiarize yourself with our kind of story. Then write something more in our line. It doesn't have to be gothic or horror specifically—but it should be a story that belongs in our genre."
About a week later Jerry telephones to say he's coming in with his new scripts. I alert Archie and the two of us are ready and waiting. Jerry arrives with two scripts. They were both awful. I glanced over at Archie, who was trying to hide his disappointment. One of us had to tell Jerry his work was unacceptable. Archie couldn't. Neither could I. Finally I said, "Jerry, the scripts are good! We're going to use them. We'll buy them."
CBA: Did Archie go over the stories?
Jim: He rewrote it. I don't know if Jerry knew the difference; he was that beat. It broke our hearts to see what had happened to this man who was once a giant of our industry—but at least we did something. It wasn't a lot—but it was something. I'm sorry we couldn't have done more.
CBA: What did Basil Wolverton do for you?
Jim: In Help! magazine, he did some of his Lena the Hyena drawings. What a unique and unusual talent he was! Can you imagine the fun I was having with these great people? Of course, it was work, hard work—but when you have an Alex Toth, or a Wally Wood, or a Jack Davis, or a Will Eisner—my God! It's like living in talent heaven! And the best part is that they are giving you their best work. They're not just serving it up for a paycheck. Alex Toth, particularly, would agonize over every panel and not send it in because he wasn't satisfied with it, saying it was awful. I said, "Your idea of awful is my idea of acceptable!" Then he replies, "I can't do it. If my name is going to go on it, it's got to be my way." I said, "But we have a deadline, Alex." And Alex said, "I'm not going to send it in unless it's right." I would say, "Alex, the only reason I don't come to your house and strangle you is because you're built like the Hulk and you would do to me what Joe Louis did to Tony Galento." Alex would say, "That's about right." And that was that; but when the job finally came in—Alex Toth was worth waiting for. That's the kind of guys we had going for us.
CBA: How did you meet Archie Goodwin?
Jim: It was the early '60s and I needed an editor for Creepy and Eerie. Archie had been recommended to me by a mutual friend.
CBA: Was it Russ Jones [the first editor of Creepy]?
Jim: Just the opposite. The reason Archie came in as editor was because Jones was on his way out. I had not known Archie beforehand and I knew very little about him. I was told by others that Archie would be right for the job because he was not only a good editor but also a terrific graphics man. I met Archie and he looked at me and I looked at him. We sort of tapped danced around each other. He was looking for some kind of stability; Archie didn't want a freelance job—he was concerned that if he took this job and sales were bad, I might have let him go two months later. This happens a lot in the comic book industry, and that was one of his fears. I understood that. I know what it means to get a regular paycheck. Any freelancer knows that, and I freelanced enough to know that this was worrying him. I said, "Arch, this should make you feel better: I'll draft a simple one-page contract that will guarantee you a year's salary and you'll get that salary every week no matter what happens to our sales. The company can afford it. Even if sales are bad, you're home free for a year at least. This will give you peace of mind." He said, "Well, I'd like to talk to my fiancée about this." I said, "Why don't you and Anne spend an afternoon with me at the Holiday Inn at LaGuardia Airport at the swimming pool." (It was during the Summer and, in those days, I would rent a car, drive to LaGuardia on a Friday, check in, and come home on Monday. I would relax by the pool, do paperwork, call room service. This was my idea of luxury as long as the sun was shining.) So I said, "Come to the pool, bring your bathing suits, and we'll have lunch." And they did. We all sat down by the pool and I said, "I'm going to have to assume that because you're here and you're in your bathing suits, that the answer's going to be 'yes.'" Archie says, "Where do I sign?" I said, "Right here!" I reached into my beach bag and pulled out the contract. Archie signed it with a flourish. I then took the paper, tore it up, threw it in the pool, and said, "So much for written contracts!" I did it to be funny but I don't think Anne appreciated it. I quickly wrote another one and gave it to Anne. It was a good beginning for Archie and Warren Publishing. Archie could do anything. He could edit, write, draw, art direct, design. There wasn't a thing he couldn't do well—but he was being paid as an editor, and not as a writer. It was his job to hire writers and assign stories to them. One day he came to me and said, "Al Williamson will work for us, but he wants me to write the story." Well, I wanted Al in the book because he's terrific. I said, "You mean Al won't take anybody else's script? It's gotta be your story?" Archie replies, "Yeah, that's what he said." I said, "Then write the story." Archie said, "Well, should I pay myself the $25 for the story?" I said, "Absolutely! It's your story; but, Arch, better let me read your story before you give it to Al." So he comes in with the story and it was magnificent! I said, "Write more stories!" Archie ended up writing almost all the stories in the books, and so he got an editor's pay and a writer's pay. When he would buy stories from other writers, I would yell at him, "Don't!" The scripts in Blazing Combat were all Archie's—and they were all superb.
During the early days I applied for a company loan at a neighborhood bank. I represented to the loan officer that we had an office with a production man, an editor, a writer, a letterer and an artist. I filled out the papers and the banker said, "It looks good. I'll let you know next week." A few days later the banker showed up unannounced at the office—the doorbell rings, I answer it, and it's the banker. He says, "I was just in the neighborhood." But he wasn't "just in the neighborhood"—he had come to look around. He said, "Mr. Warren, you told me your company had five employees. Where are they?" I said, "There they are!" And I pointed to Archie and said, "He does all of these things. He's an editor, writer, artist, letterer, and production man!" Meanwhile Archie is sitting there, wondering why I'm pointing at him. I said to the banker: "Go over and ask him. He'll prove it to you." We got the loan. Archie was a five-way threat.
CBA: Before Creepy #1 was announced, and in the first two issues of Monster World, you featured "Monster Comics," one seven-page story adaptation of the Universal Mummy films per issue. The first was by Wally Wood and the second, Joe Orlando. Was this a dry run to see what kind of response horror comics would get? Were you testing the waters?
Jim: Not at all. Those two comics features had nothing to do with the concept of Creepy. I put them in for only one reason: I love comics. There was no linkage to Creepy whatsoever; I might add that the Monster World readers were not too crazy about these comics features.
CBA: How do you recall the creation of Creepy magazine and doing horror comics in black-&-white format?
Jim: I was a product of comics, and I grew up on them. Comic strips and comic books were my first love. I was a writer and an artist as a kid so the love of comics came naturally. Comics were primary. I started drawing my own comics when I was eight years old. Even though Warren Publishing started with Famous Monsters and other pictorial magazines, my inner desire was to do comics. I started to study the comics market in 1960. I looked at DC, Marvel, Archie, Harvey, and even Gold Key. (I even experimented once with a teenage comic book but wasn't satisfied with the early drawings and the project was killed—but I knew that eventually I would take a crack at comics.)
The Warren publishing genre was horror and monsters, so it was logical to put this same theme into comics. A lot of serious thought preceded the decision to launch Creepy; a lot of soul-searching. The specter of EC and Bill Gaines—the humiliation he suffered, and the terrible things that Congressional committee did to him—hung over me. I knew that the industry's Comics Code Authority (which was very strong at the time) exercised an authority (a word not misused—they had authority!) over an entire industry. You could not print comic books or be distributed in America without their blessing and seal of approval. It was self-censorship, similar to the movies' Hays Office, which granted the Motion Picture Seal of Approval to a film before it was shown in movie theaters. The Comics Code saved the industry from turmoil, but at the same time, it had a cleansing kind of effect on comics, making them "clean, proper and family-oriented." How do I surmount this? Fasten your seatbelts. We would overcome this obstacle by saying to the Code Authority, the industry, the printers, and the distributors: "We are not a comic book; we are a magazine. Creepy is magazine-sized and will be sold on magazine racks, not comic book racks." Creepy's manifesto was brief and direct: First, it was to be a magazine format, 81/2" x 11", going to an older audience not subject to the Code Authority. Second: Creepy writers and artists must be the best. They won't be good and they won't be excellent. They will be the best. Those two formulas—magazine format and the best. If I could do that, the public will accept us and the industry will have to accept us. That was the blueprint for Creepy. That's how it started.
And then it progressed with people like Joe Orlando and Archie Goodwin. The idea of bringing together the old EC people belonged to Russ Jones. Russ, at the time, was doing covers for FM and had worked on the one-shots, The Horror at Party Beach and The Mole People, in a production and editorial capacity. He was an artist, writer, production man, and comic book guy. It was his idea to gather these people together; I did not know them personally, only by reputation. I did know Jack Davis, who had worked on Help!, and through my relationship with Harvey, I knew of all these people but I had never met them. I knew Russ Heath and Wally Wood. Al Williamson, Angelo Torres, Gray Morrow, Frank Frazetta—the hard-core EC people—I had not met. It was Russ Jones who introduced me to Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, George Evans and the others I mentioned. I saw their work and immediately fell in love with all of them because they were all home-run hitters, operating at the same level as Jack Davis and Wally Wood. These were the people I wanted to publish, edit, and work with. I didn't have to search for better people. We had the best right there.
