CBA hosted a dinner of "cosmic proportions" for Marvel
stalwarts (from left) Alan Weiss, Jim Starlin, and Allen Milgrom (Alan
is much nicer than he appears here!).
Photo by Andrew D. Cooke.
The Cosmic Code Authority Speaks!
Talking with Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss and Al Milgrom
on those trippy '70s Marvel Comics
Conducted by Jon B. Cooke
Transcribed by Jon B. Knutson
Book Artist #18
The following roundtable discussion took place after an exceptional
Italian dinner at Casa di Meglio on West 48th Street in New York City
on Dec. 6, 2001. Many thanks to the artists who attended the feast,
and to Alan's effervescent wife, the ever-helpful Pauline (who assisted
by facilitating the meal and copyediting the transcript) and kudos
to this editor's brother, Andrew D. Cooke, who took photos. While
Alan remains silent for a portion of the interview, rest assured the
renowned conversationalist does come into the discussion. We join
our group of cosmic sojourners as coffee is just being served...
Comic Book Artist: [to Allen Milgrom and Jim Starlin] You're
both from the Detroit area. Did you two know each other in high school?
Jim Starlin: We met in junior high. We were probably 13 or
CBA: Did you grow up in the city of Detroit?
Jim & Allen Milgrom: [simultaneously] Suburbs.
Jim: He was in Huntington Woods, and I was in a place called
Berkeley. We went to Berkeley High School together.
CBA: Were you guys close at all?
Allen: Yeah, as long as I didn't approach him in public! [laughter]
Jim: I used to hang with a different crowd than Allen.
Allen: We'd get together and talk about stuff. And I'd run
up to him at school and say [excitedly], "Jim, have you seen
the latest Fantastic Four?" and he'd go...
Jim: "Not now, not now!" [laughs]
Allen: I used to creep Jim out. But he'd follow me home. All
my friends knew I was into comics, and they didn't care, but his friends
would've been... I don't know... mortified. Jim was ashamed to admit
to others that he liked, read, and drew comics.
CBA: He hung out with a rough crowd?
Allen: They were like the greasers, and I was more like a
frat boy, as they called them in those days. Jim used to do drawings
of naked chicks and stuff, obscene drawings, and all his friends would
go, "Oh, that's good, Jim! Draw me one of those!" But at
the same time, he used to do 20-page Hulk stories, just for practice.
I've got some of those pages somewhere around, too. If the price is
right, Jim, I won't show them. [laughter]
CBA: People use the phrase "The Detroit Mafia" to
describe the unusually high number of comics people who came from
Michigan in the early 1970s. Was that an accurate description?
Jim: Anybody who came to New York from that general vicinity,
they just assumed we had been all living in the same house in Detroit.
Allen: Jim and I were from that area. We met Rich Buckler
and Mike Vosburg. Somehow, we did meet Terry Austin, just before we
moved East. He was actually from the city, somewhere around Five Mile.
Jim: There were a couple of other guys. Greg Theakston. And
that other guy, a friend of Greg's, who was a painter? Carl Lundgren.
He was from that vicinity, too.
Alan Weiss: Mike Nasser was also from there.
Jim: Weren't Arvell Jones and Keith Pollard from Detroit?
Allen: That's right.
Jim: Well, the truth of the matter is, Detroit is such a cultural
wasteland that the only art anyone got there was from the comic book
spinner rack at the drug store. [laughter] Everybody ran off! Well,
there was the Detroit Art Museum, the Institute of Arts.
Allen: That's not true!
Jim: Which you can't draw in. I remember going in there with
some charcoals, and they thought I was a terrorist! They wouldn't
let me draw anything in there! They were afraid I was going to deface
the art! [laughter]. We weren't terrorists. We didn't have any colors
or anything like that.
The original cover art for Captain Marvel #29 includes the face
as originally drawn by Jim Starlin and inked by Allen Milgrom. The Bullpen
saw fit to change the Kree Warrior's face on the published version,
as evidenced by the Romita version (inset).
Courtesy of Jim Woodall. ©2002 Marvel Characters, Inc.
CBA: Was it mostly Marvels you guys read?
Allen: Marvels, DCs. When I started reading them, there was
nothing but DCs.
Jim: That's right.
Allen: There was just Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and
later on The Fly from Archie Comics, and then they came along. The
[Adventures of the] Fly #1 was one of the single greatest comics I've
ever read. Man, I liked that book! There wasn't much in the early
CBA: What year did you guys graduate?
Jim: 1968, I think it was, because I was in the service in
Allen: But we were in the same grade. I graduated in '67,
though Jim may have graduated in 1968.
Jim: I'll take Allen's word for it as he took a lot less drugs.
Allen: It'd be hard to take more! But no, we graduated in
'67. Jim went into the service, I went to the University of Michigan.
CBA: [to Jim] When did you start contributing to fanzines?
Jim: Well, Allen turned me on to fanzines.
Allen: Really? I don't remember that.
Jim: Otherwise I would not have had any outlets whatsoever.
Allen did his first fanzine work somewhere during high school, then
I did a series of contributions to them when I was in the service.
Didn't we do one for Star-Studded Comics back when I was in high school?
