The Great Women Cartoonists' Slumber Party of 1999!
Ramona Fradon, Marie Severin and Trina Robbins Talk
About Their Experiences in Comics
Conducted by Trina Robbins
Transcribed by Jon B. Knutson
Book Artist #10
In September, 1999, Marie Severin, Ramona Fradon and your guest
editor got together in New York City to spend the weekend at the house
of a friend and we recorded the event. I brought along the traditional
accouterments of a slumber party: blue and green nail polish and cheap
hair ornaments, while the more sophisticated Ms Fradon and Severin
contributed wine. Ramona and Marie did most of the talking, with me
popping in occasionally as agent provocateur. The start of the tape
catches us already in mid-conversation... - TR
TRINA ROBBINS: Ramona, you were saying something about...?
MARIE SEVERIN: The people there in production, stuff would
come back from Chemical [the printing company] and if you were around,
you could swipe something.
TRINA: And what people swiped, it was just because they wanted
the art? There was no market then, was there?
MARIE: They wanted it for themselves. There were always collectors
in comics and they usually worked in the industry. They managed to
swipe art wherever it wasn't nailed down; in warehouses where newspaper
and comic book art usually was stored. In the 1960s, the field was
filling up with talent who were intense fans... the value was becoming
known to a growing number. One older pro, rumor has it, walked out
of the office with art before it was printed!
RAMONA FRADON: Some people were smart, they knew what they
had, whereas I didn't know from anything.
TRINA: In the beginning, was your work ever returned to you?
RAMONA: The Aquaman [art was] returned for a while, then they
stopped doing it.
TRINA: And it didn't even occur to you to ask, right?
MARIE: Where would you put them?
RAMONA: That's right. Exactly. They were just meaningless
stuff that you kept grinding out. But then, they began to return them....
MARIE: You're talking the '70s, right?
RAMONA: Yeah, the '70s. I think the thing that upsets me more
than anything else are people who come and ask you for your autograph,
and then they go sell it at an auction. That really upsets me! Not
that I want to sell my autograph, but I don't like to think that every
part of me is a commodity that somebody's going to snatch off and
TRINA: So you have discovered this is happening?
RAMONA: Yeah. Somebody showed me one they bought at an auction,
and I saw another one auctioned off at a convention. And one time
I gave my work to a woman's brother who was at Yale, and he was going
to sell some drawings for me. Well, I never saw those drawings again,
or any money. Every once in a while, somebody brings one of them to
show me. I suppose that's the way people feel who are in any kind
of public life, they get parts of them taken away and sold.
MARIE: Oh, recording artists, it's the same thing.
RAMONA: Oh, yeah, that's even worse, sure.
TRINA: A question: Can we refuse to do free art, for that
RAMONA: Well, I'd do it for kids, you know, when they come
MARIE: Oh, but the kids might be the very ones who are doing
RAMONA: Yeah, probably! [laughs] Smart little buggers!
MARIE: Kirby one time at a convention-I'd heard this story-that
a little kid came up to him, a real cute little kid, and asked, "Please,
could I have a drawing?" and Kirby did a little fast sketch...
anything he did was great, you know? A half-hour later, the kid comes
back, and he says, "See? I colored it!"
RAMONA: Well, I wouldn't mind that, I really wouldn't! Although,
as you know...
TRINA: On the other hand, he means well, instead of taking
it and selling it.
RAMONA: Yeah, exactly.
TRINA: He cared enough to color it.
RAMONA: I think that's great.
MARIE: He's not the normal fan, though. It's not like he turned
the corner and said, "How much do you want for it?" [laughter]
TRINA: But I know someone called my attention to some little
Wonder Woman sketch I had done for someone at a convention was up
for auction on eBay. I don't even remember who I did it for, and personally,
it was a lousy sketch. When I draw at conventions, I'm not that good.
RAMONA: It's hard, because you've got that noise. That's why
I like to bring pre-drawn sketches.
MARIE: Same here.
RAMONA: And if they see something they'd like that's already
been sold, and I have a Xerox, I'd say, "If you're coming back
tomorrow, I'll do it tonight at my hotel."
MARIE: Take an order, yeah.
TRINA: Some guys can do it, and at auctions and conventions,
these guys will get up and do it... in front of everyone, these incredible
MARIE: I can do it, but when I get away, I see it's completely
cockeyed. But most of the audience doesn't care.
RAMONA: Oh, I sat and watched you at that convention drawing,
and you draw effortlessly. It just comes tumbling...
MARIE: But sometimes it's cockeyed.
RAMONA: Oh, it looks great. You really can do that.
MARIE: Well, I've done it in classrooms and halls a lot.
RAMONA: Well, you're just good at it. She's a performer.
MARIE: Oh, I'm a show-off. [laughter]
TRINA: So, Ramona, in the early days, nobody even asked for
their work back?
RAMONA: As far as I know, they didn't. Well, we were all so
anonymous, we never had our name on anything, it was just total anonymity.
I happen to think it made for some of the richness of comics in those
days, because when you're sitting all by yourself in a room, you're
going to think of things that you're not going to think of if you
think the whole world's looking. You almost felt there was no audience,
that's the way I felt.
MARIE: I never experienced that.
RAMONA: Really? See, my father wanted me to be a fashion artist,
out in the open in New York Times Lord & Taylor ads, that kind
of thing. But when I went into comics, I had a very strong feeling
of relief that this was anonymous, that nobody knew that I was doing
this, they weren't going to see my work, no adults were going to,
that the public wouldn't be aware of it.
TRINA: Not like you were proud of your work?
RAMONA: No, I was always embarrassed. I still am, I can't
stand to see my stuff in print.
MARIE: You always feel it wasn't good enough?
RAMONA: Yeah. I never wanted anybody to look at it.
TRINA: Oh, Ramona, that's not true. You're an excellent...
RAMONA: I mean, one part of my brain knows that, I just hate
to have... I mean, I think I'm over that now, fairly well, but I used
to draw with one hand covering the drawing, [laughs] because I was
so embarrassed by it.
MARIE: Oh, Ramona, it's awful that you should feel that way.
It should be enjoyable!
RAMONA: No, I don't think I ever drew... now, when I'm drawing,
I enjoy it. When people ask me to do drawings, and I draw what I want,
I really enjoy it. But I don't think I ever enjoyed it before that.