I selected Jack Davis for the cover of Creepy #1. I was still fearful we might get flak from the Code, so I wanted to give the magazine a light touch. It was a mistake. In hindsight, we should have gone with this [points to the cover of Creepy #2], but I figured a light touch was necessary to soften what they're going to see inside. The comic book world in America had not seen material like this since the days of EC Comics. Had I published Creepy as a regular comic book, the Code would never have allowed this material. They would have cranked up the Enola Gay for me.
That's how Creepy and Eerie came about. I fulfilled a dream of a lifetime: Publishing, editing and creating comics. I had around me the best and the brightest. Who in the world was better than Archie Goodwin, Joe Orlando, or Ben Oda [the letterer]? Who could ask for anything more? Now it was just a question of building a readership and having to fight the natural resistance of the wholesalers and distributors, both of whom said in unison: "Damn it, Warren! You did it again! You've produced another strange magazine we can't categorize! Where the hell are we going to put this one?!? When you came out with FM, there was no category—and now you've done it again! You're going to have the same uphill battle you had with FM, only worse. At least with FM, you've broken ground and the newsstands know where to put it, but this—where is it going to go?" I said, "Put it next to Mad." "But Creepy is a comic book!" they said. I replied, "So is Mad, you cretins."
CBA: When did you first get the idea to hire Archie Goodwin as editor? He was initially a story editor, right?
Jim: Archie was a charter member of the original crew of contributors. Joe Orlando was the story editor on Creepy #1. I think Archie came on as story editor by #3. I don't recall how I first encountered Archie but he was part of my Joe Orlando mix. When I met all these guys the first time, I was able to focus on one or two. Archie was one, and Joe was another. Everyone had an opinion on how and what Creepy should be. I listened to all of them, but those of Joe and Archie stood out. Joe because he said [gruffly], "Listen, here's the way it's gotta be!" (Joe looked and sounded like Telly Savalas—but with hair.) And Archie, in his soft-spoken manner, said three or four sentences composed of pure wisdom. My antenna went up and I thought, "I'm going to listen more closely to these two guys." Joe Orlando had been there with the original EC artists and he was a battle-scarred veteran, wise in the ways of the Comics Code and the Keafauver Committee that had destroyed EC. I wanted him as my consiglier. Archie, on the other hand, I wanted as my Gary Cooper type; didn't say much, but what he did say made sense—and, beneath Archie's shyness, I detected strength. Joe Orlando would have been my first choice as editor of Creepy had he been available, because I knew Joe first, and he was a walking history book on EC—but I couldn't afford to pay Joe what he needed to live, so he went over to work for Carmine Infantino at DC. (Years later I kidded Joe about this. I said, "Joe, the only reason you went to work for Carmine instead of me was because he's Italian." And Joe replied, "Wrong! The reason I went to Carmine was because I'm Italian!" We both had a good laugh.) As I said, Joe would have been the first editor of Creepy and not Archie Goodwin. This is not to say Joe wouldn't have done a magnificent job, but it would have deprived me of a relationship with Archie. I'm glad that it happened the way it did because I enjoyed both of them and had the camaraderie and talents of both. I was very lucky.
And to Joe Orlando's credit, even after Archie had taken over as editor, Joe would come over to the office and share his wisdom with Archie. There was no envy or jealousy with them; they were great friends. Maybe there was a little professional kidding around, but the magazine was the most important thing. They would argue over Creepy editorial decisions and I would try to calm them down, saying, "Fellas..." and they would say, "Butt out! What the hell does a publisher know?! Keep the hell out of this!" They'd kid me about it but that's how they felt. That's why I loved them: The quality of the magazine was everything. So, by default, I lost Joe to Carmine and I was blessed with Archie.
CBA: Do you recall the Creepy launch party at the Cattleman restaurant?
Jim: How could I forget it? It was a stag dinner I had for all the original Creepy artists. The wine flowed, the steaks sizzled, and I made a speech saying this was truly an historic moment in the world of comic art—because sitting around this table was the absolute cream-of-the-crop top artists in America, all of whom had gathered together to eat expensive food and listen to me tell them they were only going to be paid $35 a page.
CBA: [laughs] Archie wrote that the magazine came along at the perfect time because a lot of the artists did not have full-time gigs and were in transition. This was before Al Williamson got his own syndicated strip, for instance, and prior to Frazetta hitting it really big with the book covers. You snagged these guys at a perfect time.
Jim: Archie was right. Timing is everything, and luck was with us. Had Al gotten the strip earlier or had Frank hit it big sooner, they would have never been available to do Creepy—but the gods were smiling, the timing was perfect and we were all coiled and ready to roll (but they weren't smiling on us with Blazing Combat, so you can't win them all).
CBA: You came right out of the gate with an extraordinary magazine. What was the reaction at the time from readers—was it a sensation?
Jim: Yes. They told us, "We've been waiting for something like this all of our lives but we never thought it could be done!" I knew what the readers felt. They were seeing the best artists in the world. The readers were not only happy with the genre, they were happy with the writers and artists doing it. If I hadn't chosen a book in the horror genre, I would have utilized this talented bunch with other subject matter. I had always liked Sherlock Holmes and tried to negotiate with the Conan Doyle Estate to do adaptations of the classic stories in a Sherlock Holmes comic magazine. I had Reed Crandall in mind for the lead artist. (Not all of the artists could have done it; you wouldn't use Jack Davis on such a project, but there were certain artists whose styles were perfect: Frank Frazetta, Angelo Torres, and later Bernie Wrightson.) Unfortunately the people who administered the Conan Doyle Estate were not impressed by Warren Publishing's comics. I sent them my magazines, Creepy and Eerie, and wrote that I worked with the finest comic book artists in America. They weren't interested. I was a little hurt at the time, but got over it quickly.
CBA: It is legend that Jack Davis was embarrassed by his EC horror comics work. He was said to have been upset that some of his art was shown on national television at the congressional hearings as examples of the bad influence of comics on kids. Was he reluctant to return to the genre and do work for you?
Jim: I think he was. It was told to me that Jack would not work for Jim Warren—Creepy—because he was so humiliated by what went on. Jack was—and remains—a Southern gentleman, a fine man, and he was humiliated and embarrassed in his hometown by what was shown on TV. The Kefauver Hearings were seen by the whole world.
CBA: There's a legendary Jim Warren story of you bribing Jack to do work for you—he received in the mail a small b-&-w TV and a request by you to do work. Is that true?
Jim: It was not bribery. It was a modest offering to a giant of a talent. The gift was one of the first portable Sony TV sets. It had an eight-inch screen with incredible clarity. I ordered five of them, not for myself, but for the five people I wanted for Warren Publishing. These five were my supreme objects of desire, and Jack Davis led the list. I said to myself, "If this doesn't do it, nothing will." It was in 1964. I convinced a Sony executive to sell me five of these TVs. (They were very expensive—about $400.) Because these were so innovative, it was like giving somebody a Rolls Royce—so it was a bit difficult to say "no" to the bearer of such a gift. The gift aside, I explained to Jack that we were not doing EC-type material and he agreed to do work for us. No gift in the world could make Jack Davis do anything he didn't want to do.
CBA: He did the cover to Creepy #1, the six-foot Frankenstein poster, designed Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie, and some editorial illustrations.
Jim: Jack didn't do all of that on the same day, but he was faster than Mario Andretti. I would say, "I need something for the top of the Famous Monsters letters column. The size is 6" x 4" with lots of loveable monsters. I'll leave it to you." Jack was visiting in the office at that time and I added, "In addition to your pay, I'll buy you lunch." He said, "Do you have a piece of paper?" While I ordered lunch, Jack took out his pen and, right in front of me, he renders illustration! It was perfect! And in five minutes! Lunch hadn't even arrived yet! [laughter] Then he said to me (and I'll never forget it),
"If this isn't okay, I'll do another one." That's typical Jack Davis. What a man!
CBA: Jack also did the cover for low-distributed Eerie #1.
Jim: That was really an inside cover for Creepy #2. He didn't do that specifically for Eerie #1; we just picked it out from something he had done previously.
CBA: Wally Wood did a wonderful cover for another magazine of yours, Spacemen, and he also adapted "The Mummy" in Monster World #1. How was Woody to work with? Did you two get along?
Jim: Yes. Woody was a sad guy. I looked at him and could see the melancholy in his eyes. I saw immense, incredible talent, but this talent would go largely unheralded during his life. Had he been born earlier—during the golden age of illustration—he would have occupied a different position in society; had he been born later things might also have been different. Instead he found himself in this terrible, in-between time when comics were in a state of flux. Woody's talents could be found in Mad and at EC, and some of my magazines, but they deserved a wider public audience. I suspect Woody also had a built-in defeatism; he was not a happy person, and he drowned his sorrows in alcohol. He would sometimes call me at 4 a.m. to tell me about his unhappiness. I would listen to him despite the hour. Many times he would come to my apartment drunk, and would commiserate on how horrible life was, and how particularly unfair it was to artists. He would say, "I see people my age making a lot of money, and I don't have rent to pay." He was bitter, sad, angry, and a brilliant artist and writer.