CBA: Was that for Buddy Saunders?
Allen: Yeah, the Texas Trio.
Jim: We did "The Defender" and "Doctor Weird,"
and then when I got into the service, I did a few more "Doctor
Weirds," and two issues of this thing called The Eagle. The third
issue got blown up.
CBA: "Got blown up"?
Jim: I was drawing it in Camaron Bay, when I was in Vietnam...
CBA: Oh, it wasn't enlarged; it was literally blown up!
Jim: It was blown up. I used to ink my work inside the beer
locker, because when you laid the brush down in that humid weather,
the ink would go pssssshhhh. One day I went off on a flight, and when
I got back, all the Marines were going crazy because somebody snuck
on the base and blew up the beer locker. They're all running around
going, "Beer! Beer!" and I'm going, "Drawings! Drawings!"
CBA: You had your priorities.
Jim: Yeah, it was all gone. I found little bits and pieces
of it here and there.
CBA: Did you get drafted?
Jim: No, no, I joined.
Allen: Well, there's a story behind that, too, as I recall.
Jim: Yeah, well, I had a little run-in with the law.
Allen: You were given options. They said, "You could
either join the service, or we may have to put you in..."
Jim: "The hoosegow."
CBA: You Motown juvenile delinquent, you! Which branch?
Jim: The Navy.
CBA: How long was your hitch?
Jim: I was in for a little over three years. I got out early.
CBA: Were you in Southeast Asia for the entire time?
Jim: For the last part of it. I was stationed in Sicily for
the first 18 months, which was really kind of nice. I lived off-base,
and we flew around and took pictures from the air. They made maps
from our pictures... Sicily hadn't had any new maps since the 1940s.
So I thought, "Gee, this Navy thing's kind of cool!" Then
they shipped me to Southeast Asia and that changed my mind.
Allen: It was in Sicily that you had that little helicopter
Jim: Yeah, the chopper just fell. It wasn't like anybody was
shooting at us.
CBA: Was it lousy maintenance or age?
Jim: No, it was because of a lieutenant j.g. [junior grade]
There was this thing called an auto-rotation. If your engine goes
bad, you'd disconnect the prop from the engine, and the prop's supposed
to slow you down, to take you down gradually.
Allen: So you don't crash.
Jim: Right. We had to practice disengaging. You were supposed
to re-engage before you hit the ground, but this guy didn't do it,
so we hit the ground and blew out all our hydraulics, and just spun
around until we turned everything off.
CBA: Did you think you'd bought it?
Jim: The other guy in the cab filled a bag while we were in
the midst of this, and he gave it to the lieutenant j.g. as a chili
dinner afterwards. [laughter] Then he walked off!
CBA: Just desserts! How would you characterize your experience
in Vietnam? Were you in the thick of it?
Jim: No, no, I just took pictures. Aerial photography, stuff
CBA: When were you discharged?
Jim: 1971, I think. I came to New York in '72.
CBA: Were you looking into cosmic concepts when you did "Doctor
Jim: Doctor Weird was not very cosmic. He was just a rip-off
of Doctor Strange with a little more of a super-hero element to him.
But Doctor Weird was just the only thing going at the time. Very stupid
Alan: Like Mr. Justice from the old Archie Comics, MLJ.
CBA: So you guys didn't see any depth within that character
Alan: I drew a couple of "Doctor Weird" stories
Jim: That was the most interesting project I worked on in
my fan days. It was exciting to be able to hook into these fanzines
that would publish your stuff. But we weren't ready for professional
Allen: I remember sending away for an issue of Alter-Ego,
but I don't remember how I knew about it.
Alan: It was Roy [Thomas]'s letter in the Justice League [of
Allen: That's probably where I found out about fanzines. I
sent them 75¢ and when it arrived it had been ripped up in the
mail, so all I got was the cover, the wraparound inside and outside
of the cover, which had Ronn Foss' drawing of The Eclipse, this blind
guy who could see in the dark, and it looked pretty cool. I said,
"I've got to see more of these," so I started seeking them
One of Steve Englehart's mid-'70s highlights at Marvel was his collaboration
with artist Frank Brunner on their unforgettable Doctor Strange story
arcs in Marvel Premiere and Doc's own revived title. Here's a Brunner
commission featuring Stephen and the magician's faithful paramour, Clea.
Courtesy of the artist.
Art ©2002 Frank Brunner. Characters ©2002 Marvel Characters,
CBA: A lot of them came out of Detroit, if I recall.
Allen: Mike Vosburg did "Masquerader."
CBA: There was Jerry Bails, who was before Roy. And All In
Color for a Dime was one of the very first, but Roy's Alter-Ego was
the first one I saw.
Allen: Same here. Then I might've gotten a subscription to
the Rocket's Blast/ComiCollector, which Biljo White used to do. In
those days, they used to have mimeographed fanzines.
Alan: Oh, I did 'em myself! I did a character called The Crusader,
and some others... covers and spot illustrations. We used templates
to get a texture or a tone by rubbing on them. I'd do the drawing
and the lettering same size on a stencil. It was insane! [laughter]
Jim: I remember going off and buying all these little pieces
of textured glass so I could rub it on them.