It was something I was supposed to be doing, because my father wanted
me to be an artist. So I did it. Went to art school, I had no idea
why I was in art school, and I had no idea what I was going to do
when I got out of art school.
MARIE: Both of us, I didn't have that much ambition, and you...
RAMONA: I didn't have any!
MARIE: You didn't have any?
RAMONA: No, zero.
MARIE: But you are proud of your work, aren't you?
RAMONA: Well, I like what I'm doing now. Yeah, I look back
on some of it... I keep the good stuff, you know? [laughter]
MARIE: Well, you have to!
RAMONA: I've gotten rid of all my other... it's buried in
TRINA: Well, I was just going to say, can I have the bad stuff?
MARIE: Yeah! I mean, people want it, there must be a lot to
be said for it.
RAMONA: Well, for my own benefit, I just take out the good
ones, and then I look at them and say, "Gee, I was really good,
wasn't I?" [laughs] And I don't look at the bad ones.
RAMONA: There are an awful lot of them.
MARIE: But you see the ambition in women is-at least, I find-is
much less, usually.
RAMONA: Like Trina, for instance...
MARIE: Oh, Trina is strong, and she's fiery, because they
put her down. The door was closed at times for me. With you and I,
we just happened to fall into it.
RAMONA: Well, we were able to do what they wanted.
MARIE: You could do super-heroes. And we didn't go in and
hassle the boss for, "I want to do Superman, I don't care what
you do; I have to do Superman."
RAMONA: Oh, no. I used to do just the opposite.
MARIE: I didn't give a darn what they gave me, as long as
I was being paid. If I could do it, well, it was a challenge. I loved
the challenge of it, to do it, and then I'd feel, "I'm not doing
this as good as Buscema, ooooohh." I followed him on Sub-Mariner,
I followed him on "The Incredible Hulk."
RAMONA: See, you were interested enough to do that.
MARIE: Well, I wanted to show off! How can you show off if
you don't do it? I wasn't that crazy to have my name on it, I don't
care. But for my own...
TRINA: But if you wanted to show off, then you did have ambition,
you did have ambition.
MARIE: Maybe, but not for... I couldn't be bothered fighting
and competing, I just couldn't.
TRINA: Couldn't that be because both of you as women were
brought up to be nice girls, and not to fight? Because that's how
girls were brought up?
RAMONA: Well, I'm a Libra, so I'm just naturally accommodating.
TRINA: [To Marie] You're a Leo, right?
RAMONA: She's a super Leo.
MARIE: Leos don't like competition.
TRINA: Plus, we try to eat up the competition. [laughter]
MARIE: Now, you're going to pull your psychiatry on me.
TRINA: I think it's interesting that you both worked in hospitals.
RAMONA: It is. Yeah. And we were both doing underwater characters
at the same time.
MARIE: I thought of that, too.
RAMONA: We have these parallel lives.
TRINA: Yeah. Do you think it's a thing about women and water?
I mean... you're the shrink...
RAMONA: I just thought of that.
MARIE: I ain't havin' no babies! You guys...
TRINA: Doesn't matter, though, it's in you... the woman and
RAMONA: I didn't ask for "Aquaman"; it was inflicted
TRINA: But you did it so well.
RAMONA: Because it was embarrassing not to.
RAMONA: Did you like to see your work in print?
MARIE: Yeah, I did. I liked to see that it came out as well
as could be expected, because some of the stuff you were following,
it was so good. I mean, how can you draw after Kirby, how can you
draw after Buscema?
TRINA: But you did! You did it after Ditko, too!
MARIE: But it satisfied me; it was the best I could do at
RAMONA: You know, it's funny, because you were holding yourself
up to a different type of drawing than I was. At DC, when I was in
Adventure Comics, I was working against the old Superboy drawings,
and Green Arrow, so that was a relatively comic style, it wasn't hard-driving,
what I consider masculine style, and it wasn't as proficient as, let's
say, illustrative. I was doing stories for younger readers which called
for a simpler more open style.
MARIE: Yeah, boys had completely different... Trina's type
of book, the girls were being completely ignored. Now, we did have
some girl fans that really liked what Roy Thomas was writing in The
Avengers, and a few other guys that really wrote... I think Marv Wolfman
had some people who were crazy about his [Tomb of] Dracula, this was
all in the '70s. When the young people were coming in, and they were...
the stories were more and more for the guys, and the girls, I think,
stopped reading when they were all of a sudden drawing girls that...
these guys knew not woman! I mean... I often thought, what do they
do with themselves, these poor little boys? They draw these-well,
you all know what they look like. So, the guys were coming in in the
'70s, and they completely took over and they missed-as you really
brought up, Trina-50% of the population has been ignored. If they
had catered to women's comics when this thing all fell through, they
would have the Barbies and whatever, girl adventures making money!
A lot of the new people coming into the States, all the Hispanic and
Asian people, the love stories, the girls used to love those! The
immigrants would love them! They'd be learning English, and I remember
they had a lot of those photography [fumetti] books, love stories,
they loved that stuff! It's not out there. Unless they do it in underground
RAMONA: Oh, yes. Well, Marie, I have to tell you: I really
admire... I don't know if it's admire, but I'm in awe of your knowledge
of the business.
MARIE: I was shut out of most information, even the slightest
talent would come in to Marvel and know what was going on. Oh, sure.
And yet, I was on staff so I'd see a lot of stuff, but it was on the
RAMONA: You understand production, and the whole thing.
TRINA: What I think Marie is saying is that she didn't get
to do the networking that all the guys did.
MARIE: I took what was handed to me, for the most part. It
was only when something would happen in the office, like the time
there were bad words in the margin, and I didn't want that to get
printed! I went in to Stan, "Stan, look at this! Suppose this
wasn't cropped off? Do you want this printed? We'd be up to here [in
trouble]! All you need is for that to be printed, because maybe the
printer would think it was a joke and wouldn't cut it off, either.
And... I have to look at this, and clean up pages and bring them in
for stats, I don't want it!" Well, he wrote a memo that anybody
who does this is going to be immediately fired, which is a marvel,
because nobody got fired just for that. But he scared a few guys,
because they were smart-asses, you know? Not all of them, but the
young ones would come in and be jolly with the editor, and "I
met Jack Kirby twice, huh, huh, huh." That sort of stuff. I was
mad at Jack Kirby the first time I was there.