We had a fairly good relationship. He hated the fact that publishers had taken advantage of him. He said, "The bastards are taking my life's work and paying me such meager amounts, and they're getting rich on it." Woody shared a bad experience with Harvey Kurtzman after doing Trump and Humbug. He thought they would be successful and they weren't. He was trying to get freelance work wherever he could. I told him, "Woody, anything you want to do for the magazines, I'll take. You can write your own strip, I don't care what the subject matter is—as long as it fits the book." Woody would call and say, "Jim, I'm in town and I have something for you." And I'd say, "Come on over right away." He'd walk in, cigarette hanging from his lip (it was always there), and would put a package on my desk, open it up, and I would see before me the most magnificent artwork! You never saw his torment in his work. Poor Woody.
CBA: Harvey Kurtzman said that it took innovative, special people to back special things. He said [in Rogue magazine, Dec. 1965], "Every one of the publishers I've worked with—starting with Mad—had to be willing to go out on a limb. They're all unusual in that respect. They're not run-of-the-mill, and they were fairly adventurous. Bill Gaines at Mad, Jim Warren of Help!, Hefner... they're all unusual guys." You guys took risks and did magazines that were recognized by artists and creative people as very special. You came out with a magazine that took a big risk called Blazing Combat, a comic that was very ahead of its time. Though it hearkens back to the best of Harvey Kurtzman's war comics, it had a flavor of its own because it dealt sometimes with a contemporary conflict, the Vietnam War. What was your thinking behind Blazing Combat?
Jim: I knew this magazine was going to be risky. During those days I was not a total liberal; I had a militant right-wing approach to many problems, but at the same time I was not a macho, gung-ho war fanatic. Harvey and I disagreed constantly—but I listened to him and he listened to me. I said, "One of the things I love, Harvey, was your war comics with Bill Gaines." The emphasis in Blazing Combat was not blood and gore, if you recall. The stories had a humane approach. I was against the war in Vietnam because I've never believed in limited war. Either you go to war to win—and win quickly and decisively—or you stay out.
I thought what Harvey had done for Bill Gaines should have separated in some way from the EC horror comics. Harvey's early work was the inspiration for Blazing Combat. I told Harvey Blazing Combat editorial was not going to be pro-war or blood and guts. It was going to be anti-war, and that I had the perfect writer and editor for this title named Archie Goodwin, because Archie and I think exactly like Harvey does about war. So between Harvey's catalyst, Archie's ability, and my own personal philosophy, we had a great stroke of luck. If Archie had not had Harvey's mindset, Blazing Combat wouldn't have been the critical success it was. I had these great artists, I had Archie, and I had the drive to produce the book, knowing full well that we were going up against strong resistance. The pro-Vietnam mentality at the time was immense—you can't believe how strong it was—because America had been consistently lied to. Washington and the Pentagon were not telling us the truth. Had they been honest, we wouldn't have had this gung-ho spirit and the war might not have been escalated. We know now, but we found out too late.
So here's Harvey, who is the guiding spirit, and here's Archie, who is the perfect editor to do it—and here is my distributor, saying, "Uh oh! Wait until our wholesalers—many of them belonging to the American Legion—see this!" They found out very fast that it was anti-war. The magazine had magnificent, poignant stories, and I was proud of it! It said things that had to be said. I was more proud of Blazing Combat than anything I had published; I loved FM, Creepy and Eerie—they were all my children—but the pride I have in those four issues of Blazing Combat is unsurpassed. Frank Frazetta's covers were incredible. They belong in the National Gallery.
CBA: You had a story written by Archie and drawn by Joe Orlando, "Landscape," that involved the Vietnam War from a peasant's point of view. Is it true that the U.S. Army PXs refused to carry Blazing Combat because of that story, signaling the death knell of that magazine's short run?
Jim: It showed me the handwriting on the wall—but the Army PXs' refusal to carry Blazing Combat didn't kill it. That wasn't the death knell, but it told me the magazine would never make it on the newsstands. I was prepared to carry Blazing Combat and lose $2000 an issue on it. This was my contribution for a cause I felt was right (even though my bookkeeper and accountant were not thrilled about it). I said, "If we have to carry this book for five years, we'll do it—as long as it doesn't lose more than $2500 an issue." When you're a growing company, that's a lot of money. My business managers thought I was crazy, but I said, "I feel this way. We could be doing a lot of good out there that we may never know about—but we have to do it." I understood their position. They saw their Christmas bonuses and profit sharing disappear—they knew this was coming right out of their pockets, reducing the company's profit substantially. Then the loss hit $4000 for one issue. One of the reasons it dipped so low was because the PXs wouldn't take #4, (Army PXs were a big chunk of our business) and wholesalers were returning bundles unopened, along with nasty letters to me. This was beginning to reflect on the other books. In effect, they said, "If Warren Publishing is turning out this unpatriotic crap, we don't want any of their other books!" My distributor was unhappy and said to me, "You think you're being courageous, a hot-shot sticking up for your rights, but if you keep it up, you're putting yourself out of business. They're going to take it out on Creepy, Eerie, and Famous Monsters or anything else Warren Publishing produces." And of course they were right. Was I going to sacrifice FM, Creepy, Eerie, Forrey Ackerman, Archie Goodwin, anyone who worked for us, and my own career for this stand? It broke Archie's heart but not because we published a magazine that didn't make it (that happens every day) but because of the reason it didn't make it. They didn't like the message, so they killed the messenger. It was censorship of the worst kind. I hated it, but I had to swallow it. In Blazing Combat, I believe Archie did his finest work—everyone did.
CBA: Did you receive any official documentation saying that the PXs weren't going to carry it any more?
Jim: Sure. The official documentation was their monthly Order Form from them which listed "Zero Copies Ordered" for next month's Blazing Combat.
CBA: Archie says in his article, "The Warren Empire," that a rival publisher was planning to use the name "Eerie," and you, Archie, and Gaspar Saladino had to put together an ashcan edition, Eerie #1, in 24 hours. Is that true?
Jim: We had even less time than that. I called Archie and Gaspar in and said, "Guys, the doors are being locked and no one is leaving. We are closeting ourselves for as long as it takes, but we have to produce an issue in 20 hours." We had a courier standing by to take it to Washington, D.C., to have it copyrighted, and there were two other couriers who had the job of delivering copies to four different states so that Eerie #1 could be quickly sold, thus establishing our right to the name. Our real issue #1 was still in production.
CBA: You only printed up a couple hundred copies of Eerie #1, so it was highly collectible, and about ten years later it was discovered that someone was counterfeiting copies and selling them for astronomical prices. How did you find out about the counterfeiting?
Jim: This is the kind of story that put excitement into my otherwise dull life as a comic book publisher. One day my secretary, Liz, walks into my office and says, "There are two gentleman from the FBI here to see you." I knew from the tone in her voice this was no joke. (Actually I thought she said, "They are here to arrest you.") I said, "Before you send them in, offer them coffee and give them whatever they want but get on the phone and call my attorney." The two field agents came into my office. They were very cordial—not friendly but polite. We shook hands and I asked for their identification, which appeared to be okay. I asked, "Are you here because I took a towel out of that hotel room last week?" And one of them said, "Mr. Warren, do you recognize this?" and he whips out the ashcan edition of Eerie #1. I said, "Of course I do." They said, "Would you tell us the history behind this?" So I did, and they said, "Now we'll tell you why we're here: These are being counterfeited and sold across state lines. Because you copyrighted it in Washington, it becomes a federal matter under our jurisdiction." I sighed and laughed, saying, "I thought you were going to take me downtown!" However, it was a serious matter because the counterfeit copies were being sold for some outlandish figure. They asked if I had any indication who might be doing this. I told them I had a hunch, because it seemed to be someone close to the company. They had nothing else to go on and I said, "This is just a hunch, so I need your assurance that you're not going to accuse him without any real proof; but if you can prove it, will you tell me?" They gave me their assurance and said they would let me know if the counterfeiter was caught. At this point, I had to resist a wild thought that had just come into my head: I was going to give them the name of "Stan Lee." However, sanity returned to me and I told them the legitimate name of the person I suspected. I never heard from them again. If someone were apprehended and brought to trial I would have probably been called to testify so I assume they never found the perpetrator.
CBA: You put a full-page "Wanted" poster in your magazines with a $500 reward for information leading to the conviction of the counterfeiter.
Jim: Yes, it ran for a while in our magazines. I first showed it to the FBI for approval, and at that time I told them I thought the government should pay for my running those ads, and that I would be happy to give them a special "FBI rate." I left the office quickly when I saw the agent going for his gun.
CBA: The "Wanted" ad put the kibosh on the counterfeiters from selling any more, right?
Jim: I guess so—but no one came forward to claim the $500 reward; but if you were an innocent kid at a dealers show and someone says, "I have issue #1 of Eerie for $250," the money could change hands before the kid finds out; but by then, it's too late. The untrained eye couldn't tell. Only when it hit the Overstreet Price Guide, years later, did collectors find out about the blue staples and printing differences. It became a cause célèbre with the result that many fans and collectors were saved from the counterfeited copies. Still, I think J. Edgar Hoover should have worked harder on this.
