Interviewer and interviewee at an early '90s San Diego comic
con. That's Jim Amash at left, and Jim Aparo on right. In posing
for the shot, Aparo suggests, “Let's point at the bat signal!”
Courtesy of the photographer Ed Fields. Thanks, Ed!
The Aparo Approach
Jim Aparo on his comics debut at Charlton Press
Conducted, transcribed & © by Jim Amash
Book Artist #9
Jim Aparo's long been one of my favorite artists. From Charlton
to DC's Aquaman, The Brave and the Bold, and other series work,
he engaged me in his delightful illustrative world. His Batman is
the definitive model for a generation. Cartoony and realistic at the
same time, Jim's work influenced that generation of artists,
myself included. We've been friends for years but after spending
a lot of time together at a San Diego Convention a few years back,
I discovered the best thing about Jim is Jim himself. Hats off to
a generous, warm, engaging man! Jim was interviewed by phone in May,
Comic Book Artist: You started later in life than the average
comics artist, so let's start off with what you did before comics.
Jim Aparo: Before comics, I worked in an advertising agency
in West Hartford, Connecticut, about five or six miles from where
I'm living now. Our main account was an air conditioner manufacturer;
you know those big units you see on roof tops? They were based in
West Hartford. Mostly stuff of that nature.
CBA: Did you go to art school?
Jim: Yes, I went to Hartford Art School for a semester, just
to brush up on anatomy. I'm self-taught. I just drew as a kid
and went with it. I studied and copied comic strips and comic books.
I grew up with Superman, Batman, and Captain Marvel. I really liked
Captain Marvel Jr. by Mac Raboy. That was beautiful stuff. I liked
Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff... all of those guys.
CBA: Why did you leave advertising?
Jim: I was on Summer vacation. I didn't have any money
to go anywhere. We had just bought our own home and had three kids.
I just decided to run down to Charlton, which was about an hour or
so away. I brought samples of my stuff that I had made up on my own;
a page of this, a page-and-a-half of that, and I met Dick Giordano
for the first time. Prior to that, I used to send samples of my work
through the mail and they always sent them back. That was before Dick.
Pat Masulli was the editor, but I never met him.
Anyway, when I met Dick, he was the man in charge at the time. I
showed Dick what I could do. It was my own stuff that I made up. I
would take comic pages that existed from books and write the copy
down like a script, ignoring the artist who did it. I said, "Now,
how would I do this if I was drawing it?" Dick saw the possibilities
were there. He liked what he saw, so he gave me a script to do.
CBA: Why Charlton? Because they were near?
Jim: Yes. And I heard it would be a stepping stone to New York
because I had made many trips back in those days, even when I was
just out of high school. I was working after I finished high school
in factories, doing labor work like most people; stock clerk work
and all kinds of jobs. The drawing part was at night on my own when
I had time. I was 18, 19 or 20 years old, and was roaming around New
York in the Summer, living on a few bucks and banging on doors, trying
to see if I could get any work. But comic companies were basically
closed shops in those days.
CBA: Were your samples pencils, inks, and letters?
Jim: Yeah, I did it all.
CBA: That's unusual because most people start in either
as a penciler or inker and even when they do both, they seldom do
both and lettering, too.
Jim: Let me tell you why: At the ad agency, I used to do layout
work that was in pencil for the client and then they would turn it
over to the typesetter to do the paste-up for the mechanical to shoot
the ads. Then if there was any fancy script lettering or a special
type of lettering that the typesetter didn't have, I would do
it. I was always fascinated with lettering; I liked to letter.
CBA: Unlike other artists' who didn't letter, you
could lay out the entire page yourself and have total control.
CBA: Then you considered the lettering an important part of
page layout? It made it easier for you to pick the right camera angles?
Jim: Yes, I used to do the lettering first. I kept it far away
from the art area. Very seldom would I have to re-letter something.
I did it pretty well.
