Comic Book Artist 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and works of great cartoonists, writers and editors from all eras through in-depth interviews, feature articles, and unpublished art.

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

From Comic 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, 2000.

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.
Jim: Right.

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.

CBA: Right.
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 everything.
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 Charlton?
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 ad agency?
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 Luv."
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 sexier.

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 of Eastwood.

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 at Charlton.
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 he did?
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, including lettering?
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 you worked?
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 look at.

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 in black-&-white.
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 the Bold.

CBA: What was it like to work with Boltinoff and writer Bob Haney?
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 the Joker.
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 then.
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 in there.

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 some time?
Jim: They called me. They sent me a rough and said I could vary it.

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.
Jim: Yes.

CBA: Did you feel any sadness when you learned Charlton went under?
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.

To make subscription and back issue orders easier for our readers (especially those overseas), we now accept VISA and MASTERCARD on our secure web store! (Phone, fax, mail and e-mail accepted, too!)
MasterCard logoVisa logo
Click to join!
Sign up here
to receive periodic updates about what's going on in the world of TwoMorrows Publishing.
New Fall/Winter catalog cover

Click here to download our new Fall-Winter catalog (2mb PDF file)

Search Search the web
All characters © their respective owners. All material © their creators unless otherwise noted. All editorial content © their respective authors.
Comic Book Artist content ©1998-2000 Jon B. Cooke/TwoMorrows. Website © 1996-2003 TwoMorrows Publishing.