CBA: For about 17 issues of Creepy and 11 issues of Eerie, your books featured some of the best art to appear during the '60s. You printed Neal Adams' first mature comics work, arguably the best work of Steve Ditko's career, extraordinary material from Alex Toth, some Gil Kane here, Dan Adkins there—never mind the great stuff from the original crew—and Archie as a writer and an editor had found his calling as one of comicdom's greats; but suddenly the quality dropped drastically when Archie resigned as editor and virtually his entire stable of artists vanished. By 1968, you were reprinting those early issues piecemeal and with great frequency, combined with sometimes dreadful work. What happened?
Jim: What happened is what happens with most companies, even governments: We hit a bad period. We ran into tough times. I had moved all the operations from Philadelphia to New York. The editorial and distribution offices had been in New York since 1960, but Captain Company was in Philadelphia, as was our large shipping facility. We went through a period of transition wherein we closed a warehouse operation where the company was paying $400 a month rent, and moved to New York where the same comparable spaces cost us $4000 a month. Plus I had to hire a New York workforce. Doing business in New York is a costly proposition, but I wanted everything in New York—it was the price we had to pay to grow. That move took a big chunk out of our resources.
And, as luck would have it, at the same time we had this additional overhead take a chunk of our cashflow, we suffered a downturn in the magazine marketplace. This happens in our business, and you just wait until they go up again; but both events happening at the same time hurt us badly. These pressures were enormous. Nowadays they call it "downsizing," but we called it by its real name: Cutting staff for survival. We couldn't afford to pay the artists $35 a page. On top of all this, we changed distributors which meant additional cashflow problems. So I edited Creepy and Eerie for a period until I found someone who could take over. Staff was cut to the bone. I took over as editor of all the magazines, picking the scripts, assigning the art, and doing all production. I didn't have a production man or an editorial staff. I was working 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Eventually I found Bill Parente and John Cochran, who each came in and did their stint as editor of Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella for a few years. Had I not found those two great guys, I would have collapsed. Both of these men deserve credit for helping to save the company. It was a nightmare that lasted from 1968 to '70. I never worked harder in my life.
During that period we had to rely on reprints for covers and the insides, the magazines went to 48 pages, and I was ashamed of the product. It was awful. There were misspellings, we didn't credit the right people for stories, and sometimes there were no credit lines at all. It was hell—for both myself and our readers.
On top of it, I was getting offers from other companies to come and work for them for $50,000 a year.
CBA: But you kept at it. You went through a severe down period of quality, even page count, but in the middle of this slump, you came out with the most recognizable character you'll probably ever be known for.
Jim: Vampirella. I learned that one from my father: He said, "When you're down and out, and really at your lowest, that's the time to go for the moon. Go for the home run, not a single." Which is what the company did. It was the worst time to do it. We had no money, no credit line, nothing, no anything... except an idea for a woman character in my head, sketches in my notebook, Frank Frazetta, Forrey Ackerman, and Trina Robbins (who was in my office at the right time [see sidebar])—and enough energy left for a game-winning home-run.
Of all the writers to pick from to do "Vampirella," I chose Forrey. Forrey didn't particularly care for comics—science-fiction is his first love. He had never done anything for comics and doesn't even read them. (The only strips I think he ever read were Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers because they were S-F.) I said, "Forrey, I know you can do this." We both had seen the movie Barbarella together and had loved it. I carefully outlined exactly what I wanted: A modern day setting but something with a mystique of vampires, Transylvania; something legendary—and Vampirella was born. I said, "Forrey, I know exactly how she'll look; don't worry about that. Her colors will be bright red for excitement and pitch black for mystery. Just give me something I can build on." And he did—but it wasn't what I wanted; it was too frothy, too light, too satirical—and the only artist I could get at the time was Tom Sutton. In retrospect, Tom's drawing style was not right for Vampi, just as Forrey's writing style was not hitting the mark I wanted. The first issue was awful—and the second issue was just as bad; it just wasn't what I wanted. I struggled with various writers and artists for many issues. Suddenly she came alive in the 12th issue with Archie writing an entirely new origin. The minute I took one look at Pepe Gonzales' artwork, I knew we had it! We survived 12 issues but there it was. This is what I wanted for the first issue but couldn't put it together. Now if only there was a way I could wipe out the first 11 issues and erase it from memory. At any rate, by that time, we were back on our feet financially and on solid ground again, ready to go forward.
CBA: You combined horror with sex. Was that the formula?
Jim: Think about Bram Stoker and what he did with Dracula: Horror and sex.
CBA: It was SEX! Good American sex! There was this sexy babe on the cover, standing there...!
Jim: I didn't want Wonder Woman. I didn't want a super-hero type. I wanted a modern setting. Sexy, but not naked or bare-breasted.
CBA: You originally intended to use another painting for the cover of the first Vampirella that was not by Frazetta.
Jim: It was by an incredible French artist named Aslan. I was set to use that painting for the first cover but then it occurred to me that we'd be better off using the gift God gave Frank. When Frank portrays a woman he injects a certain mystique into his rendering. I wanted my Vampirella to have that same mystique. Harvey Kurtzman said it before me: "How can anyone do something like this?" (Frank worked on "Little Annie Fanny," and Harvey was amazed with what Frank could do with a brush... and Harvey was exposed to every great talent in the world!) I knew that in addition to being a great technician, Frank could also put something into a character that would give it a certain added dimension; a strangeness, a mystery. You've seen Frank's women. Every one has a story behind her, a history, an H. Rider Haggard kind of mystery that you're dying to know about!
CBA: In 1970, Marvel Comics came out with the first issue of Savage Tales, a b-&-w comic magazine. Within a few years Marvel b-&-w's flooded the market. Previously, did you ever have an agreement with Martin Goodman, Marvel's publisher, for you both not to encroach on each other's market niches?
Jim: I never met or spoke to Martin Goodman in my life.
CBA: DC made a lackluster attempt in those days into the same field with Jack Kirby's Spirit World and In the Days of the Mob, which only lasted one issue each.
Jim: The story I heard was that National [DC] and Marvel saw we were making inroads into their market. They were Ford and General Motors, and here was this little Volkswagen guy, Warren, and he was capturing some of their market and creating some excitement. They had always said, "Forget about it! It's nothing; he'll never sell more than a limited number of copies. It's nothing to worry about." Suddenly they took another look and said, "Hey, this guy is doing pretty good. Maybe we ought to get into this business. We have the newsstand clout, the power, and the reputation, and if Warren can do this at his level, imagine what we can do." Had I been National or Marvel, I might have thought the same way—but they didn't understand what was involved. They weren't set up at the time like we were; they didn't look at their artists and writers like we did—they were production houses with deadlines to meet. My approach was, "What's more important? Making a deadline to meet a printing and distribution date, or giving the artist another day or two so that he produces something that you publish and will be remembered by people 40 years from now? I think the mindset at National and Marvel sometimes regarded scheduling and deadlines as being more important than the product.
So when they came out with their b-&-w books, I thought it was a half-hearted attempt to float something to see if it'll sink. It was no way to launch a new line. I would never do that! They flooded the market just to see what would float. You saw the content; it was mediocre. I talked to Stan years later and said, "You have 'Stan Lee Presents' on these books! How can you have your name on stuff like this?" I now realize I was saying the wrong thing because he was part of a huge company that operated on a different mindset. (Stan offered to buy Warren Publishing a few years later. I'll tell you that story someday.)
CBA: In that Rolling Stone [April 25, 1974] article, "Citizen Pain" [laughter], there was a profile of you and you vehemently came out against the Man, saying, "I hate Marvel—but they didn't bother to check out where I was born." And Stan was also quoted as saying, "[Warren] despises me. If I had any sense I'd hire a bodyguard." Was it the invasion of Marvel's b-&-w books that pissed you off?
Jim: We were competitors. We were in the magazine business. Do you know what the competitive publishing business is? It's war without death. I discovered some of my office people were fraternizing with people from Marvel. I told them, "Don't be friendly with them! These people are taking bread out of your mouth! How can you be friendly with people at Marvel who were competing with us. Look at our newsstand sales: We were selling this amount before Stan came into the field, and now he's flooded the market. Our sales are down because he's cutting in on us. It's not enough to put us out of business, but it's enough to reduce your profit-sharing bonus at the end of the year. If you expect your profit, how can you just lackadaisically accept this? You have to learn to hate the people who are taking the bread out of your mouth!" Of course, I was speaking for myself and not for the staff. I said, "I can't command you not to talk to them or to dislike them, but I hate them! I hate anyone who is taking our concepts, our ideas, and because they have the big machinery of a big company like Marvel flooding the market. They get the newsstand space. I hate them! I broke my neck to get that space! Do you know what I had to go through to get Creepy #1 accepted by the distributors? I invented a field, and now Stan Lee is just flooding that field with his stuff." I realize this is the nature of American business: The big eat the small—but I'm not going to like him!