CBA: Will Eisner worked that way and so did Jack Kirby when
he lettered his own stuff.
Jim: Then they did the artwork.
Jim: Did they like it?
CBA: Yes, though Kirby gave it up to concentrate on drawing.
Eisner had letterers, too, until later in his career. Then he did
Jim: That's what I did. I got paid for the entire job
so I'd get the whole pie instead of just a third of it. Through
the years, your rate escalates the more work you do. That's the
way it's been, anyway.
CBA: Do you remember what you got paid when you started at
Jim: I don't remember. I think it was about $15 a page
for everything. I could be wrong. I might have been $20 or $25, but
that was a lot of work for little money. But don't forget: Money
was worth more back in the '60s.
CBA: That was still low for all three jobs.
Jim: Yeah, it wasn't enough money for all those parts
but I did it because I wanted to do it; I wanted full command of my
work. Years later at DC, they said "Let's just do pencils,
"—and inkers, they'd get a little happy. I may put
something I want to be in there and they'd take it out. If they
used blacks where I didn't do something, that was great because
that helped me out. They look at it differently. These are the little
things you have to deal with when you work with other people. When
you're doing it yourself, you got no one else to blame when it
came out or didn't come out.
CBA: Were you working at home during the Charlton days?
Jim: Yeah. No, wait a minute: When I started at Charlton, I
was still working at the ad agency; I worked for Charlton on a part-time
basis. Dick gave me a script to do and with a lot of time to do it.
I was doing a cartoon thing called 'Bikini Luv.' Someone
did it before me so I had to make the girl look like the previous
artist. But then the other characters fell into my way of cartooning.
CBA: I see several influences in that work.
Jim: One of them was Wally Wood from Mad magazine. I always
admired his stuff.
CBA: I see a little Jack Davis in there, too.
Jim: Yeah, it could be. I grew up on all that stuff.
CBA: You must have been a big fan of Mad.
Jim: Oh yeah, the whole EC Comics line. I banged on their door
and I couldn't enter. I got in there and got as far as Al Feldstein
but they weren't hiring; they weren't hiring me anyway.
And sitting in the waiting room to see Feldstein the day I was there
was a kindly gentleman by the name of Reed Crandall, whom I was never
introduced to. Al Feldstein figured, "Why should I introduce
[Crandall] to this guy, you know?" I wasn't known yet. Reed
had his portfolio because he was delivering a job. He was already
working there. The man was a master!
CBA: How long did you do 'Bikini Luv'?
Jim: I don't remember. Not many.
CBA: Were the samples you showed Dick cartoony or realistic?
Jim: The samples were realistic. Well, Dick saw that and figured
if I was that good, I should probably handle cartoons. He guessed
it right. And he figured I wanted the opportunity to do something.
So what I did, I was on vacation from my job and I penciled, inked,
and lettered the first page of the job. I called him up and told him
I got the first page done, and I'm only an hour or so away and
I'll come down and show it to you. If you think it's worth
continuing, fine. If not, that's it. I brought it down, he loved
it. "It's great. Go finish the job."
CBA: How long did you work at Charlton before you quit the
Jim: It was awhile. Dick was always asking me to come on board.
I was still committed to the ad agency for awhile. I worked part-time
at Charlton for maybe a year. Then I went over to him saying, "Well,
you got to guarantee me work." And he said, "Oh yeah, don't
worry about it." At the ad agency, I was always busy and had
a bi-weekly check.
CBA: Did you miss working at the agency?
Jim: I missed the people. It was all industrial stuff. It was
a learning ground.
CBA: What was the first Action Hero work you did at Charlton?
Jim: It had to be "Nightshade." Somebody had done
"Nightshade" before me. Dave Kaler was the writer. I only
did three stories before Captain Atom was cancelled where "Nightshade"
was a back-up series.
CBA: I take it you were working from a full script.