Allen: Yeah, to get Zip-A-Tone type effects.
Jim: I just used whatever they had at the hardware store.
Alan: Oh, I went to the art store and got the actual plastic
sheets. It was nuts! You'd press real hard and you'd end up with a
CBA: Was working on fanzine strips while serving overseas
one way to keep in touch with the people back home?
Jim: Yes. While I was in the service I started doing my own
Hulk strips and sent them in to Marvel.
Allen: Who were you dealing with?
Jim: I was just sending them "in care of Marvel."
There was nobody designated to handle submissions at that point.
CBA: Did Linda Fite or someone write a letter back to you?
Jim: I think it probably was Linda who was writing me back.
Allen: They didn't have an art director at that point. Marie
Severin sort of doubled as the art director as much as anybody, didn't
Jim: I just remember one of the high points of that time was
somebody said they showed my samples to Herb Trimpe and he liked them.
I thought that was really cool.
Detail of Strange Tales #179 splash page by Jim Starlin.
©2002 Marvel Characters, Inc.
Allen: Didn't you come to New York one time and look up Steve
Jim: This was early on, when he was still drawing Spider-Man.
I was in New York visiting the World's Fair in 1964. I just opened
the New York City phone book and looked people up. I was trying to
contact Carmine, Kirby, Ditko, maybe Kubert, and couldn't get any
of them... except I did get a hold of Carmine, who lied and told me
that he wasn't him. Years later, when I met Carmine, I realized that
this was the same guy I remember talking to back in '64! [laughter]
And I visited Ditko in his studio. I guess I hit him at the right
moment. He was a little annoyed the first couple times I called, but
finally I said, "I'm down at the end of the street," and
he said, "Okay, come on up." And it was really informative.
I think he was working on "When Falls the Meteor" [Amazing
Allen: Didn't he take some tracing paper and show you how
he copied drapery out of photos and stuff like that?
Jim: He had an entire sketchbook of just drapery, and notebooks
full of nothing but arms, every different kind. I was fascinated by
Allen: I remember you came back and said he had a little diagram
of where the plot line was going for that whole Doctor Octopus story.
Remember he was using an alias, the "Master Planner"? Y'know,
I actually paid a visit to the Marvel offices when I was still in
college because Martin Goodman is a relative of mine. Yes, it's a
little known fact. My grandparents were also named Goodman, and when
I was a kid, they used to say, "You know, you have a cousin who
owns a comic book company and works in the Empire State Building."
I later learned Marvel's offices used to be there.
CBA: [to Jim] Ditko was a big influence on you, right?
Jim: Yeah, he and Kirby were the biggest, I think. Gil Kane,
Carmine, and Kubert were also influences.
CBA: Were you guys impressed with Stan and Jack's Galactus
trilogy [Fantastic Four #48-50]?
Allen: Oh, yeah, we ate that stuff up!
Jim: We loved Kirby before we knew it was Kirby, before he
was getting credit. Challengers of the Unknown! I remember being very
impressed with that book.
CBA: Did you recognize that Kirby and Lee were reaching out
to higher concepts? Galactus was virtually God, the Silver Surfer
could be either defined as the Wandering Jew or Lucifer, the fallen
angel. Did you recognize it at the time, that this was different stuff,
reaching for a deeper meaning?
Allen: Well, it was good stuff. I was reading DC comics up
to the time I was 12 or 13, when I was starting to outgrow them. A
lot of them became an effort to read, they weren't that exciting.
A friend gave me the first issue of Fantastic Four, and he said, "Here,
this is the worst comic I've ever seen in my life."
Alan: But it said it was "The World's Greatest Comic"
Allen: I read it and I hated it! They weren't wearing costumes;
they were breaking a lot of public property, which really upset me...
Jim: They yelled at each other!
Allen: Yeah, they were mean-tempered and ugly. By the third
issue, they got costumes, which made it a little more interesting,
but it still looked like a monster magazine. But by #6, my brain just
exploded out of my skull! That issue just had so many dynamics! The
power of the storytelling was great, and it just kept getting better
and better from there! So by the time they got to the Galactus stuff,
I was already a raving fanatic for it.
Jim: I think the stage was set with Thor, when they started
getting into these long eons of time, the Tree of Life, all the real
mythological elements. Stan and Jack were climbing the tree themselves,
in a way, looking for bigger and bigger concepts. By the time they
brought in Wyatt Wingfoot and started doing these long, attenuated
and multi-layered storylines in the Fantastic Four, they had to keep
topping themselves. In some respects, it was the tail wagging the
dog, but in the best of possible ways, because they were constantly
saying, "We've got to go one better."
Allen: What you say is true, but one of the things that Lee
and Kirby did that I thought was so great was, once they got done
with one of these cosmic efforts, they'd throw in some little human
drama to alter the tone. You know, "This Man, This Monster,"
[FF #51], or they'd fight Paste-Pot Pete or something, lowering the
bar so they didn't have to constantly top themselves every month,
and they would start a new story cycle. I think a lot of the guys
who followed them made their mistake there. They kept trying to go
higher and higher, and it reaches a point where you can't go any higher.
Jim: Stan had the sense to make it so that every once in a
while the FF would just... have a softball game. I loved that so much!