Now, in reality Stan is the most likeable guy in the world and I like and admire him on a personal level. Do I really hate Stan Lee? Who can hate him? Stan is one of the most loveable guys in comics—but if Stan Lee is going to go head-to-head with me in the world of commerce, I'm going to get a glass-bottom car so I can look over his face when I run over him. What I said in that article, I said to set an example for my people.
CBA: In late 1969, you got competition from the publisher of Cracked magazine, with the debut of Web of Horror. What was your reaction to that publication?
Jim: Same thing. I wanted to kill. They came out with a copy-cat imitation and rode in our monster thing. It was printed in Canada, distributed cheaply, and they flooded the newsstands. They didn't have to blaze a trail. They just rode in on our coattails, and I hated that—but there was nothing I could do about it. At one point you say, 'I have to take this passion involved in the hatred and channel it toward creating new things'—because if you let that hatred consume you, you're going to end up wasting your energy on your competitor, instead of using it to create new things for him to steal.
CBA: At Web of Horror, a number of important creators were cutting their eye-teeth, before they moved on to you. At that same time, your page rates were low and you brought in some new talent, including Billy Graham...
Jim: Good old Billy!
CBA: Billy very quickly ascended to being art director.
Jim: Not very quickly. It took over two weeks! I sensed Billy had the ability to handle it; certain artists and writers are great but they can't shift out of their specialty and do something else. Billy could. So I said, "Billy, you are now art director! Whether you like it or not." Now you have to understand that all Billy wanted to do his whole life was just be Jack Kirby. I said, "You'll be the Black Jack Kirby, but not today! Today you are art director of Warren Publishing." But he said, "I can't art direct!" And I said, "I'll show you how. There's your office; you now have a full-time job. A paycheck every Friday. Do you accept?" And he said, "Yer goddamn right!" And I taught him how to art direct during our slow period, and it only took a couple of issues—and he did pretty well (though I gave him a nervous breakdown).
CBA: Billy went on to work for the competition (in his case, Marvel), along with a number of creators who worked for you. Did that annoy you?
Jim: You bet it did—but I didn't let them know it. However they eventually caught on by my looks, by my manner, and the snide, underhanded, subtle insults that I threw their way. When someone would announce such-and-such is here, I would say in a loud voice, "Oh, that rotten bastard son-of-a-bitch traitor who sleeps with the enemy? Send him in! [laughter] Don't let him drink our coffee; let him get coffee from Skywald or Marvel!" Now I realized these men had to earn a living and I couldn't curtail their departures. I only wish I could've given them enough to keep them with us.
CBA: You also published the first mainstream comic book work of Mike Ploog. What was he like?
Jim: Far out and beautiful. He has a style that's unique. Mike as a person is just like his work on paper—fun. You can imagine Mike Ploog right in one of his strips. He's a free spirit with a first-rate creative mind.
CBA: Do you remember Will Eisner's comments to you when Mike started working for you?
Jim: Here is Will Eisner—my idol—a man who I revere like God, telling me I'm a son-of-a-bitch for stealing Mike Ploog from him. I think I mumbled something, "Well, if I'm going to steal, Mr. Eisner, sir, than I'm going to steal from the best." Will is the kind of a guy who can call me a son-of-a-bitch and make me love it. You can't take umbrage.
CBA: Will told me he got an offer from Stan Lee for Marvel to license The Spirit, but he went not with the big guy, but with Warren, the little guy.
Jim: "Little guy"? Hell, I'm not as tall as Stan but I have more hair! I never told Will this (and I don't think I ever told anybody) but I would have mortgaged everything I owned to publish Will Eisner—to be involved in anything Will Eisner was doing. I called Will and said, "Mr. Eisner, I'd like to take you to lunch." (I had to call him "Mr. Eisner" because I was only 10 years old when I first discovered The Spirit.) I knew Will was talking to Stan Lee about The Spirit and that DC was interested in his company, American Visuals. I also knew that Harvey Comics had done a couple of Spirit reprints and that they might be interested again. I had to move fast. So I took him to lunch, sat him down, and said, "There's no possible way that I'm going to let the great Will Eisner escape. You are someone I have revered since 1940, when I saw the very first Spirit section in the Philadelphia Record with that splash page that changed my life. Do you think I'm going to let you go to Stan Lee, whom I 'hate' and 'despise' as a competitor? Do you think I'm going to lose you to that unrepentant sociopath? You're just going to be a computer number to Marvel; they have a factory, where they cookie-cut comics, turning out 400 titles a month! But if you let me publish you, I'll treat every issue of The Spirit with such tender loving care that it'll knock you out! It will be in b-&-w, not in color." And I saw the expression in Will's face—he had his pipe in his mouth at the time, just like Commissioner Dolan—and I could see that I had him. (Will, at the time, was the spitting image of Lee J. Cobb. At that stage of his life, Will was a few years shy of 60, and he was the handsomest guy you ever saw, with no right to be that handsome! The guy who created The Spirit should look like Robert Crumb!)
This man, who was not only the greatest creator in comics, was also tough, tender, and streetwise—sometimes all three on the same day. We negotiated a deal right then and there, on the tablecloth, and Will is one tough negotiator. He could sit down with Donald Trump and come out ahead. He's that good. People think that he can just write and draw The Spirit. Like hell. He was the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he still is... the older he gets, the sharper he gets!
Here I am, negotiating with the toughest guy in the world, knowing that anything he asked for, I would have said yes to. He named a figure that was much more than I wanted to pay but I said yes right away. What Will didn't know, is that if he had asked for three times that amount, I would have said yes. Hell, I was ready to give up eating three meals a day to publish The Spirit and keep him away from Stan.
Will said, "I'll think about it." I looked at my watch and said, "I have all afternoon. You can think all you want—but we're not going to get up from this table without saying yes." Of course, all I needed was a handshake from Will Eisner; contracts can come three weeks later. So he looked at me and he saw the passion he probably wouldn't get from Stan. The advantage I had was that Stan probably had eight million things going on, and The Spirit would just be one of them.
I knew what Bill DuBay could do with The Spirit. I would say to Bill, "Let's do a Spirit cover that's never been done before. Let's capture the authentic old Spirit but with modern techniques. We'll do color that's three-dimensional and yet we'll still keep the old flavor. It's the biggest challenge in the world." So we got Rich Corben to do the cover colors, but it was Bill DuBay who initially figured out how to do it, with layers of transparencies. It was great stuff.
CBA: Help! #13 reprinted a Spirit section way back in 1962. Whose idea was that?
Jim: Did you think it was Gloria Steinem's idea? [laughter] Harvey and I both idolized Will. It was like discovering you both like the same movie star. As soon as we realized we had this mutual love, we both agreed we had to have Will in the magazine. Harvey knew Will, so it was relatively easy for us to arrange.
CBA: Do you recall dealing with Denis Kitchen about The Spirit?
Jim: Will had given his word—and his word is his bond—for Denis to reprint The Spirit (this was before Will and I negotiated a deal). Denis had spent money on preparing the reprints. Will said to me, "It would be a nice gesture if you would reimburse Denis, who is a good guy, for the material he's already prepared." I think Will looked on me kindly when I said, "Absolutely." (What Will doesn't know is that if he had asked for me to give Denis a Rolls-Royce, I would have driven it to Wisconsin myself!)
CBA: In a tribute to Phil Seuling, Denis and Will both wrote about how their lives changed by attending their first comics convention, the 1973 Seuling July 4th Convention in New York City, the show where both you and Denis first met Will. Yet you were involved in conventions as early as 1965.
Jim: Try 1962. I have a picture of me and Forrey Ackerman at our first Famous Monsters convention.
CBA: Here are the program books for some of Seuling's Comic Art Conventions. There are pages of Warren advertising and you bought the back covers and seemed to be involved in production. When I went to the cons as a kid, the Warren presence was everywhere. You even had buttons made up. You advertised the cons in your magazines which introduced many fans to the convention experience. You obviously helped subsidize fandom in the '60s and '70s, way beyond the support of the Big Two.
Jim: I believed in the conventions and young fandom because it was something I didn't have as a kid. If I wanted to talk comics with somebody, I had to find them. They didn't flock so you had to find them individually—and cons were the place where people didn't look down their noses at comics—and the artist was recognized as contributing to (and I hate this expression) an art form. In the early days, cons were the only place to expound on comics as art, walk around with your head up, and have fun. You could also find dealers with the things you had been searching for for 10 years. Where else were you going to find people who shared this love? Where else are you going to see a Will Eisner, and writers and artists you would never normally see in your life? Where you could actually talk to them, get their autographs and buy their work! There was nothing like it anywhere for comics fans.
And it was Phil Seuling who was able to put it all together and package it. Phil was a school teacher with a full-time job, and Sal Quartuccio was Phil's schoolboy assistant. You know how Phil staffed his conventions? He used his students! So I went to Phil and said privately, "I like what you're doing and I believe in it—but what you should have is not a mimeographed program, but something better. I know you don't have any money so I'll tell you what: Warren Publishing will subsidize the program book, produce it and make it something you can be proud of. I'll take an ad on the inside covers, back page and supply the cover art, which will be in color. We'll pay for all of it a year in advance, to be used for next year's July 4th convention." And I gave him a check for a couple of thousand dollars, enough to print the program book. "It's not a gift; we're just paying in advance." In time, Phil was able to do this on his own. By then, he'd say, "Jim, an ad page is now $650." And I'd say, "Are you crazy? I was with you in the beginning! I won't pay that much!" He said, "That's okay. I'll sell it to Marvel." And I would say, "I'll take it, you shameless bastard!" [laughter]
CBA: You obviously took time out from your Summer vacation and became a presence at the cons.