TRINA: Why were you mad at Jack Kirby?
MARIE: The first time I met him-this is going back almost
30 years ago-and I love the guy, he's really nice, well... I always
wanted to look like Mary Astor. Jack Kirby's coming out of the room,
and I almost bump into him, and they said, "Oh, Marie, this is
Jack Kirby." I said, "Oh, Jack Kirby! I'm John Severin's
sister." He looked at me, and he says, "Judy Garland."
[laughter] I wanted him to say, "Mary Astor!" [laughter]
TRINA: I would've taken Judy Garland! I'd be okay with that.
MARIE: Well, I wouldn't!
TRINA: I would have immediately burst into "Somewhere
Over the Rainbow"!
MARIE: See my red shoes?
RAMONA: You were never scared of being in the bullpen with
all these men, were you?
MARIE: No, because I grew up drawing and my father and my
brother treated me great; they were just delighted that I drew, and
it was a family thing.
RAMONA: Being the only woman, surrounded by all these men,
it didn't affect you at all, did it?
MARIE: At EC the times were different... at Marvel... no,
they never intimidated me. I have disdain for the silly ones, and
respect for the good ones. I always respected my boss, even if he
was a loon. I'm not saying any particular one, but... [laughter]
RAMONA: As you were saying... I forgot what we were saying...
TRINA: It was the boys, working with the boys, it was networking
that you never got to do, and you never did, either!
RAMONA: I never did any. I never knew anybody.
MARIE: Well, it was an entirely different work environment.
RAMONA: The few times I went in when I was working on Metamorpho,
George Kashdan always used to have me go in the bullpen and sketch
out covers. I used to dread doing that, I'd absolutely dread it.
RAMONA: Because at that time, the bullpen was in the center
of this building, and there were no windows.
MARIE: And there were no women in there, either.
RAMONA: There were no women in there. These guys in there
were on the verge of insanity, sitting there drawing this stuff all
day long, and after a while, they'd start hurling ethnic jokes and
insults back and forth, throwing...
MARIE: So you were going down into the snake pit.
RAMONA: ... and I just crept into the back, huddled and tried
to think, you know? It was terrifying!
MARIE: The bullpen people in my day were production people;
the most artists we had in the '70s was when Herb Trimpe-and then
he started working at home-John Romita, and myself were there. Some
artists would come in, and they'd think, "Oh, a rough sketcher,
they'd work on something that had to be changed." But it wasn't
going into a typists' pool, like in those days, they did have comics
like that, that I never worked in a place that was like a typists'
RAMONA: It was all production.
MARIE: Yeah, all artists working on stuff, and then production
people would do paste-up and stuff. Ours was production and some artists,
and I did a little bit of everything. That's why I was designing covers.
RAMONA: That's so amazing. You're so versatile.
MARIE: Well, it always meant I got a job!
RAMONA: Yeah, but you always dismiss it that way, when you
really have an enormous amount of versatility, and talent. You can
do a lot of different things.
TRINA: What I always see, though, is they ask Marie to do
all these things, and the guys didn't have to do it. The guys didn't
have to be inkers and colorists and pencilers.
MARIE: They didn't have to be because they couldn't! But I
could, and I'd do it. I didn't consider that they didn't have to.
I wanted to do it; I was getting paid for it. There wasn't anybody...
sometimes [Stan] Goldberg would come in to color a cover, George Roussos
was taking inks and excellent colors (I don't like George's scheme
of coloring sometimes, but that doesn't mean it's not good. I don't
like Rembrandt, either, but he's fantastic. It doesn't mean it's not
TRINA: A little on the dark side, I know what you mean.
MARIE: I think I would be intimidated going into that atmosphere
that Ramona describes, because first of all, they were all pieces
of the chess game, and they all did work together, and then all of
a sudden, this little flower of the universe... hah! It was a typical
"all guy" daily atmosphere.
RAMONA: Oh, I just thought if they see me, and if they start
turning their attention on me, and I'll die, absolutely die.
MARIE: They wouldn't do that, though.
RAMONA: I don't know.
MARIE: Not before the '60s, late-'60s. The guys wouldn't...
RAMONA: This was in the '70s... oh, no, it was the '60s.
MARIE: They wouldn't have done that. You were just intimidated
because you didn't know what they were talking about; they had their
RAMONA: And sometimes they did decide to tease, you know?
That used to scare me to death!
MARIE: They never teased me that I recall, because it never
RAMONA: Well, you're sassy. I was very shy.
MARIE: Oh, I'm shy, but...
RAMONA: You're shy?
MARIE: Well, a little... well, like a guy came to me once-they
were always trying to shock me-and he had the top of a pushpin in
his hand with red, and he said, "Oh God, nobody will pull this
out, Marie! Nobody will pull this out!" And I said, "Oh,
gee whiz!" and then I looked and I see the rubber cement. I knew
right away! Because if he had a thing in his hand, it would be, "Ow!
Aiugh!" They're babies! They're babies! But it was so weird they
couldn't get me. I grew up with a brother who was always a big tease,
and my father was funny.
RAMONA: Well, I had a big brother, and it hurt, [laughs] let
me tell you. It didn't always work that way. It was just a nightmare
experience for me.
MARIE: The bullpen, not your brother.
RAMONA: Yeah, the bullpen.
MARIE: Now, does your brother draw?
RAMONA: He was a lettering man. My father was a lettering
MARIE: Ah-ha! That paid well.
RAMONA: Oh, he was tops. He designed the Camel, Chesterfield
and Elizabeth Arden logos and the Dom Casual typeface that's still
MARIE: Really? My father worked for Elizabeth Arden.
MARIE: And he used to design things... He was her staff artist.
TRINA: Oh, my God! So both of your fathers were doing art
for Elizabeth Arden?
MARIE: My father did beautiful lettering. He didn't like to
do it, but it was beautiful.
RAMONA: I wonder if he knew my father.
MARIE: I don't know. My father worked for Arden for 30 years.
RAMONA: Is that right?
MARIE: Yeah. He was also mathematical, which is odd. I was
too when I was a kid. My father had his own department for a while,
and at Christmas parties, he would draw these things for their parties,
and Elizabeth Arden would come, and she said, "Oh, where did
you get these lovely decorations?" and they said, "Mr. Severin."