Alan: Right in the middle of all those cosmic sagas!
Allen: [to Alan] There was nothing like having Vinnie Colletta
run over your face on second base! [laughter] Oh, he was a pip.
Alan: It was third base, and he broke my glasses! And I still
pitched the rest of the game. [to Jon] Jim's saying that it mirrored
the way the Marvel staff and freelancers played softball and volleyball
games in Central Park. It was so smart. Where someone else might've
had quick comedy relief, Stan gave you human relief. He'd bring it
back down to ground level and give you a chance to catch your breath.
So it wasn't just all-cosmic or all-angst all the time. If you don't
have a break, you can't appreciate it. When they get into the business,
everyone wants to try and top what it was that influenced them when
they were coming up. Unfortunately, in many respects, that turns into
a negative. "Well, I'll have my guy be worse! He'll be nastier!
He'll be more violent!" Unless there's the humanistic build-up
to it, it won't have meaning. It becomes gratuitous.
CBA: It reached a crescendo with Galactus and the Silver Surfer,
and then all of a sudden, in some ways, the comics got introspective.
You had this Silver Surfer going around, having these angst-filled
monologues... Warlock was questioning his own sanity, and it got so
deep he was fighting Magus, who ultimately was himself. During the
Fantastic Four heyday, the American counter-culture was burgeoning,
and the youth started questioning the basic values America had always
Allen: Marvel was trying to expand in the early '70s, when
all the new guys started getting into the business. Warlock was essentially
a new character, and they didn't know what to do with Captain Marvel...
first he was a Kree soldier in that ugly green-&-white costume.
We had different points of view, different attitudes, and different
things we wanted to convey, and it was a time of turmoil in the world.
So when we were given these characters, we went off on some tangents.
Plus, we were probably the first generation that got into comics because
we wanted to do comic books. It wasn't, "I can't make it in illustration,
I can't get a newspaper strip, this is a stepping stone." We
were really aiming to have a career in comics, period. For us, that
was the pinnacle! What do you want to do a newspaper strip for?
Jim: We were also some of the first new professionals to come
into the business in 30 years, with the exception of Neal [Adams],
Steranko, Roy, and Denny [O'Neil]. Before that, it was a closed shop.
But in terms of that time period, just like everybody else post-Watergate,
post-Vietnam, I was just as crazy as the rest of them. Each one of
those stories was me taking that stuff that had gone before and trying
to put my own personal slant on it. Mar-Vell was a warrior who decided
he was going to become a god, and that's where his trip was. But Warlock
was already a god from the Gil Kane run, so I had to take the god
and make him back into the man. And a suicidal paranoid-schizophrenic
man seemed to be the most interesting one to write about at that point.
CBA: How cheerful!
Jim: Everybody's out to get him, including himself, and he
kills himself at the end. Twice! [laughter]
Alan: I always loved your happy endings!
Allen: Jim definitely had a grimmer outlook on most of the
mainstream Marvel characters in his stuff.
Jim: Well, what's kind of interesting, bringing these characters
back now for the Infinity Abyss, is working with all this really strange
history gone before. At one point, the new Captain Marvel sees Warlock
and goes, "Ah, I thought he was dead!" and Moondragon says,
"Yeah, he can't seem to get it right." [laughter] It's a
lot of fun to pull off these things. At another point, his soul-gem
steals the soul of one of the Thanos dopplegangers, and he's really
upset, because he's got Thanos inside of him now, but then he says,
"No, I'll be okay... Thanos' nihilistic tendencies are beginning
to commingle and assimilate with my own suicidal tendencies."
If I can get that one through, I can get anything through. [laughter]
CBA: In 1964 or '65, Ditko's abilities were at their zenith
with "Doctor Strange" and Kirby was coming into his own
with the cosmic concepts of Galactus and the Silver Surfer in Fantastic
Four with Stan Lee. That started an almost non-stop deluge of truly
fun and often substantive comics, reaching out sometimes to explore
the metaphysical. These comics were dealing with real concepts, at
times, taking the readership along for the ride. This continued up
until the demise of Jim's Warlock. Afterwards, the books became boring
and more corporate, very calculated, and the fun seemed to be gone
from the books. In a lot of ways, Marvel's cosmic titles really reached
a pinnacle for mainstream comics.
Jim: There were various reasons why all of them went, most
of them pretty mundane. Warlock was going to continue after I left,
but the paper shortage at that point killed it. Warlock, "Killraven,"
"Guardians of the Galaxy," and a number of other books,
including "The Black Panther," were cancelled just because
they couldn't get the paper for them.
CBA: Those were also the weakest sellers, I assume.
Allen: Yeah. There were paper shortages every couple of years.
I think it was a reason for the paper mills to jack up the price.
Who knows? Maybe they were just publishing a lot of stuff in those
days. At one point we were doing all the stuff that was getting a
lot of fan attention, but they were really not necessarily the best-selling
CBA: [to Allen] How did you get into Marvel?
Allen: After I graduated from college with an art degree,
Starlin was already doing a little bit of work, and living in a place
on Staten Island. [to Jim] I don't remember what you did initially,
some layouts for John Romita, as I recall?