Jim: I did it because I loved it. I had more fun at those early cons than I did on any vacation.
CBA: When did Bill DuBay come on board?
Jim: I remember the first time I saw him. I said, "You are too young to work for this company, too young to work for anybody. You are a callow youth. You don't even shave yet. Let me see your work." I took one look and said, "You're hired." [laughter] Bill had a habit of never doing the job I gave him. He would do the job plus 25% more.
CBA: He brought in a very strong design element into those books.
Jim: We agonized over the graphics. We needed to give the books a total Warren look, something different and instantly recognizable—and that design was classic. He was able to take my sketches, ideas and concepts and translate them into reality—and if you think that's easy, it isn't. You can say the same thing to three other art directors and they won't get it—they'll do their version and ignore the concept you're trying to establish.
CBA: On and off, he spent 13 years with you.
Jim: He didn't spend 13 years. Let me clarify that: He spent 20 years because Bill DuBay didn't come in at nine and leave at five; Bill DuBay usually came in at 10:30 and left at 10:00 at night—not eight hours a day, but 12.
CBA: Bill mentioned that before every Summer, there was....
Jim: "The Big Push." I got the phrase from Vince Lombardi, coach of the pro Green Bay Packers, who (during the last half of the season) would say, "Gang, this is the Big Push." Warren Publishing's Big Push started at the end of March and went until June. During that three-month hectic period, we prepared and produced our Summer product. We were delivering great books, one a week! Week after week after week! It was the busiest and best time of my life. We never knew what a Spring season looked like. The birds and the flowers come out, but we hardly saw them. April and May was spent inside the Warren Publishing offices. After it was over, everyone was exhausted but we knew we had produced magazines that fans would collect 40 years hence. The rest of the Summer was okay.
CBA: And Bill said, like clockwork, he would step into your office after the Big Push and he would quit—and you would buy him back.
Jim: It was an annual scenario. I said, "Bill, I realize you want to quit, and I understand that, but A) your resignation is not accepted, and B) I have a beach house for you on the ocean in the Hamptons and it's yours next Summer if you stay. Now, are you going to stay or are you going to quit?" Every year, like clockwork.
CBA: Only you had to up the ante.
Jim: One year it was an apartment in New York City. I would have bought him a helicopter to stay! Bill was, and remains five stars in anybody's book.
CBA: At around the same time you first met Bill, you got in touch with a Spanish artists' representative, Toutain, and his agency, Selecciones Ilustrada (S.I.).
Jim: His name was Josep Toutain. I didn't get in touch with the agency. It was four o'clock on a weekday afternoon in the New York office and my secretary, Liz Alomar, said, "There's a Mr. Toutain here to see you." I said, "Liz, he doesn't have any appointment. You know I want to get out early today because I have a date at 4:30." She said, "Mr. Toutain wants to show you some artists' samples. He represents an art studio." At Warren Publishing, we would get five of these salesmen a day, and I said, "Liz, this is not really the time." Now, Josep Toutain was from Barcelona, a Spaniard who was very imposing at 6'2", he spoke like Ricardo Montalbon, and wore a foulard around his neck. He could have been a Shakespearian actor. Liz was very taken by him and fell in love with him right on the spot. She said, "Mr. Warren, he came all the way from Spain, and he's flying back to Barcelona tomorrow morning. Could he please show you his portfolio?" I said, "Liz, don't do this to me. You know I'm on my way out." But Liz persists and I say, "Okay, bring him in—but only for 20 minutes!" In comes Josep Toutain carrying a portfolio (imagine John Carradine with a heavy Spanish accent, only better-looking). He bows and says, "Mr. Warren [pronouncing it 'Wahr-den"], I am Josep Toutain. I do not speak English too well but I represent a group of Spanish artists from Catalonia, Spain." He asks me if I mind if he smokes, I shake my head, and he holds his cigarette like Peter Lorre in Casablanca—Josep was a character and I was enjoying it. And I then made my first mistake, and I bit my tongue right after I made it, but I said, "Liz, perhaps Mr. Toutain would like some coffee." God, it was ten minutes after four! You don't give someone coffee who is scheduled to be kicked out in five minutes! But I couldn't help it, he was so charming. She brings in the coffee and I knew I was dead. I would never make that 4:30 date. He said, "Are you familiar with Catalonia? It is the birthplace of Picasso, Dali, and many other great artists. I have artists who admire your magazines for many, many years, and I have just come from Carmine Infantino and Stan Lee. Now I would like to show you some samples of art." I said, "Oh, you went to them first? That's all right. I understand. DC and Marvel are a little bigger than we are—but before you show me this artwork, tell me: Did they buy any of it?" He looked at me very shrewdly and said, "Not yet. They are thinking about it." So I thought, "Okay. Let's see what all the fuss is about." He put his large leather portfolio on the desk, opens it up, and I look at two samples of artwork. The first page was an artist named José Gonzales. Drawings of women. The second page was by a man called Esteban Maroto, and I don't say anything—I'm not registering an expression; but by the time I was on the third page, I couldn't hold back. I said, "This is exceptionally fine work. Who are these people?" He said, "They are the artists I represent. I, myself, am an artist. Do you know Will Eisner? We correspond." This tells me he knows comics. So I'm looking at page after page of this incredible art, in a style that was best described as "European." It was a different flavor, a different style of art. Toutain also showed me paintings that he was selling as paperback cover art to Dell and other publishers. I started to ask questions about the art and Spanish artists. By this time it was 6 p.m. I had completely forgotten about my earlier 4:30 date. I no longer cared about the 4:30 date. I no longer cared about any dates. I kept gazing at that art until I lost my senses. I was staring at the Vampirella artist I'd spent two years searching for. The date was cancelled and she never talked to me again. Josep Toutain and I then went to dinner at 8 p.m. We negotiated prices, deadlines, banking arrangements, everything before the waiter served the main course. I had Veal Saltimboca. Josep Toutain had Filet of Flounder. Vampirella had Pepe Gonzales to draw her. The company entered a new phase and a new level. It was the new era of the Barcelona artists.
CBA: Did you take flak from fans for using so much Spanish work? Many readers seemed to want a return to past days and have the American veterans come back.
Jim: It was expressed to me more than once. My stock answer was, "I don't care if my artist is from Venus or Mars or Pluto, Barcelona, Bayonne or the Bronx—all that matters is that they are the best available. I will gladly use all the American Frazettas in the world, but they're all working, and they can't work for our rates."
CBA: It's maybe not well known that Fabulous Flo Steinberg, Stan Lee's legendary onetime secretary during the '60s at Marvel, came to work for you in the '70s. How do you recall Flo?
Jim: I believe I met Fabulous Flo at an early comic convention in New York. I took one look at her bangs, thought of Gloria, and knew I wanted her as part of the family. There are certain special people who belonged in the company. These good people are not necessarily the most skilled or the most talented, but they are the most enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is everything. I hired Flo to manage Captain Company and she had her little cubicle I called "Flo's Place." I would walk by and make some outrageous, unspeakable remark that I was sure would embarrass her, and she would nonchalantly say, "Oh, I heard that yesterday." Is there anyone in the industry who doesn't love Flo? I sure do.
CBA: Another interesting person involved with your books was Richard Corben, who started off as a fan of FM. What was he like?
Jim: We had a mostly through-the-mail relationship because Rich lives at the other end of the planet. God, that man can draw! I watched him develop and evolve beautifully. He did all our early color work, developing and inventing a whole new process. When we were first trying to get adequate coloring, Bill DuBay would spend two hours on every panel. You have no idea of the effort and toil that went into these early film separations. It was all done by hand. Rich experimented and taught us a lot about what not to do. He opened up the world of color for us.
Rich, who emerged as one of the giants of the comic art world, did his first work for Warren Publishing (we are proud to say), and his work exemplified the kind of superior eye-opening material I wanted to publish in magazines that carried my name. He was a quiet, reserved man and I'm not sure he would have been happy working in a Manhattan atmosphere. I was in awe of Rich Corben and I still am. Who isn't? He is a perfectionist—my kind of artist—and perfectionists are usually the biggest pains-in-the-ass to work with; but not Rich. He is a top pro and a top guy.
CBA: 1974 was a pivotal year for Warren. Will Eisner was at last being published again, reprints or not. Rich Corben was reaching glorious heights with his color work showcased in a new magazine called Comix International, and a whole generation of kids was being exposed to some truly superb work in your books. So you threw a party at The Plaza for Will, Rich, and for the return of Archie Goodwin as a Warren editor. What were the circumstances behind Archie coming back?