She said, "What is he doing at a desk?" So he was brought
over to the salon, he had his own little studio. He was just used
for stuff that she wanted right away, or if they didn't have time-in
those days, they didn't have all the Xeroxes, etc... when they were
photographing something for an ad, he would do an actual bottle of
perfume, and he'd put the name "Blue Grass Hand Creme,"
and "Elizabeth Arden," and he'd do it actual size and they'd
photograph it for the ad, and I'd think, "How do you do that,
Dad? Your eyes must be fantastic!" I'd never have the patience.
He was a Virgo.
RAMONA: Ah-ha, there you go. [laughter]
MARIE: I'm on the cusp of Leo.
TRINA: I think of you as Leo rather than Virgo.
RAMONA: Oh, yeah, clearly. No question.
TRINA: So what else? Oh, I wanted to get back to you with
those kids. Did you ever get an outlet in comics that satisfied you
like the art for the kids?
RAMONA: Oh, well, no... I mean, it's a completely...
MARIE: You never had a job where they asked you to do it for
RAMONA: No, I didn't.
TRINA: I know Marie has done some things the she's really,
really proud of, like you did that thing on Pope Paul, right?
MARIE: No, I colored that... I did St. Francis, but that was
me just inking Buscema, which was a joy. That was just a job. I tell
you, my personal satisfaction has always been Not Brand Ecch. All
that I wanted to do...
TRINA: Oh, that cartoon stuff!
MARIE: ...Not Brand Ecch was making fun of Marvel. Also, I
loved Kull, that was my favorite all-time, because my brother inked
it, and he put the masculine side in, and he made the figures even
stronger. Kull was a property of Robert E. Howard. But that was the
best thing I did, and it only lasted about six issues.
RAMONA: Well, I liked doing the mysteries when I was working
for Joe Orlando, and I was really getting into doing them, and then
they switched back to super-heroes. I knew my time was up... you used
to go in and beg to do certain things, I used to beg not to do the
super-heroes. I mean, I really did, and it didn't work.
MARIE: I didn't go in to bother them much, but when I did,
I very carefully chose something-and I usually got it-but I didn't
go often, because there wasn't much, frankly, that I wanted to do.
I'd do what they told me, but I wasn't that interested. It is so male,
it is so male... and also, these fans, they had crushes on the artists,
you know? There was a following with Neal Adams for example that was
absolutely weird! He's awfully good, but I think the situation with
some of these people, they turned him into god.
RAMONA: But I see that even today, with some of the current
big artists, you know? The kids come up to them, and they just hang
around them all day long! They don't worship girls that way.
MARIE: No. That's the whole difference, too, and I don't think
people look at guys the same... they want to be like the guys, they
want to be able to draw... . they don't want to be like us, even though
we can do it. They look at us like we're so odd.
TRINA: I know that the feminist line has always been that
men and women are exactly equal, and women can do anything men can
do, yadda, yadda...
RAMONA: Oh, that is so true.
TRINA: ... but I happen to disagree, and I feel like you're
both saying what I have always felt, which is women really don't like
super-heroes, we don't relate to them. I mean, do you feel that?
RAMONA: I think it's absolutely stupid, one-dimensional characters
constantly battling evil. What a world! But that doesn't mean we can't
MARIE: I never took it that serious. I always wanted to fly
as a kid. [laughter]
TRINA: Flying isn't the same as super-heroes. We'd all like
to fly, that's what our dreams are all about.
MARIE: But that part of super-heroes I liked.
RAMONA: No, I feel as if I'm violating my nature, drawing
this muscle-bound stuff and I'm probably reacting to some deep violence
of my own that I don't want to deal with.
MARIE: This psychology course you took, I didn't think...
[laughter] cut that out! [laughs]
RAMONA: Listen, I've given a lot of thought to this, Marie,
and I have real issues around it: It wasn't just a job, and it wasn't
just stupid; it was... I look at some of the stuff that I've drawn,
and I think, "This is grotesque, and this is coming out of me,"
and it horrifies me! Then, I get past that, and I get into enjoying
it, and then I go back and forth from one attitude to another.
MARIE: Well, I've never done anything that I thought was horrific.
RAMONA: There's a... I draw from my body, you know; I don't
draw intellectually, I have to feel what I'm doing, and when I'm feeling
myself smashing somebody in the face, or somebody with grotesque features...
I get really upset!
MARIE: I think it's almost therapeutic with me. It's never
a particular person, you know? Never! I feel a release...
RAMONA: Well, I guess I do too, but I fight it.
MARIE: ... and I know it's on a subliminal plane that I'll
hit if I have to draw like that. I know that I'm doing it in my dream,
but it happens to be coming out on paper. I'm smashing somebody, that's
a very good release... I don't like to do it often, though, and page
after page after page... Once in a while, you want to give somebody
a good kick, you know? I like endings where somebody gets what they're
supposed to get. And the more viciously the better, but I couldn't
draw them being impaled or anything like that, that would be disgusting.
RAMONA: Now, that I wouldn't mind as much.
MARIE: You see? [laughter] You probably, deep down, are worse
than all of us. [laughter] You'd like to draw somebody being impaled?
RAMONA: I could do it, I could get into that. [laughter] You
know, the last time I saw Joe Orlando, he asked me if I'd be interested
in doing a female version of Beavis and Butt-Head." [laughter]
MARIE: Wasn't that an icky thing?
RAMONA: But I love Beavis and Butt-Head! I think they're wonderful.
They're poor little neglected kids, you know, nobody ever took care
MARIE: But they're obnoxious! They're super-hero fans!
RAMONA: And they probably smell! [laughter]
TRINA: Both of you are very tolerant of different things.
Marie is tolerant of super-heroes, and you're tolerant to things like
Beavis and Butt-head and Vlad the Impaler, which is amazing!
RAMONA: Here's what I don't like, this is it in a nutshell:
I don't like ugliness in drawings. That's what I don't like. When
I see that I'm drawing something that's ugly, it really, really upsets
me. Now, you can draw somebody being impaled, and it can be a beautiful
TRINA: Gorgeously impaled.
RAMONA: Look at some of the Gothic painters.
TRINA: Oh, yes, some of the exquisitely twisted Christ suffering...
MARIE: Those things upset me.
RAMONA: And Hieronymous Bosch? I mean, it's beautiful art,
and the subject matter is absolutely gruesome. It's not the subject
matter that bothers me, it's the rigidity.