Jim: Well, basically I was doing all the cover layouts for
other artists to finish. Frank Giacoia was the actual art director,
but for some reason he didn't do layouts. So they hired me, and I
did cover sketches for John Buscema and everybody else. I remember
laying out the first Defenders cover that Valkyrie appeared on [#4],
and having a helluva time with that horse! [laughter] Sal Buscema
did a real nice job finishing that.
Allen: Anyway, I wanted to get into comics after I graduated,
and Jim had already made some headway. Jim said to me, "Hey,
things are really hopping here, and lots of new guys are getting work.
Mike Friedrich is moving out to California, so there's room."
So, I put together a portfolio and drove East with Mike Vosburg. I
got to Jim's place and said, "Hi guys, I'm the new roommate!"
and Jim said, "Shhh! I haven't told them yet! Act like you don't
know me!" [laughter] Peggy Buckler, Bill DuBay, Starlin, and
Steve Skeates were living there, and I moved in.
Jim: It worked out.
CBA: [to Jim] Marvel was obviously so impressed with your
work when you first showed up, that they made you a de facto art director?
Jim: Yeah. After I quit, they hired John Romita. [laughs]
CBA: Why did you quit?
Jim: Well, I wanted to draw my own comics. Up until that point,
I'd been doing some fill-ins. I remember a love story with Tom the
Truck Driver, Dick the Dude, and Wendy the Waitress, which was inked
by Jack Abel.
Alan: [laughs] "Dick the Dude!"
Jim: Then there was a horror thing, and then I got some fill-in
stuff on "The Beast" [in Amazing Adventures]. I finally
quit the staff position when I got some Iron Man fill-ins [#55, 56].
CBA: Were you looking at Iron Man as a regular gig, or did
you know it was just going to be a temporary thing?
Jim: Well, I thought it was going to be a regular assignment.
I did the first one, which introduced Thanos [Iron Man #55], with
Mike Friedrich, and then I did the next issue with Steve Gerber. We
wrote this really silly Iron Man story, and Stan said, "This
is terrible," and he fired us both, right off the book! [laughter]
But Roy immediately gave us something else to do.
CBA: You were immediately hired back.
Jim: Yes. Roy suggested, "Why don't you do Captain Marvel?"
CBA: You didn't lobby for Captain Marvel?
Jim: Wayne Boring was drawing the book, Marv Wolfman was writing
it, and they were going to cancel it. So Roy just said, "See
what you can do with it," and it worked out. Then Mike and I
had a falling out on this one [holding issue #28], because I wanted
to write it.
CBA: The issue you scripted a chapter in?
Jim: Yes. Roy said, "Well, tell you what: Why don't you
write one of these chapters, and if I like it, we'll give Mike another
book." Poor Mike! He had five books at that point, so I didn't
think anything much about it. Roy liked the chapter, so they gave
the title to me to write, and the next month, all of Mike's books
got cancelled. Every single one! He had "Ka-Zar" at the
time. They all immediately went down the tube, and he was out of business
Alan: "Ka-Zar," I remember that. Peak philosophy.
Allen: Pink philosophy?
Alan: Around that time, Jim told me about this sequence Mike
had written for "Ka-Zar." Now, here's Starlin, he's a military
guy, he knows something about aircraft... and he talks really fast
when he's excited. [starts gesticulating wildly and talking fast]
"He's got Ka-Zar grabbing the landing gear of this jet while
it's taking off and he hangs on to it for the whole trip and the landing
gear never retracts and the plane's traveling at peak philosophy and
then Ka-Zar jumps off and rolls as the plane's landing and Ka-Zar,
you know, he's not super or anything, he's just a regular guy and
he's half naked but he hits the ground and there's not a scratch on
him..." I started laughing and said, "Jim! 'Peak philosophy'!
What's that? Faster than the speed of God?" [laughter] One of
my very favorite Starlin malaprops.
The original cover art for Captain Marvel #34 (slightly altered upon
final publication), Starlin's last, depicts the event which would eventually
lead to the title character's demise seven years later in The Death
of Captain Marvel.
Courtesy of Jim Woodall. ©2002 Marvel Characters, Inc.
CBA: Did you guys recognize what Roy Thomas and Gil Kane were
doing to revamp Captain Marvel was pretty hip?
Jim: It seemed like I kept following those two! [laughter]
I would've had a hard time if I didn't have that opportunity, if I
didn't have their back issues to look at.
CBA: Were you inspired by Gil Kane?
Jim: Oh, tremendously. In fact, if you go through my first
issue of "Warlock" [Strange Tales #178], there are some
very direct Gil Kane riffs and swipes just so I could get a feel for
CBA: Were you comfortable writing?
CBA: Even dialoguing? On occasion, you would have Steve Englehart
come in to assist on Captain Marvel.
Jim: In the beginning, I was a little hesitant about it. That's
why I had him finish off Captain Marvel. After that, it was a piece
CBA: Very quickly after coming to Marvel, you became an auteur,
a writer-artist, which was pretty unusual at both companies, except
CBA: ...and, at DC, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert and a few others.
You were really in a rare position, especially being so new to comics.
Jim: But there was none of that auteur stuff, it was just
a bunch of kids living together on Staten Island, having fun.