Jim: Yeah, I always did. Not like the Marvel way. I don't
go for that. I'd rather have a writer dope it out and do the
dialogue and explain to me what he or she wants. I could then do it
his and my way together to make everybody happy.
CBA: Nightshade was a step-up illustratively from "Bikini
Jim: Yes, it was the way I was drawing then.
CBA: Did you do any redesigning of the costume?
Jim: No. They didn't want me to. I did make it a little
CBA: So you were happier to do the more realistic stuff?
Jim: Sure, but I did like doing "Bikini Luv." I was
sort of let down when they cancelled it. I did have one completed
but I don't know whatever happened to it. In those days, they
didn't return artwork, Jim. I hope they got it somewhere.
CBA: They used to throw the art into a furnace.
Jim: And the art was done a lot larger, too. Although, when
I was doing it, I drew it 10" x 15" and Dick let me do it.
They were doing big-sized pages and I said, "I don't know
if I can accomplish it doing the larger size; I never worked that
big." Dick asked, "How'd you figure this size?"
And I just said I scaled it down. It'd still come down to 6"
x 9" anyway. Eventually, the entire comics industry came down
to that size.
CBA: When you started doing "Nightshade," had you
asked for hero work?
Jim: No, they just gave it to me. I never asked to do anything.
Dick gave me what he thought I could do and I did it. That's
the kind of guy he was. He let you be your own boss. If you had trouble,
give him a call. But otherwise, do it.
CBA: That's the best way to work.
Jim: Yeah. Just do it.
CBA: What do you remember about The Prankster?
Jim: I don't remember too much. Denny O'Neil wrote
it under the name Sergius O'Shaunessy. I designed the costume.
It was only one story but then the book got cancelled. I also did
"Wander," in Cheyenne Kid. I designed the costume from Denny's
descriptions. It was a sci-fi comedy thing.
CBA: Kind of a western, too.
Jim: Right. Wander was a Clint Eastwood type. Denny was fond
CBA: When you did covers, did you have to submit a rough?
Jim: No, I just drew it. They told me what to put in and I'd
do it. I might have done layouts but I don't recall now. They
had to have something to tell me what to do. Maybe there was a rough
to give me an idea. I had to submit cover roughs at DC.
CBA: Then Charlton was very laizze faire?
Jim: Yes, but they kept me very busy. As soon as I finished
a job, they'd give me another one.
CBA: I noticed you used a lot of Zip-A-Tone at Charlton, which
was unusual there. It made your work stand out from the other artists
Jim: I used Zip at first, but then it got to be too much of
a chore because you're cutting it out and sticking it down. I
used it in Aquaman at DC.
CBA: Did you use Zip because of the ad work or the love of
the old ECs?
Jim: I think it came from the love of the comic strips. Black-&-white
comics used it but not much in the comic books. They didn't put
any color over it but they'd put it around the Zip.
CBA: So Dick was your main editor?
Jim: Pat Masulli was there before Dick, who was an artist at
the company. Then Masulli moved up and Dick moved into the editor
position. Dick got a lot of people into the business.
CBA: How often did you go into the office?
Jim: I'd bring in every job I did. Then later, I just
mailed it in.
CBA: Did you ever meet co-workers when you went into the offices?
Jim: No. Isn't that amazing? Every time I went to the
offices, I never met anybody except Dick. Everybody thinks we knew
everybody but I never met anyone but Dick. I'd call him up and
tell him I'm coming down and when I did, he'd say, "Oh,
you just missed Ditko," or "You just missed so-and-so."
CBA: You signed your work when many people didn't sign
their art. You must have taken a lot of pride in working there.
Jim: Yes, I did. More than most of the things I've done.
I'd sign my name so kids would know who I was. A lot of guys
didn't sign their names. There was one guy named Norm DiPlume....
CBA: Who was he? I always wondered about that?
Jim: I don't know. Maybe he was an editor there. I never
found out who he was. Maybe he was Sal Gentile [a Charlton editor]?