MARIE: It's not like Beavis and Butthead with snot on their
RAMONA: That I don't mind. That's okay. Because I think the
Beavis and Butthead drawing is fine.
TRINA: You're talking on a plane that really is...
RAMONA: More of an aesthetic plane, really. That's good, and
I'm glad that it's suddenly clarified for me. There's a rigidity,
a tight, mechanical, muscle-bound quality that I can't stand.
TRINA: That's what you see in super-hero comics.
RAMONA: Yeah. When I'm not doing good drawing, that's how
my drawing comes out, and I hate that. I don't want to get psychological
MARIE: I think you'd like to do correct drawing, and so much
of it has to be exaggerated.
TRINA: But you like the art on Beavis and Butthead?
RAMONA: I think it's fine. Really, I do. It's minimalist,
but the characters are alive and expressive... and funny. The style
is perfect for the subject matter.
MARIE: And it's hard to emulate something like that if you
don't have that technique.
RAMONA: Right, [Mike Judge] designed that, and it works.
MARIE: I hate it, but I understand what you're talking about.
You don't like something insincerely drawn.
RAMONA: Or there's a stiffness, a lifelessness...
MARIE: Or they're doing it just for money, not for personal...
TRINA: Maybe they're just not talented, there are artists
MARIE: Oh, gee whiz, who? Who in the business isn't talented?
RAMONA: I really am enjoying the drawings I'm doing now, especially
the pencil drawings, because they're soft. I'm drawing super-heroes,
but the drawing is soft, it has a kind of flow, and it's not that
dead muscle-bound kind of a thing that really upsets me.
MARIE: You get really into your art, and I can separate myself
from my art in a lot of cases, I can separate some things, and some
things I don't. One piece I did that was for a magazine that was coming
out was sad things at Christmas, and it was right after a death in
my family, and I drew something that they wouldn't print.
MARIE: I figured... I'm glad they didn't, now.
RAMONA: Why? Because you revealed yourself through it?
MARIE: It was my mourning, and it was a radiator, and a window
with a hole in it, with the snow coming in, the radiator was off,
and there was this kid sitting there with one leg, the kid was a skull
practically, opening a shoebox with one shoe for Christmas.
RAMONA: Oh my god.
MARIE: Isn't that terrible?
RAMONA: It's not.
MARIE: But I got rid of a big thing, and I couldn't believe
it. I have never before or since done something like that. [laughs]
RAMONA: You mean drawn from...?
MARIE: It just came out, it was something that had built up,
and when I had the subject matter I had to do it at the office, and
I just sat down and drew it, and-holy mackerel!-I thought, "Well,
it's an honest drawing." But it's just as well they didn't print
it. It's the complete opposite of what I'd normally...
RAMONA: But why do you say it's just as well they didn't print
MARIE: Because it made people unhappy. Yes, it was private,
but not too private. I gave it up, if they wanted to print it, but
the bullpen all looked at it saying, "Oh, how sad!"
RAMONA: You did well. You did what you set out to do.
MARIE: When you have a good storyline and/or script it's satisfying
to draw a good story-but when in a script it has within one panel,
"...the hero grappling with someone on a rooftop; identify them,
as the hero doesn't know he has the wrong guy... show a particular
gas station on the street, as the hero will blow it up next page;
on the horizon it's dawn and a helicopter is coming with the cast
of Everybody Loves Raymond"-seriously, some writers do not make
use of continuity-
RAMONA: It isn't that; it's that they grew up on television,
they don't think in stills, in graphic static images.
MARIE: They go too far and expect patience from the artist.
TRINA: Isn't that just bad writing?
RAMONA: It is bad writing, or a failure to understand the
limits of the medium.
MARIE: As Ramona said, they should be writing for television.
RAMONA: In all the time I was doing Brenda Starr, Dale Messick
was the only writer I had who knew how to write for comics. She was
brilliant, she knew the format. The other writers grew up on television,
they were used to the moving image, and they would give me a scene
with a close-up of a character saying four different things in one
balloon, so what am I supposed to illustrate? Nowadays they solve
it by putting 16 balloons in one panel and letting the drawing take
care of itself.
TRINA: Dale was a real exception, she was a writer. Brenda
Starr was her baby, her brainchild, drawn from life. She totally understood
RAMONA: She knew, she was a strip cartoonist, she knew. I
mean, everything that she wrote was for a still picture that told
the story, whereas the other writers I've had were more interested
in the words.
MARIE: Also, another thing to think about: In the old days,
we were brought up on movies. I think the continuity that we had watching
the old black-&-white movies was a different continuity completely
RAMONA: Which is kaleidoscopic.
MARIE: I went to the movies, God, about three times a week!
RAMONA: And we also read the Sunday comics.
MARIE: And your favorite books.
RAMONA: And now, kids don't read as much.
TRINA: You can see what you said about the movies, with Will
Eisner, for instance, and I think also Milton Caniff, his influence
was totally movies. I mean, I can see certain movies and they look
like a Will Eisner comic, you know?
RAMONA: And yet, they turned around and influenced the movies,
too, with the angles. Cross-pollination.
MARIE: Right, and there's a page that Wally Wood did-because
he had a bunch of clones that he worked with-and it was a panel of
all the shortcuts of the page, how to do the heads, and a down shot,
a side shot, the side of the head, and I mean, it's basically movie
shots. That was the best way, if you had talking heads... nobody could
do a talking heads page better than Kirby... he'd make it so interesting!
There'd be some gobbledygook machinery, there'd be an angle going
down the spaceship as they're talking, or pressing a dial and they're
talking, and there's something really weird going on down there, and
you really listened to what they were saying, and you were into it,
RAMONA: So he kept having to relive all of that stuff when
MARIE: Well, he had all the research first-hand. He was in
the thick of it over there.
RAMONA: It's amazing to me that men go to war.
MARIE: Isn't it? And you feel so bad. I always felt guilty
that all these guys in the VA hospital and all these guys had to stop
their lives, and I didn't have to do it.
RAMONA: I know.
MARIE: A boy I knew since I was five, was killed in the Korean
War. He's my age, and I identified with him... we used to be taken
for brother and sister, because we looked so much alike. He lived
up the street in Brooklyn. He was a nice kid, he played dopey games,
and I had the best gun collection because my brother was older than
I am, and I had all his toys around, and I used to come out with a
belt and all those guns, and all the boys came over to play with me,
because I had the best gun collection on the street!