Allen: It was living out a childhood fantasy. [to Jim] Should
I tell them about the dirty sock technique?
Jim: Yeah, sure.
Allen: Aside from being a little less than confident about
his early dialogue, Jim does real tight pencils, always has done real
tight pencils. Any competent inker could take them and make a finished
thing out of them easily. Even when he was 18, 19 years old, it was
very solid-looking stuff.
Alan: But if something wouldn't quite work out on the drawing...
Allen: ...he'd take a sock and smear it over the page. [laughter]
Alan: The reason he gave me for doing that was so they wouldn't
think he bashed them out so fast. He wanted it to look like there
was a lot of work on it, so he's smear it a little bit, so it'd look
like he smudged it.
Allen: That wasn't the excuse I heard.
Alan: What was the truth?
Jim: If something wasn't quite right, it would get smeared,
Allen: "The inker will fix it!" That's what I remember!
[laughter] "I can't get this to turn out right, I'll make it
vaguer so the inker can fix it!"
Alan: Pass the buck!
Allen: Years later, John Buscema told us that was the way
to go! [laughter] "Don't worry about every little detail; the
inker will fix it!"
Allen: He was a real pro, he had a whole towel! [laughter]
CBA: [to Allen] After you got to Staten Island, how long was
it before you started getting work?
Allen: When I first got to town, I took samples around. When
I went up to Marvel, and they said, "Oh, yeah, you've got some
good stuff going on there, but you're not ready yet." So I went
up to DC and showed the samples to Joe Orlando, and he was pretty
impressed by them, and he brought me in to show Carmine. Many of them
were me inking Jim from our earlier days back in high school. [to
Jim] You did some Defenders samples that I inked, you remember those?
A giant brick hand coming out of a floor, grabbing Sub-Mariner? Carmine
said, "This stuff is great! You guys make a great team, can we
get both of you over here together?" I said, "Well, Jim's
doing Iron Man. I think he's pretty happy doing that." The next
thing out of Carmine's mouth was, "It's okay, he's going to burn
out over there, they're giving him too much work too fast." One
minute he wants us working at DC, the next minute, "He's a burn-out!"
Jim: Carmine was kind of erratic that way.
Allen: Then Carmine called in Murphy Anderson. Though he was
a freelancer, Murphy used to work at the office, not at home. He used
to share an office with Gerda Gutell, the proofreader at DC. When
he worked at home, his wife was always bugging him to go run errands
for her, so he used to come in from New Jersey every day, in a suit
and a tie. He'd open up his attaché case and it was full of
Curt Swan Superman pages. He'd bring his own art supplies, an ink
bottle and some brushes and pens.
Alan: And a lap board.
Allen: That's when I started using a lap board. That saved
my back, I think. He liked my samples, and he was looking for a background
guy, after some hemming and hawing, and a temporary detour to Rich
Buckler's house, I went to work for Murphy for about a year, doing
backgrounds. Buckler was doing "Ka-Zar" [in Astonishing
Tales] and "Man-Thing" [in Fear]...
Jim: I would help Rich out at times.
Allen: You helped him out on a "Man-Thing." I knew
Rich from back in Detroit, so when we reconnected when I got to New
York, he said, "Well, why don't you come out to my place, I can
use an assistant." He'd do these breakdowns, I'd tighten them
up, and he'd turn them in as his own work. I really wasn't competent
enough at that time to really make the leap, but Rich was always looking
for a way to increase his output. I basically moved into his house
somewhere out on Long Island, and he said, "The great thing about
being a freelancer is, you can work anywhere." So one day he
packed up his wife, me, and a nephew visiting from somewhere, and
we went to the beach. We're sitting there in the sand with lapboards,
and then he realizes, "Oh, I left the lunch bag at the house,"
and so he gets up and leaves, goes all the way back to the house.
I was with him a week and we got maybe three pages done. [laughter]
I couldn't see how I was helping the output situation there. Around
that time, Roy got in touch with me and said, "Buckler's supposed
to be doing an issue of 'Man-Thing,' but we can't reach him, his phone
has been disconnected." His phone was always being disconnected.
Somehow, according to Roy, Jim and I suddenly were Buckler's best
friends. Roy said, "You're from Detroit, he's from Detroit"...
you know, Detroit Mafia... "you guys have to tell him if he doesn't
have this job in on Monday, he's off the book." So we got on
Jim's motorcycle from Staten Island, and I don't even know what bridges
we took to get to that part of Long Island... I think we had a narrow
miss on the road, too, when we hit backed-up traffic and we had to
skid off to the side and up an embankment. I'd never ridden on a motorcycle
before, so it was scaring the hell out of me!
Jim: It was probably just a regular exit, you know?
Allen: Nooo... exits don't have grass on them, Jim! [laughter]
You don't remember that?
Allen: He's lived through many scrapes, but I haven't. I'm
just Mr. Suburban-White-Bread Guy. Anyway, we get to Rich's house
and tell him what Roy said. Jim says, "I'll do some layouts,
and you do some layouts, and Milgrom will tighten up some stuff. We'll
get it done." Jim's very quick at layouts, and he bashed the
story out really quick... I don't even think it was a full issue.