I got the gag though.
CBA: How fast were you in those days?
Jim: I was never fast. I'd do a page a day, pencils, inks
and letters—I was never a Jack Kirby—and I stayed at a pace
and never increased it. I remember when I went to DC and Carmine Infantino
was in charge of the whole operation then. He called me on the phone
and said, "Gee, I wish you could do more work." I said,
"How do you want it? Good or fast?" He said, "I want
it good." I said, "Okay."
He looked up to me for that. He never hassled me.
Here's a 1974 Aparo homage to his 1960s Charlton assignment, Nightshade.
©2000 DC Comics.
CBA: Pat Boyette used to letter and sometimes rewrite the
scripts. Since you lettered, too, I wondered if you ever did what
Jim: No, I never changed dialogue. No, wait a minute! When
I was at DC, they were writing the Batman stuff and writing it like
the TV show—very campy—and even Neal Adams got disturbed
about that. Like it would be written "Hey, Batguy!" and
I would just change it to "Batman." That's no big deal,
right? I never changed the dialogue or took away from the story. I
know what you're talking about though.
CBA: You never reduced verbiage if something was redundant?
Jim: No. The writers I worked with, whoever they were, did
a good job. I fixed misspellings, of course.
CBA: You also did "Thane of Bagath." Since you were
a Hal Foster fan....
Jim: I made it look like Prince Valiant. Which is what they
wanted. It was in the back of the Hercules book.
CBA: How much research did you do for that?
Jim: I went to the library and checked out books on Medieval
stuff. I looked at Prince Valiant. I made him look like the way I
thought my characters should look. I didn't swipe from Foster
but I'd look at his work and say, "Oh, yeah. That's
the way that coat would be or those pants or leggings." It wasn't
that difficult to do. Just time consuming.
CBA: Do you remember "Tiffany Sinn, The C. I. A. Sweetheart"?
It was a back up in Secret Agent.
Jim: Oh yeah. Dick drew that originally. I used his art to
follow, so there's a little of Dick's style in there.
CBA: Did you like doing the romance comics? It was a big change
from your other work. Was it easy to adapt to doing it?
Jim: Yes, I liked it. I had two daughters who used to read
that stuff. It was a change of pace. It was like doing a comic strip
like Apartment 3-G. It was just straight stuff. It'd be a drag
if I was doing it forever, though. I did Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves,
science fiction, and all kinds of things there. I enjoyed everything
I did. "Bikini Luv" threw me in the beginning because I'd
had never done cartoon work, but I adapted.
CBA: You never knew what you'd be doing next. It must
have kept you fresh.
Jim: That's true. Later, I was doing Batman all those
years. I enjoyed doing the Batman character, don't get me wrong.
There's different writers that write it. Different characters
in the stories. It keeps it alive and fresh. You really have to like
the characters. You have to be that way to stay fresh.
CBA: How did you find out Dick Giordano was leaving Charlton?
Jim: He called me. He let me know he was moving on and asked
if I was interested in working for DC. "Sure. But what about
Charlton?" Dick said, "You can make arrangements here."
And that's why I was doing The Phantom. The books were bi-monthly.
So one month I was doing The Phantom and the next month I did Aquaman.
There was never a conflict in scheduling; I was busy all the time.
CBA: So you went to DC the same time Dick did?
Jim: Yes. He took Steve Skeates, Pat Boyette, and me. And Dick
took us out and I met them and Ditko. Dick told me that Aquaman was
going to need a new artist since Nick Cardy was leaving and had I
heard of the character? I said sure, and he said the book would be
mine, and I said, "Cool." They were putting Nick on something
else and were doing new books.
CBA: You had a heck of an act to follow with Nick Cardy.
Jim: Oh, boy! Did I ever! He is a great artist. And the last
three issues, he really opened up, and I said, "I can't
believe I got to follow this!" I tried to emulate him to keep
it going but I gradually broke into my own style. Those first few
issues I did were awful.