RAMONA: So they let you play.
MARIE: They'd better have, else they wouldn't have any guns!
TRINA: Okay, World War II: I always felt this was a war that
had to be fought. But for the most part, wars don't have to be fought.
The fact that men fight them is wrong, they shouldn't have to!
MARIE: Why are they so stupid? What's happened all these years?
RAMONA: That's what I want to know. Maybe it's the same thing
that makes them like super-heroes.
MARIE: I wouldn't want to do it, I'd be scared to death!
RAMONA: I think that's why we got rid of the draft. Now, we've
got volunteers, people who are willing to do it. It was very smart
of the powers-that-be to have a volunteer army. Now we can have more
wars and the country doesn't get so disrupted.
MARIE: Would you want to get into comics today?
RAMONA: Are you kidding?!? [laughs] Oh, my God!
MARIE: I couldn't take it.
RAMONA: What are they paying now? How much a page?
MARIE: I have no idea. Hundreds.
RAMONA: My timing has always been bad. I left comics just
before the pay rates tripled. What is it... $700 or so?
MARIE: Oh, not that much. I would say at least $250. The majority.
RAMONA: $250? I think Mad pays more.
MARIE: That would be the old rate, I'd bet it's more now.
I remember hearing Mad paid very well. I never did anything for Mad.
RAMONA: Although they're not doing so well.
MARIE: Then there's the royalties.
RAMONA: Marie, you'd be great for Mad, you know?
MARIE: Been there, I never thought of going back. I never
drew for them, but I was on the staff of Mad.
RAMONA: It seems to me when you get to be 70, you shouldn't
be drawing for Mad. [laughter]
MARIE: Yes... although the craziness of humor lasts forever-but
one really has to be aware of current trends, and I've lost interest
in a lot of TV or rock. It's funny though, sometimes an assignment
brings out a lot of our talents, sometimes we underrate ourselves.
RAMONA: Maybe so, maybe so. Maybe I should charge more.
TRINA: Well, Ramona, I still remember the feeding frenzy when
you needed pages inked for Brenda Starr [at a San Diego Comic con],
and people were practically knocking each other out of the way for
the honor of inking one of your strips!
RAMONA: Oh, I know, I loved that! I was so touched by it,
you know? But just that they all got together and helped me out, my
TRINA: They were killing each other for the honor of inking
RAMONA: One of the fellas came up to me at the convention
this year and asked me if I could find the one that he did, and he
should see my attic.
MARIE: Hey, listen, you should go through it, dearie, because
you could make a fortune, and do it now. In the year 2000, people
are making such a hullabaloo, just a number, but all this stuff is
going to be in the 20th century... 20th century art! It's going to
be like 19th century art, and it's going to be overnight! So go through
it, and catalog everything.
RAMONA: Catalog, forget it. I'm totally disorganized.
MARIE: Oh, I sold a lot of mine for bitsy prices.
RAMONA: Me, too.
MARIE: Yeah, stupid.
RAMONA: I sold my Metamorphos for $1.50 a page. Somebody told
me there was one at auction for $6,000.
MARIE: Oh... oh!
RAMONA: I don't believe it sold, but still somebody had the
audacity to ask that for it... it hurts.
MARIE: Yeah, that would hurt me.
RAMONA: I have an attic full of Brenda; 15 years of Brenda.
MARIE: People would like that! Why don't you bring it to the
RAMONA: I do! I always bring some. I usually sell one or two.
Mostly they're after comic book, not newspaper stuff.
MARIE: You know, having sat next to you twice, and I'm so
busy with my own stuff, I didn't know what the heck you were doing.
TRINA: Did either of you read Miss Fury when you were kids?
RAMONA: Yeah, I liked that. I liked the idea that she wore
black and was so athletic, I thought that was so wonderful.
TRINA: She was the first super-heroine, really. Of course,
you know she was done by a woman!
MARIE: Who did that?
TRINA: Tarpe Mills. Her real name was June Mills, she took
her mother's last name, Tarpe... June Tarpe Mills was her full name,
she called herself Tarpe Mills because it was a sexually ambiguous
name. She didn't want people to know it was done by a woman. Of course,
everyone knew anyway.
MARIE: You know what I think is interesting today-or say the
last 20 years-you could tell a woman cartoonist... maybe not you and
I; but nowadays, most of the time you can tell a woman's art in the
comics and everything, while years ago, they all...
RAMONA: Now they're doing their own thing.
MARIE: But in the old days, you couldn't tell a male artist
from a female artist. Like in the old engravings and book illustrations,
they were all done, they were all trained, they all went to school,
and they all had to meet a certain thing, and you didn't know one
from the other.
RAMONA: That's true.
MARIE: Once in a while, a very strong... but I've seen drawings
that I think are absolutely darling old-fashioned drawings, and it's
by a guy! And you'd see these marvelous drawings... some of the flower
fairy drawings, a woman did that, but some of them, you'd think, "The
technique this guy is using..." and it's a woman!
TRINA: Oh, yeah. Artemisia Gentilleschi's stuff, if you ever
see it, you'd never know...
MARIE: Pronouncing and spelling her name is an achievement!
TRINA: She was a Renaissance painter. Her favorite theme was
Judith beheading Holofernes, which is really gruesome! She would draw
the blood spurting out of his neck, and you'd never know this was
a woman, but it was.
MARIE: I think it's wonderful that you know that!
TRINA: I have a whole book on her, she was a very successful
RAMONA: I've got to do your chart sometimes and see why you're
like you are! [laughter]
MARIE: Order mine up, too, willya? [laughter] And send me
RAMONA: You're such an ardent, passionate advocate of women's
TRINA: I'm not the only one, I hope you realize that! [laughter]
MARIE: But you come on awful strong.
RAMONA: But you don't hate men, which is nice.
TRINA: No, I'm a male-basher, but I don't hate men. [laughter]
RAMONA: Well, they could use a little bashing.
RAMONA: I think it's funny, though, that women... at least,
Marie and I have always talked about how comical we thought super-heroes
were, they're just funny, and you can't take them seriously!
TRINA: And yet, the guys do take it seriously. But you guys
MARIE: Oh, they go into great lengths about this, and they
intertwine their stories, and they can sit for hours... they never
enjoyed doing story things with me, it wasn't that they didn't like
our art so much...