We got the thing done, and as we're leaving, Rich said, "How
can I repay you guys?" Jim said, "Eh, forget it. You'll
do me a favor sometime when I'm on a deadline." Right. I said,
"Just pay me my five bucks a page for finishing these up,"
which was our arrangement at the time, and I added, "By the way,
I'm going to go work as Murphy Anderson's background guy." Rich
said, "But I could teach you so much more than he can!"
[laughs] I said, "I don't know if that's true, but I've been
here two weeks and we've done six pages. I don't think I can live
off that." So I went to work for Murphy, and it was very nice.
I used to work up at the office next to him, and he'd work on pages,
hand them over, and I'd work on them. And there was a constant stream
of artists dropping off stuff. That year that I worked for him, one
of the big gathering spots was DC's coffee room, remember?
Alan: Oh, absolutely. That's where I met Walt Simonson.
Allen: I met Walt there, too. He came in when I was working
up there, and he was showing "Star Slammers," a project
he'd done as his thesis at the Rhode Island School of Design, as his
samples. I was just freaking out over it. I'd started working as a
background guy, but Walt started getting work right off the bat. Archie
Goodwin liked his stuff a lot, and so did Carmine, who said "Make
sure he leaves with a couple of scripts."
After Jim Starlin quit the series, cohorts Steve Englehart (writer)
and Allen Milgrom (artist) picked up the creative chores for Captain
Marvel. Here, courtesy of penciler Milgrom, is the cover art for #43,
spectacularly inked by none other than Bernie Wrightson!
©2002 Marvel Characters, Inc.
CBA: Did you work on the "Swanderson" Superman?
Allen: Yeah, Superman, Action Comics, then some inking on
Detective Comics, too, over Bob Brown. Some Dick Dillin, and sometimes
back-up stories over Don Heck.
Alan: Murphy sometimes inked Gil Kane.
Allen: I never got near a Gil Kane page, which was probably
a good thing, because I never would've been able to deal with his
pencils at that time. Murphy was very instructive and very patient,
helpful, and a sweetheart of a guy. I used to sit next to him while
we worked and listen to his awful puns. "Tarzan Stripes Forever,"
do you remember that one?
CBA: [to Jim] Did you ever do any breakdown stuff for Murphy
or Curt Swan?
Jim: No, just a few Romita Spider-Mans. He actually credited
me on one of them.
CBA: They were thumbnails, weren't they? Did he follow them?
Jim: Occasionally. The one he gave me credit for was because
he was so late. I actually did those layouts on the pages.
Allen: I laid out some of the dailies for John when he was
doing the Spider-Man daily strip in the later '70s. I'd do these fairly
tight breakdowns, and later on, when I saw the finished strip, they
never looked like what I gave him. I said, "John, I feel like
I'm taking money under false pretenses!" He said, "Oh, no,
because sometimes it just eliminates one possibility I might've tried."
So I just said, "Okay, whatever." I did a few weeks for
CBA: [to Alan] When did you first meet these guys?
Alan: [to Jim] I remember we met each other at Marvel... it
must have been one of the first times you came up to the office. But
you and I first got together at one of the parties at your place on
Staten Island. You, Mary Skrenes, Steve Englehart and I found ourselves
to be quite simpatico.
Jim: Wally Wood was passed out on my bed that whole night.
Alan: There was a lot of stuff going on that night.
CBA: [laughs] Wally Wood passed out on the bed!
Allen: [singing to the tune of "Hooray for Hollywood"]
Hooray for Wally Wood, you'll see him inking in your neighborhood!
Alan: Wally spent the night a few times at various parties.
I remember one day early on, when I was living in Hell's Kitchen,
in the same building as Heather Devitt, who later became Jim's girlfriend.
Englehart and I decided to see how long we could play chess psychedelic,
and Starlin happened to drop by that day to get his motorcycle. We
had this little chunk left, and we said, "Well, don't know what
we're going to do, but you're welcome to join us." What an incredible
day that was! That was one of those marathons! Everybody used to say,
"Don't get psychedelic in the city! You've got to be out in nature!"
But Englehart's theory was in the right state of mind, the city will
perform for you. Which it did! We never had the first problem.
Jim: That was a special weekend because it was the first time
that they showed Monty Python in this country.
Alan: And Now For Something Completely Different.
Jim: It was a compilation of the TV shows, which they showed
at this little art theater downtown.
Alan: And there was that party that night, I think it was
at Kupperberg's place. We had to try to find our way down to Brooklyn.
Do you remember going to that mom-and-pop drugstore fountain and having
them line up nine egg creams for the three of us? I think this was
the same night we were talking about old movies, and we thought, "Wouldn't
it be nice if Lauren Bacall showed up?" and we somehow convinced
Heather to meet up with us at South Ferry, wearing a big hat.
Allen: I remember the name, but I don't remember her at all.
Alan: Oh, she's a beautiful, dark-haired gal. Jim named "Heather
Delight" in Warlock after her.