CBA: Well, I liked them.
Jim: You did, but me as the artist didn't like them.
CBA: Your editor after Giordano was Sal Gentile. What was
he like? We never hear much about him.
Jim: I never met him. We'd talk on the phone. He was a
very nice man. Quiet, very amicable. Nice to work with. Never gave
me a hassle.
CBA: Charlton didn't mind you working for both companies?
Jim: No. When DC wanted me to do more work, I called Sal to
tell him I could only do another story or two and that would be it.
He was fine with it because I gave him enough time.
CBA: He understood because there must have been a heck of
page rate difference.
Jim: A lot.
CBA: Did DC have any problem with you doing the complete job,
Jim: At first. I had to pencil the first job. Carmine wanted
to make sure; he wanted to see it in pencil. Dick said, "This
guy does it all right off." Charlton didn't see my work
until the job was completed. Carmine was happy with my work and then
I started turning in the jobs complete.
I would send the first half in so the colorist could get going on
it while I was doing the second half.
CBA: Were you ever asked for art corrections?
Jim: Very rarely. It was never a problem.
CBA: Did you go into the DC offices when you started there?
Jim: I did at first. I'd make a day of it and go on the
train. Sometimes I met Dick at his house and we'd ride the train
in together. We'd come back at night and then I'd go home.
We were very good friends.
CBA: Did the change in companies make much difference in how
Jim: No. Just in the material I was working on.
CBA: Why did you continue to work at Charlton?
Jim: I liked working on The Phantom. I had read him in the
comic strips. I liked Sal. He was a square guy. And I thought I'd
just be working on Aquaman and since it was bi-monthly, why not just
keep working at Charlton?
CBA: You left The Phantom to do The Phantom Stranger at DC.
Jim: Yes, Carmine saw how Aquaman was selling and said, "Let's
offer Jim more work," and I did Aquaman one month and The Phantom
Stranger the next month.
CBA: Did you miss working for Charlton?
Jim: Yeah. Because it was where I began working and I thought
their stuff was good.
CBA: You put a lot of work into that stuff, even with the
low page rates.
Jim: Yeah, because I was young and full of beans, as they say.
I liked doing it.
CBA: Your style grew at DC.
Jim: Well, I was trying to follow Nick Cardy.
CBA: Was Neal Adams an influence on you?
Jim: Yes, he was influencing everyone. He was a big influence
on me. And as good as he was, he'd been waiting at Dick's
office to wait and see what I was bringing in. Neal claimed he was
a big fan of mine. Can you believe that? He was quite a guy!
CBA: Since you were doing The Phantom, did you have any guidelines
to follow because he's a licensed character?
Jim: No, they sent me reference from the newspaper strips,
which was being drawn by Sy Barry. He was the guy they wanted me to
CBA: There's one Phantom story you did with a jet plane
in a storm and it's striking because a few panels were printed
Jim: You mean with the lightning in the sky?
CBA: Yes. Was that your idea to have it printed in black-&-white?
Did you make color notes?
Jim: No, that was their idea. They had it b-&-w when the
lightning flashed because that's what happened. I never made
color notes; I have no idea who did the color work at Charlton.
CBA: How did you get the regular job for drawing The Brave
and the Bold?
Jim: Murray Boltinoff was the editor, and they were going to
have The Phantom Stranger in the book, so they said, "Let's
get the guy who's drawing Phantom Stranger." That's
when I started doing Batman. I moved from Aquaman to The Brave and
CBA: What was it like to work with Boltinoff and writer Bob
Jim: They were great! Murray was a great guy to work for.
CBA: How much research did you have to do for the guest heroes?
Jim: I'd get the books and use them. They'd send
me the comics and I'd use my own comics collection.
CBA: Did you have a favorite B&B story?
Jim: There was a Creeper story I did with an Origami character.