TRINA: Why is there a difference?
MARIE: Well, their audience, for the most part, are their
friends at the locker room or the drinking parties.
TRINA: Yeah, the locker room.
MARIE: I started to say before, the guys at Marvel... I want
to finish my thought on that with the artwork... I think most of them
only appreciated my humor stuff, they liked my humor stuff a lot.
But then, when they want to start doing their own humor stuff, that
was pretty much ignored, and the idiots were doing What Th-? I was
still under contract, but I got maybe one or two stories. That didn't
bother me; I didn't call up and say I wanted to work with it, because
frankly, I was afraid of the kind of stuff they'd ask me to do! But
before then, the young kids would prefer having a story conference
with the guys. They talked easier together, and also, I was a lot
older than they... it's not an excuse for why I didn't get work, it's
a fact. They felt uncomfortable talking with me, they couldn't sit
around, snort and whatever they'd do.
TRINA: So was that because of your age, or because you were
MARIE: Both. And my technique was not polished in the "modern"
RAMONA: I think it's the business, too.
MARIE: Oh, of course it was. I worked at the Federal Reserve
Bank, one woman had a mental breakdown because she couldn't get ahead
of the guys.
TRINA: You and John Romita are the same age.
MARIE: But I didn't perfect my comic art the way he did. He
may take three days to do one cover, and Stan likes it, and it's very
polished and comic book anatomically correct, and he can ink beautifully
and painstakingly. People have asked,"Why didn't you do more
stuff?" Well I did a bit of everything and at 5:00 it was the
end of it.
TRINA: You didn't bring your work home?
MARIE: Only once in a while, Brand Ecch and stuff like that.
My stuff in the latter part of the '70s was not in demand as much
as the new guys coming up, the new blood coming up, the new style
of inking... they had all these fine, wonderful lines. I mean, we
were into better paper, printing and color meant very involved art
could be reproduced. The price of the comic went up. Mcfarlane would
not have been printable in the old days. My style isn't like that;
my style is fairly crude in a way.
RAMONA: You were competing with some really good artists.
MARIE: Oh, yeah!
RAMONA: I mean, the Marvel guys were a lot better than the
MARIE: I did some stuff that was okay, but they never liked
my "Dr. Strange" as much, they'd skip it if they can.
TRINA: That's funny, I love your "Dr. Strange."
MARIE: I thought it was fun, because I helped do the stories
then, that's when I worked for Stan, and that was fun. I liked the
weirdness of it.
TRINA: But you know, Marie, I think you only say, "Well,
I don't care. They didn't include me in these things, but I don't
care." I think you do care, I think you did care.
MARIE: Only if I wanted to do a particular type thing. But
it was mostly just saying, not that they don't like me personally,
but they just prefer... I'm not in the club.
RAMONA: Marie, watch out: She's trying to radicalize you!
TRINA: Well, sure, after this meeting, what I'm going to do
is lead us all in making some pipe bombs [laughter] and once we get
to Marvel, we will hurl these bombs... [laughs]
MARIE: They know not what they do, because they're so involved
and they hope to produce a money-making project, and they succeeded
in the '70s.
RAMONA: Well, don't you think part of the reason it fell apart
was because nobody had a script they were working from?
TRINA: The writers... oh, you mean the Marvel Style?
RAMONA: The Marvel Style.
TRINA: I've worked in both styles, and I think they both work.
RAMONA: I can't work that way, with one paragraph. I get off
TRINA: But no, maybe Marie knows, because she worked in the
Marvel style. You would describe the whole thing, and the artists
felt freer... don't you think the artists felt freer?
MARIE: If they had that much to put on the paper, if it was
within themselves. If they were...
TRINA: If they were good.
MARIE: A guy like Buscema, you could say to him, "Conan
is coming into these weird, ancient ruins, and it's a jungle, and
it's starting the overgrowth, and he's coming in there, and there's
something stirring in the bushes, we don't know what it is. On the
next page, it'll be a big dinosaur." You'll get the most gorgeous
gobbledygook stonework and ruins and foliage, and you can almost hear
him walking in the wet damp, and there's something moving, there's
a shadow. And he'll get it in. Somebody else would not have the angle,
and would have something from Coney Island as the ruins, you know?
And still, they'd have a fancy inking technique that would show all
the muscles and the sinews and the thighs, and the fancy costume,
and have a half-naked woman there.
RAMONA: But I wonder if that hasn't contributed to the state
that comics are in now, the fact that the artists took over, in a
sense. They began, I think, to get too full of themselves.
TRINA: But if it's a good artist, like she said John Buscema
is great. A good artist... I don't think John Buscema got too full
of himself, he was a professional.
RAMONA: I'm not talking about one artist specifically, but
I think artists in general began to run away with the thing and now
they're doing posters!
TRINA: Now they're doing posters, yes. But isn't that just
because they're not good?
RAMONA: They're very good; for posters they're great.
MARIE: You know what it is? They do not have-in many cases,
I'm always rationalizing-in many cases, there is lack of leadership
and editorial direction. And everybody wanted to be Stan Lee, and
not everybody is Stan Lee, and maybe Stan's time has passed. But the
fact is, you had control in the old days... the editor was the boss,
and all of a sudden, these guys are on their own, and the editors
are fighting to get a Joe Blow, because Joe Blow's book sold a big
thing, I want it, I'll get some money, too. I'll get the glory of
him working with me, rather than somebody else.
RAMONA: But how can you have a good story where you've got
a whole bunch of pictures, and then somebody comes along and sticks
the words on? How can you have a story? But then they're getting two
for the price of one. They're getting a writer and an artist for one
salary. That's fine if he's a great storyteller, but you just cut
artists loose and say, "Now go ahead and dramatize this paragraph
over 17 pages..."
MARIE: Lee and Kirby worked that way all the time.
RAMONA: But they're good!
TRINA: But that's the magic word: They're good! That's the
RAMONA: But you don't have to be that good if you've got a
MARIE: Well, that's what I'm saying, not everybody can work
that way; you need the control. In the old days, they controlled so
much that a lot of guys never got the chance to let loose. They controlled
Kirby at other companies, Stan let him run loose, because he either
recognized it, or he figured, "Hey, let's see what happens...
it seems to be working; let him loose!" Also, Stan also had his
name on everything anyway, so he didn't care how overworked he might
be or might not be. [laughs] But this current lack of editorial leadership...
maybe it's not the editor's fault, it could be this guy got 50 million
fan letters, and they're afraid they'll lose him to DC, so they'll
let him do whatever he wants, and they can ruin a good writer's story.