Jim: Heather and I ran around that party in Brooklyn with
a pumpkin, claiming it was our child. [laughter] We tried to describe
the Monty Python movie to Neal Adams. It must have sounded like we
were describing nine different movies. "There are these singing
mounties, and then 16 tons drop on them, then there's this cartoon
kind of thing, and there were Hell's Grannies, then they blow this
guy up, then there's this whole nudge-nudge, wink-wink argument, this
whole thing with a dead parrot, and then these guys are beating on
mice to get them to make musical notes." [sings] Three blind
mice! Three blind mice! Nobody had ever seen this stuff before, and
the movie poster wasn't photographic, it was just those line drawings.
Neal thought we were making it all up.
Alan: Seeing the first Monty Python movie at that point was
a true religio-comedic experience. [laughter]
Jim: I remember I was laughing so hard at one point I pulled
the entire armrest off. It just broke, it came off in the middle of
CBA: You guys became simpatico?
Alan: Yeah, there was something about our friendship. I could
explain it in ways I wouldn't want you to print... [laughter] When
I first got to town, there were a bunch of guys who were getting into
comics at the same time, but socially they weren't the sort of people
I would naturally run around with, like I did in college. Starlin,
Englehart, Frank Brunner... they were more like it. There was more
of a social awareness about these guys. Howard Chaykin, too-he was
a guerrilla theatre-type contemporary dead end kid. We were all certainly
aware of the politics, in touch with the social movements of the time,
and how consciousness played into them. Ultimately, these relationships
laid the groundwork for what became cosmic comics. Part of it was
trying to re-create what it was that got you so excited about the
comic books in the first place-what, for us, were peak experiences.
The other was bringing in personal experience, and trying to put these
together in a synthesis, something new, rather than retread. So, it
seemed to be the best thing to do-take the stuff that we loved, the
super-heroes, and integrate these other concepts, and come up with
an adventure story, still taking the reader for a ride. But there
was always a little more element of surprise than just the standard
happy ending. It all had to do with the opening up of possibilities,
and applying those possibilities to yourself. Because after all, at
some level it was kind super-heroic to even have gotten into comics
professionally! Did you ever dream you'd be able to actually go and
Allen: They used to tell me, "What, you're going to go
to New York where all the competition is?" Of course, you'd tell
your parents you wanted to be a cartoonist, and they'd say, "Please,
just shoot me right here," because they had no frame of reference
for it, they didn't know anybody who was a cartoonist, they didn't
know if you could make a living at it, none of that stuff. And besides,
living where we all lived-which is to say, New York-all the cartoonists
we knew of lived in New York! Coming to New York City was a great
thing, meeting all these kindred spirits from all over the country.
Jim: You had to be here.
Allen: And we all grew up reading and loving the same stuff.
You're living the dream! You get here and get to do it, and it's great,
and you're hanging around with all these guys who love doing it, and
there was a huge influx of imagination.
CBA: [to Alan] CBA interviewed you for the first CBA Collection...
Alan: Is that the one nobody saw?
CBA: Well, it's still available! One of a number of wonderful
stories you told was about you, Englehart, Starlin and Brunner roaming
the streets of New York in the wee hours of the morning, coming up
with story ideas that would end up in Master of Kung Fu, for instance.
You guys actually worked and played together, so to speak.
Alan: And everything was inspiration. Sure, we always talked
about concepts roaming around the city. Remember the time Englehart
was looking at the four statues down at South Ferry?
Jim: Those Daniel Chester French statues, right? In front
of the Customs House.
Alan: Representing the continents. We were talking about doing
this Defenders issue, and he's getting more and more grandiose by
the moment, and he's saying, "We'll have the hordes of Asia,
we'll have the slaves from Africa, we'll have the wheel of progress,
and then Sub-Mariner's guys start marching up out of the water..."
I'm looking at him quietly, and finally, he stops, and says, "What?
What? What is it?" I said, "Easy for you to say!" [laughter]
Steve's since told me every time he works with a new artist, he tells
that story as a way of acknowledging that he understands that saying
it is easier than drawing it. Steve started as an artist, so he knows
what it is to stare at a blank page and to make the stuff show up
some way or the other.
CBA: Did you guys hit it off particularly with Steve because
he also had that artistic sensibility?
Jim: Yeah. Steve wanted to be an artist. He started out at
Continuity assisting Neal Adams.
Alan: That's right. He did a job or two for Warren, I recall.
I think he did some stuff for Marvel. Didn't he do a romance?
Jim: He might've. I remember he did a job for Warren that
Alan: But it was by being a proofreader that he got the writing
gig. We were all definitely on the same page, and it worked very,
very well. We experienced some hilarious stuff together, and there
were really some fun times.
CBA: Was Steve Gerber a kindred spirit?
Alan: Well, we didn't see him as much, but I'd certainly say
he was a kindred spirit. I mean, he had a very wry sense of humor,
but I don't know if he was as social. Was he as rowdy? [laughs]
Jim: Well, Steve was suffering from narcolepsy then.
Alan: Narcolepsy? I never knew that.
Jim: Yeah, he was sitting in the cubicle next to me, and you'd
hear him hit the floor.
Allen: Wow, here I thought he was just quiet! [laughter]
Alan: Or just shy!
(This is just part of the interview. For the rest of the interview,
be sure to order Comic Book Artist #18!)
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