Jim: I never asked Archie for details as to why he was available again. Look, Jon, if an Archie Goodwin says he would like to come back, you don't ask why. He was probably restless, and when I bumped into him, I saw he wasn't happy doing what he was doing. So I grabbed Archie back with us; but I did it in the wrong way—and it turned sour. 1974 was a very heady year for me. Other things were occupying my time outside of the company, and because I didn't give it proper attention, I let a terrible thing happen. What I should have done was to make Archie Editor Emeritus, given him an executive suite somewhere, and let him develop a new magazine... or bring back Blazing Combat. That was one of my big dreams. I didn't do it because I wanted to be there to do it personally, and (as luck would have it) I was involved in something else that took me away for two years.
CBA: And Archie and Bill came to a head at that time.
Jim: I don't remember the details. All I remember is that I had put the two of them together in close proximity, which was dumb on my part. Can you imagine Bill and Archie looking at each other? Here's Archie, who was the father and creator of everything good in Warren comics, sitting in a minor position; and here's Bill DuBay, sitting in a position he earned, over Archie—and it's like putting two brothers together when the room is not big enough. One of them had to go, because I'm sure both of them looked at each other and each saw danger and a threat to his own security—and I had created this awful situation, which was horribly unfair to both of these outstanding men. What was I thinking at the time?! It was the second dumbest thing I ever did.
CBA: What was the dumbest?
Jim: Maybe I'll tell you later.
Anyway, it was stupid and insensitive to create a situation that put Bill and Archie at odds. Had I been paying proper attention to the company, I would have never done that. I should have said, "Bill, Archie has been hired in a different capacity. I want him to develop ideas for magazines he thinks might make it, with a budget and the autonomy to hire any writers and artists he wants. There may be rivalry, but it's got to be friendly rivalry, because we're on the same team." I should have said, "Archie, what kind of new comics magazine should we create? Let's do it!" And with Archie as editor, the worst that could happen is that it could bomb—and if that happened we'd start all over with a new idea. I should have named Archie Editor Emeritus of Warren Publishing Company but it occurred to me too late.
CBA: By that year, 1974, Warren Publishing also appeared solidly back on its feet financially.
Jim: By 1972, we were firmly back in good shape. We were healthy, and morale was high again.
CBA: Bernie Wrightson talks about going into the office for the first time and you said that you were going to give him the best rates that he ever got and he would get his original art back. He says it was a great first meeting and that you made a small bet with him for a buck, he lost, and you had him sign his losing dollar. Then you pulled out a fat wad of ones that had signatures of many of the artists who worked for you. What was that?
Jim: Most artists and creative people have big egos and sometimes they think they're absolutely right about certain things. Once in a while, I would catch them at something, challenge them, bet them a dollar they're wrong (they would always take the bet), and would end up taking their dollar bill, which I would have them autograph, and add their dollars to my collection as a souvenir.
CBA: People who worked there have a lot of strong memories about their time at Warren. They also universally said that it could be hell because of the Big Push. Louise said she came in, enjoyed the work, but noticed that you would seek out people's "buttons," and try to get to people one way or another—but she said you knew when to back down. Were you searching out people's weaknesses?
Jim: Do you know how steel is forged? I sometimes took anger from inside myself and projected it upon other people. It seemed I was able to do my best work when I had anger in me (it was hidden but it was there). The anger had nothing to do with Warren Publishing per se. It was something from my youth. I found that when I was angry, and the chips were down, and there was three minutes to play, I had to throw a touchdown, and win the game. The anger made me perform best. When we were ahead by 30 points the anger went away, and I didn't play my best. I recognized that in myself but thought everybody else had the same condition (P.S.: They don't). I also thought that anyone who creates—writer, artist, or anyone involved in the process of creating something that didn't exist before—all work the same way, and they had to be forged into steel. Steel needs fire; without fire you can't make steel. Fire burns. It's hot and it hurts, but it's the only way you can make steel and get the brilliance. I functioned that way. I thought other people did, too. So I deliberately pushed people's buttons. I even did it once to Will Eisner.
CBA: He mentioned one incident with you....
Jim: Did he tell you how he stormed into my office, and almost took the door in with him, and blasted away at me?
CBA: Over The Spirit #1 cover painting by Sanjulian? Yes.
Jim: It wasn't my fault! [laughter] Bill DuBay commissioned it! I'm in my office, sitting at my desk, reading something, at peace with the world, and VOOOOM! In comes Lee J. Cobb (with no pipe), and I thought, "Will may be 60 years old but if one of his punches connect, he'll knock me through the wall!" Thank God, I had a nice wide desk because it stopped him from throwing himself across the desk and choking me! He had fury! But when he calmed down, we learned exactly what it was that had set him on fire. What we were doing with the Sanjulian painting was taking the Will Eisner out of The Spirit and making it something else. We fixed it.
Louise was right: I did it with her and did it with others, even my secretary. I thought my pushing would get the best work out of them and many times it did—but in too many instances, it was the wrong, dumb approach, and it achieved just the opposite.
CBA: Some people were terrified of your ranting.
Jim: I'll admit there were times I set off burglar alarms in the Tri-state area; but generally speaking I'm a likeable, easygoing, fun guy—and God help anyone who gets in my way.
CBA: Louise told me a story about you screaming in her face, and she stopped you and said, "I don't take yelling very well." From then on, you yelled around her, about her, and sometimes in her direction, but you never again yelled in her face.
Jim: I think I remember the incident. She stood her ground and stared at me steely-eyed. Weezie looked at me in the eye and said something like, "I don't care for that kind of treatment and I don't perform well under these conditions." I got her message: "Don't do that again if you want me to work here," and from then on, I yelled at her from two offices away.
CBA: Do you recall when she resigned because of an incident regarding Close Encounters of the Third Kind?
Jim: Columbia Pictures had signed an agreement giving me exclusive use of some of the film photos. We had the license to do a CETK magazine, for which we paid a lot of money. The deal gave us exclusive coverage, and guaranteed that no other company could get the pictures for six months. They assured me that no other competitor would have access to them; we had the exclusive print and magazine license. The contract was very clear. So when Louise innocently told me that Marvel had some of the same pictures I had, and that Walt Simonson and Archie Goodwin were working on the comic book version—well, comics appear on the same newsstand as my magazine, and that was in violation of Columbia's contract with us. So I called up Columbia and told them they were in violation, and why. They looked into it and said, "You're absolutely right." I said, "Well, you have to do something about it. Either Marvel gets it or Warren Publishing get it; we're both going to be on newsstands." I don't really remember how it was resolved. I just know it was resolved quickly and we came out with our CETK magazine.
CBA: Walter said they really didn't have the pictures. Archie and he saw some footage, were allowed to look at some stills, and Walter made some cocktail napkin sketches. They saw a fuzzy shot of the mother ship.
Jim: I wished they had called Steven Spielberg to arbitrate. He was a big Famous Monsters fan when he was a kid.
CBA: While he had been absent at times when he was setting up the Cartoon Factory, Bill DuBay finally did leave Warren.
Jim: He was burned out. I said, "Bill, do not consider yourself fully released from prison. Consider yourself pardoned temporarily. You'll be back! I'll get you back after you recover." Bill correctly saw that comics and publishing were changing, and that a good future lay in television and animation. He said, "I have to go with the future." I said, "You're right. Publishing is facing a crossroad—and the future is pointing towards animation and computer graphics. Go to school and learn it. If you were my son, I would advise you to do just that. I'm staying in publishing, because I still have printer's ink in my veins, but I would love to go with you, but I have a company to run—but my heart's with you." I forgot the actual arrangement we had but I made sure Bill was still connected to us. I knew that whenever I had a problem, he would come down from Connecticut on his motorcycle and solve it. He always did.
CBA: So he produced some Warren magazines in his studio?
Jim: He might have, but I'm not sure of the exact titles. He might have done the Moonraker one-shot and a few others. We never farmed out work—but because it was Bill DuBay, we might have. He maintained the Warren look, and did it beautifully.
CBA: With DuBay more absent, Louise came in as editor and under her tenure, though the books' quality had consistently risen in the '70s from their late '60s slump, the books she helmed rivaled the first Creepy and Eeries for excellence in writing and art. Bernie Wrightson came to full flower, Richard Corben hit his peak, Russ Heath came back in the fold, Alex Toth produced great material, Bruce Jones, Budd Lewis, Jim Stenstrum, and other writers simply rocked.
Jim: We worked hard to get those people and even harder to maintain an atmosphere in the company to keep them. There was a difference between our company and the other companies. When an artist had an appointment at our company, we had a sign in the waiting room that said, 'Warren Publishing Welcomes' (whatever their name was)—it was like a theater marquee. I did that because I used to sit in waiting rooms as a young freelancer and hated it. You sit there with your hands on your lap, waiting for someone to come up and see you. In the meantime, you're sitting there like a little schoolboy. It's an awful thing to have to sit in a waiting room, so whenever a freelancer came in, we offered them coffee and had the sign with their name to make them feel welcome.