CBA: I also liked the first one where Batman teamed-up with
Jim: That was good.
CBA: And then you appeared in a story with Batman.
Jim: That was corny. I didn't live near the water as they
had me in the story. I climbed out of my studio in the basement and
climbed into a boat and went to a lighthouse or something. It was
just written that way. I guess the readers believed it. I was just
a joke. They [Haney and Boltinoff] wanted to fool around.
CBA: I noticed many of your characters smoked a pipe. You
did that more than any artist I ever saw. Were you a pipe smoker?
Jim: Yeah. I did a little bit of it and then switched to cigarettes.
That was a mistake. I got off of them years ago.
CBA: You were the only person who drew Ray Palmer (a. k. a.
The Atom) smoking a pipe. I'd never seen a hero do that before
Jim: Really? I didn't realize that. The pipe always looked
good. Alex Raymond drew Rip Kirby and Rip always smoked a pipe. He
looked good doing it, and that's what did it, I guess.
CBA: When did you start drawing celebrities in backgrounds?
Jim: I don't know. It became a running gag. Then I'd
find out who the next team-up would be and I'd start leaving
a clue for the readers in the drawing to see if they could find it.
That way the readers would know who was going to be coming next. If
it was Green Arrow, I'd have an arrow lying around or stuck in
a wall. I did it to make sure these kids were reading.
CBA: I was reading a B&B and I saw Columbo in there. Then
I started checking to see who you were drawing in the stories.
Jim: I did Bogart. You remember that one? I had them walking
down the street or milling around. And people would pick up on it.
CBA: You also drew very distinctive patterns on ties. Nobody
else's were like yours!
Jim: I just made them up. I used to use the big Sears &
Roebuck catalogue—that was a gold mine. I may have seen the ties
CBA: When I was a kid and drawing homemade comics, I used
to draw your ties, and when I got a job in a grocery store, I had
to wear a tie. So I'd go to the stores and try to find the kind
of ties you drew.
Jim: You know what I learned about ties? When you tie a tie,
the pattern below the knot goes in the opposite direction and a lot
of people don't know that. And a lot of people don't know
that men's shirts are buttoned on the opposite side than women's
shirts. So I'd have to keep track of that. A lot of artists don't
know that or even think about it.
I have a mirror on my desk to look at my hand to see which way the
thumb goes. I have a toy model of a .45 and a .38 so I could pose
it. When I was doing The Phantom Stranger, we were going all over
the world so I'd do reference for that.
CBA: In 1974, you did a couple of Phantom covers at Charlton.
How did that come about since you had been gone from the company for
Jim: They called me. They sent me a rough and said I could
CBA: Did they ask you because they thought your covers would
help boost sales?
Jim: Maybe. I never questioned it. I just assumed they needed
a cover and couldn't get anyone else to do it.
CBA: Charlton's been out of the business since the mid-1980s.
Jim: Oh, yeah. They folded completely. Comics was just part
of it. They did all kinds of magazines. They were right along the
river in Derby where the shipping was. The boats and trains were right
there, too. They were using them all! And they put things out on trucks,
too. In fact, when they had a flood back in 1955, a big boulder washed
up to their door. They pushed it off to the side and put a big plaque
on it. They had a big building. It was like a factory.
CBA: Everyone I ever talked to about Charlton loved working
there; they were proud to work there.
CBA: Did you feel any sadness when you learned Charlton went
Jim: Yeah. It was like when you went to school and you missed
the teachers and the people. It was a beginning for me.
CBA: What was your favorite work at DC?
Jim: I'd say The Brave and the Bold. That's was the biggest
bulk of work I did on a series. I grew on that book. Early on the
ears on Batman's mask were sort of weird and I learned as I went.
It got stronger and stronger. Batman and the Outsiders was a good
block of work, too.
CBA: What do you consider to be your best work at Charlton?
Jim: The Phantom. I grew at that company.
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