They can take a writer's story and say, "I didn't feel like doing
this," because he's got the fans to back him up.
TRINA: But then, you see again, it comes down to is this person
MARIE: Of course not. He's a spoiled brat.
RAMONA: Well, you're talking about a script, and... I mean,
I'm talking about one paragraph.
MARIE: You mean one paragraph for a whole story. Oh, I've
RAMONA: I just don't get it, unless you've got an artist who's
a writer. Then, you've got a writer writing it.
TRINA: I know you worked on-even though it was never published-you
worked on Claws of The Cat.
MARIE: We both worked on The Cat.
TRINA: I know you worked Marvel style.
RAMONA: It was ridiculous! My mind started wandering, and
MARIE: You know, I think she's too honest. I really think
that's your problem: You spend so much time thinking of "Is this
RAMONA: I'm limited.
MARIE: I remember getting a paragraph-they were doing The
Hulk annual thing [#1], and it wasn't reprints, it was an annual,
and the writer [Gary Friedrich]... he gave me a paragraph and disappeared!
I had to draw it, and I had a whole book, and he said, "Hulk
lands on this other world," and I had to make up a bunch of characters.
I did it, barely. But it was terrible, and I wasn't compensated for
that, but how I fixed it was I did a lot of it on staff, and the heck
with them! I never could stand not being busy. I wasn't invited into
the little cliques with the boys and didn't discuss the plots with
anyone that I recall-and I can't remember who finally wrote it!
TRINA: I do believe that this did bother you, because you're
aware of it, you're very aware of it.
MARIE: Only because people have asked me about it; it's what
you want to hear.
TRINA: Sure, it's what I want to hear. [laughter]
MARIE: You know, Ramona, I'm interested: Did you just walk
straight into a comic-book outfit?
MARIE: Tell me.
RAMONA: Well, I knew George Ward, who went on to work with
Walt Kelly, and he was friends with Joe Maneely...
MARIE: Oh, I love Joe Maneely!
RAMONA: ... and he used to tell us about Maneely. George was
doing lettering at the time for comics. And he told us about the money
Maneely was making, I mean, he could turn out a 20-page story in minutes.
So, we didn't have any money at the time, Dana and I had just gotten
married, and Dana was a cartoonist, and he and George encouraged me
to make some samples. So, I went out and bought a bunch of comic books
and read them for about two weeks, I immersed myself in them.
MARIE: You do everything that way.
RAMONA: Well, I didn't know anything about comics! I wanted
to find out who was publishing, and where to go, and what they looked
like. So, I read romances and Westerns, stuff like that, whatever
was happening, and made up a page of Western vignettes... somebody
MARIE: Did it bother you to do that because it was a little
RAMONA: Yes, but it also felt perfectly natural. Of course,
having been at the League, a fine art school, I mean, the thought
of being a cartoonist was just like... becoming a prostitute or something!
MARIE: Was this a rebellion on your part, or was it the money-making?
RAMONA: There was money! I was never going to be a painter,
I had no talent to be a painter.
TRINA: How do you know that?
RAMONA: Because I couldn't mix two colors together except
they'd come out brown.
MARIE: Well, you didn't have anybody coloring in your house!
RAMONA: Well, I didn't, but I took classes, I took painting
classes, and I just didn't have it.
MARIE: I can't believe that, because I think you have some
wonderful color concepts.
RAMONA: Well, that's very good. [laughs]
MARIE: So continue: You started out, you went to this guy
who knew Maneely...
RAMONA: Yeah, so I made up a page of samples, and somebody
told me about this place called Fox Features, so I took my samples
up there, and they gave me a 12-page script.
MARIE: Right off the bat?
RAMONA: Everywhere I went, I got a job! It was crazy!
TRINA: And you didn't think you were any good.
RAMONA: No, I had no idea. I thought anybody could walk in
and get a job in comics.
MARIE: You were a natural!
RAMONA: I guess I was. But see: What I appreciate is that
you grew up knowing you were a cartoonist.
MARIE: And there wasn't anything good or bad about it, you
still enjoyed it. I loved sculpturing, they bought me clay, I played
with that. But I knew if I was a sculptor, I'd have to have a whole
basement or an attic to work in, because the stuff is massive. Oil
painting is another thing, there's plenty of oil painters, I mean,
everybody did oil painting. So it was the money-making thing.
RAMONA: Right. Well, I guess you can tell from our conversations
that I have mixed feelings about everything I do.
RAMONA: I had that about this. I didn't have any respect for
comics, it just never figured in my scheme of things, you know? And
there I was...
MARIE: I enjoyed them when I was a kid, but when I discovered
movies, I was off into the movies.
RAMONA: Yeah, I loved them when I was a kid, but then I forgot
about them. You know, it was just something I could do, and I got
these jobs. I got that script from Fox, and somebody told me they
didn't pay, so I sent the script back. It was a 12-pager.
TRINA: Do you remember who warned you about them?
RAMONA: No, no. But I was scared to death! I never expected
to get this damn 12-page script, and I wouldn't have known what to
do with it! I'd never drawn comics!
TRINA: So you mean you never even drew the script, you sent
it back undrawn.
RAMONA: I sent it back. Then I went up to Stan Lee at Magazine
TRINA: Were they in the Empire State Building?
RAMONA: Empire State Building, was that Timely? I think it
was Timely Comics or something.
MARIE: Atlas maybe.
RAMONA: No, it wasn't Atlas. I think it was Timely. And I
got a job, Stan gave me a script right away. He gave me one or two
stories, and the second story was a war thing, and I happened to be
really against the war that was going on, and I don't know if it was
an accident or what, but I spilled ink all over the pages. It was
bad, it was really unprofessional you might say, and he didn't give
me any more scripts. Then, I went to DC and I got a job, and there
was... it was like they wouldn't leave me alone! [laughs]
TRINA: The gods were insisting that you had to draw comics.
RAMONA: Yes, exactly. So that was it, and I stayed at DC.
MARIE: You spilled ink on poor Stan Lee's job?