CBA: Did you feel that the books were achieving a great stature again? Were you involved in the day-to-day process of the company to notice that this new writer, Bruce Jones, was doing great work like "Jenifer" and "In Deep"?
Jim: I read everything we published.
CBA: Did you see a trend that the stories were shifting from a more visceral type horror to a more psychological, character-driven frame of reference?
Jim: The same way that super-heroes shifted from Superman to Spider-Man? I knew we were getting away from the classic purity of what we started with—and I was criticized for it. I was told, "You're watering down and departing from your mandate." But I felt we were increasing our base, and that our purists would stay with us because we weren't deviating that much. It was a calculated risk, but one worth taking.
CBA: You also did some theme issues. You did all-sport issues.
Jim: I came in and said, "Gang, you may not be sports fans but I'm one." When I grew up, all the kids played ball, and you were evaluated by your peers by how good you were at ballplaying. (I had my own football team as an adult called Warren's Warriors, all in our forties playing touch football.) So I decided that we would have these theme issues. We had three different covers: Baseball, football, and basketball. I don't remember if Weezie was thrilled with it—but the editorial gang treated it whimsically, and it came out looking pretty good; but I knew that it would touch certain nerves out there, because I had a hunch about our readers. Everyone had a picture of our readers as nerds—but I said, "Uh uh, that's not so. Give them more credit than that." And it worked out. It was a fun thing even though the hard-core fans weren't crazy about it.
CBA: You had comics' premier sports artist, Carmine Infantino, working on those books, and a great deal of other material. Carmine was dismissed by DC in January 1976, and Joe Orlando told me that he was fired in particularly brutal fashion. Immediately thereafter, you hired Carmine and he almost replaced the entire Spanish stable of artists with his incredibly prolific output. He was a single-handed studio and Louise told me that you gave him a room in the office.
Jim: I had heard that Carmine had the misfortune of leaving DC under very bad circumstances. Carmine helped build DC just as Julie Schwartz, and Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster did. He was a giant who gave years of his life, talent, and skill to the industry.
I had only met Carmine once before this: We shared a plane ride together going to Canada. I liked him but we weren't close. I said, "Carmine, I have to hate you, because you're a competitor. For all I know, you might come out with another b-&-w, so I can't like you—but I'll have to work hard not to like you." And he understood.
When I heard about his leaving DC, I contacted him. I said, "C'mon in. What are you going to do now? There's no way I'm going to let Carmine Infantino sit and wait for the phone to ring. Come to work for us. Give our office some class! Every hour you're not penciling is the fan's loss and the world should not be deprived of that. We're not big and I wish we had plush offices like DC but we don't—but we'll make space and give you your own office, and you don't have to let anybody in that office unless they knock first and are invited in, including me. Would you please do it?" He said yes and was I happy. I was thrilled—as thrilled as when Will Eisner said yes. Carmine raised the spirits of everybody in the place—a legend was working in the office! It was terrific that he stayed for as long as he did, and I'll always be grateful to him for this.
CBA: You did the right thing.
Jim: DC should have done the right thing. There were better ways to do it. On the other hand, DC did a lot of things right: DC hired Paul Levitz, Joe Orlando, Archie Goodwin, Denny O'Neil, Dick Giordano... should I go on?
CBA: In the later '70s and early '80s, DuBay produced The Rook and The Goblin. Were you looking to get into the super-hero market?
Jim: Bill was, and I went along with it. I liked Bill and wanted to do something for him. My way of doing it was to take what he was really enthusiastic about, and had passion for, and publish it. I gave Bill ownership rights. Had The Rook or any of Bill's creations taken off and become movies or TV shows, it would have been a great thing for Bill, and this was a way of trying to make that happen. It was also good for the Warren Publishing Company.
So, the answer is: No, I didn't particularly want to get into super-heroes. For instance, if Bill had come to me and said, "I want to do romance comics," I would have said, "Okay, do romance comics—but make sure it's the best in the world." I didn't care what the genre was; what's important isn't the subject matter, but the enthusiasm and passion and skill of the person doing it.
CBA: Louise observed that, just before she left, the atmosphere in the company was changing and that you seemed to be losing interest in publishing. Within three years of Louise's move to Shooter's Marvel, Warren Publications folded. Why?
Jim: Louise was right when she said things started to change around the office; the reason they started to change was because I wasn't there. My presence was necessary for the vitality and day-to-day morale of the company. When I would come in, bellowing, yelling and moaning, they would say, "He's here." And I was there—for all the right reasons; but when I stopped coming into the office, a lot of emotion, ardor, fervor, zeal—call it what you want—stopped. The people were directionless. There was no rudder. They were confused. They couldn't reach me on the phone. Louise was demoralized. Louise thought I had lost interest in publishing but that was not so—I never lost interest in publishing. Never will.
Something happened to me: I got very sick. I didn't understand the sickness. It was frightening, debilitating. I couldn't focus or concentrate. I didn't know what was happening to me—and I didn't want anyone to see me this way. When I did come to the office—and I wasn't a tower of strength, particularly if I hadn't slept in days—I was supposed to be the leader and the guiding spirit. However I didn't want anyone to see me this way. I saw the look on Liz's face and other people's faces when they saw me this way, and I didn't like it. I knew they were startled and puzzled. I didn't want that to spread, so I stayed away thinking I was going to get better; that whatever disease or sickness this was would eventually go away—but it just went on and did not get better. I stopped coming into the office. I didn't take phone calls. Nobody in the company knew what to do. I didn't have a second-in-command, I had no partners, I owned my company outright, and I had not as yet groomed a successor. I had a comptroller, an office manager, an office staff, a production staff, a creative staff—I had all of that in place. They were trained to function like the proverbial well-oiled machine; but when their leader wasn't there, and there was no direction, everything went downhill—and I wasn't there to repair it. When I was healthy and there was a problem, I fixed it. When there were no problems, I said, "Okay, gang, let's increase the revenue and expand." Now there were problems, and I was too sick to come in and fix them. No one else had the power to do it. I didn't delegate that responsibility. So the inevitable happened.
I had heard the gossip and the rumors: People saying, "Well, he's not interested in publishing. He's involved in real estate." Or I was going to go into politics. (I had been active politically, and have always been all of my life, but not to the degree where politics took me away from my company.) But the sickness took me away from politics and everything else. It was a terrible, awful, debilitating sickness.
CBA: What was the sickness called?
Jim: There is no formal name for it that I know of. Immune deficiencies have strange ways of attacking the body. Because of the sickness, I fell into a deep depression. When I saw what was happening to me, I became terribly depressed. It lasted for almost ten years.
CBA: Were you living in the Hamptons?
Jim: Sometimes. Other times I stayed in New York or an apartment in Philadelphia.
CBA: You completely disappeared; you were off the map.
Jim: I didn't exactly have a high profile. Not being visible, not having my company visible, I became the target of the rumor-mongers. The gossip and the rumors were made up by highly imaginative liars such as: I was heavily on drugs; I was in an asylum in Connecticut; I weighed 300 pounds; I was seen wandering the streets of New York, unshaven, unkempt, selling drugs. One story had me in a monastery in South America; another report had me in a commune in Arizona. More than once I heard the news I had been reported dead, and was buried in a cemetery in Philadelphia. One report claimed someone had actually visited the gravesite. I hope they brought flowers!
Now that I'm back on my feet and healthy again I'm determined to fight the legal battle for my magazines and the properties I spent a lifetime creating. This is where you find me now.
CBA: While you had an intense relationship with Bill DuBay, you didn't set up an heir apparent. You always trained people to do the tasks you were too busy for so why didn't you set yourself up for someone to take the reins?
Jim: I had a game plan for the company in the 1980s, had I not gotten sick. I celebrated my 50th birthday in 1980. I had intended to restructure the company over the following three to five years. I knew we would require a different style of leadership and management. The plan called for me to be replaced as President and Chief Executive Officer by two people. One would be a business management and marketing professional (I had my eye on somebody). The other would be a creative comic book type.
Bill DuBay would have been the likely candidate and my first choice. Both of these people would receive excellent salaries and an ownership interest in the company. Their motivation would have been enough stock ownership in the company to build their future on, and to bring the company into the '90s, well-positioned to compete as a leader in the industry.
I intended to step down as President and assume the title of Chairman of the Board. The company would be owned by myself and the two people I've described. As chairman I would have spent the next few years coming into the office, where I would have a tiny cubicle to sit and yell at people.
CBA: They say that there are no second acts in American life, but I have a sneaky suspicion that you might have an interest in returning to the business. Is that so?
Jim: One of the problems with second acts is that when the curtain goes up, and you're standing stage center, ready to dazzle them - you look out over the footlights and see a different audience whose faces are much younger than the theater-goers you saw while you were knocking them dead during the first act—and this new audience wants to see how good you are before they jump to their feet for a standing ovation. Not only is the audience different, but the environment of that audience is different—and why are they staring at those flat screens instead of watching what's up on the stage? I better find out fast so I can give them what they want. Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a helluva ride!
CBA: How do you want to be perceived in the history of comics?
Jim: As a guy who created a few magazines that weren't there when he started—but are still being read forty years later.
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