The first indication I had that drawing might be something more than a hobby-interest for me was at the age of seventeen when I spent a week at Ocean City, Maryland, many moons ago. Beer jackets – the over-forty group will remember them – were in vogue then. For the uneducated, a beer jacket was a white denim jacket that kids drank beer in. Most people decorated them with sayings like, "Oh you kid", "Take me I’m yours", etc.
I decorated mine with girls and mermaids. Kids on the beach started asking me if I would do theirs. I charged one dollar each and did hundreds, which enabled me to keep myself at that delightful spot for the entire summer season.
The thing about this that impressed me wasn’t that I had been able to support myself in art with absolutely no training (I hadn’t even taken art in high school), but what a fantastic way it had been for me to meet girls. Right then and there I decided to become an artist. Anyway my last name spelled backwards is "draw," so I guess it just had to be.
On my first day at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, our instructor said, "I suggest that at the beginning you students draw what you’re interested in most. You who like animals, draw them; those interested in landscapes, paint them." I knew what I had to do . . . I drew girls . . . and I’ve been doing it to this day. Incidentally, Bob Kuhn, America’s foremost animal painter, was in my class. He went in another direction.
Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, a giant complex today, was a converted canning factory when I went there. Although it was, and still is, the finest commercial art school in the country, it did me little good. A sure war was approaching, and I was bound to go in at the age of nineteen. I paid little attention to my studies, concentrating on girls and fraternity life. Consequently, I wasn’t much of an artist when I graduated in 1941.
Pratt had a placement bureau, and they got me a job with a high-class art service in Manhattan at $18 a week. To my dismay, it was not as a illustrator but to sweep floors, run errands, sweep floors, stir up the tempera bottles, and sweep floors . . . I mean how many times a day can you sweep floors? We were still mired in a depression and jobs were hard to find, so I had to stay there at all costs.
It seemed as though I was always frantically looking for something to do. This then, the lack of enough work to keep me busy and to justify the job, was the worst and most difficult part of my career; and it was quite a comedown from my glamorous life at Ocean City, Maryland. If the chicks could have seen me then, frustrated, broom in hand .
It’s funny how things happen – sometimes an infinitesimal thing can change the course of your life and send you in a completely new direction. For example:
The art service finally let me get into the art picture in a small way. They had the Ford automobile account, and I was at the board pasting up a brochure. I had to make a cut with a matt knife and to my horror, when I lifted up the paper, I discovered that beneath it I had cut a full color painting of a Ford car in half. I was fired on the spot.
A few days later back in the fraternity house (I roomed there after graduating), I was completely deflated and reading a 3-day-old newspaper in a brother’s room when I noticed the word "Ward" written at the top of one of the pages. "Oh jeeze, I forgot to tell you, Pratt phoned the other day . . . they had a job for you!" He told me when I pointed it out to him.
It has occurred to me many times that if I hadn’t sliced through that *&$%+@ painting and if I hadn’t gone into my fraternity brother’s room for a beer and found my name written on an old newspaper, I no doubt never could have been a comic book artist; and Ken Bald, creator of the syndicated strip "Dr. Kildare," John Spranger, artist of the syndicated strip "The Saint," Kurt Schaffenburger, one of "Superman’s" top artists to this day, Vic Dowd, Bob Boyagin, Ray Hartford, Bob Butts, and about 25 other Pratt graduates probably wouldn’t have either. Through these strange series of circumstances, I was due to meet the man who was to have the greatest impact on my career.
Jack Binder worked out of his apartment in the Bronx along with an assistant, Pete Riss, a fabulous Russian who unfortunately passed away a few years ago. The thing that pleased me the most when I phoned Jack was that he was moving to Englewood, New Jersey, a stone’s throw away from Ridgewood, a town where I had spent most of my life (and have to this day, I might add). Strangely, Jack Binder wasn’t that great an artist, but as a teacher he was a genius. Pratt had the finest teachers in the land, but to me none could have held a candle to this self-taught comic artist.
When I arrived at his apartment in the Bronx, Jack greeted me brusquely: "Sit down at that table and draw me a bridge. I want to see what kind of an eye for detail you have."
An eye for detail, like perfect pitch in music, is something you have or you don’t have. Teaching won’t help you much more than train you to be more observant. Memory, the ability to retain images, wasn’t one of my fortes. Fortunately, I had driven across the George Washington Bridge so many times I was able to do a fairly respectable job. "Good enough," he grunted, "I’ll start you on backgrounds."
So Jack Binder, Pete Riss, and I moved into the upstairs of a huge barn in Englewood, New Jersey. Jack’s wife and seven kids resided in the old clapboard farmhouse nearby. Jack layed out, Pete penciled and inked the figures, and I penciled and inked the backgrounds.
Jack had a good contact with Fawcett and we did stories mainly for them, such as "Mr. Scarlet," "Bullet Man," and "Ibis." Others that I remember were "Captain Battle," "Doc Savage," "Ajax," "Black Owl," "Saga," "The Shadow," and "Fury."
Fortunately for me, Jack spent a great deal of time training me. He taught me how to "feather" with a brush. "I want you to gain control of the brush to the point where you can feather on the head of a pin," said he. "Feathering" is a series of lines close together, curling, swirling, all equal distance apart. This is the way you create the shading that forms the muscles on figures and renders the hair. He had me practice this in my spare time until I mastered the art. Consequently, control of the brush is one of my best assets today. Note Torchy’s hair on the cover as an example. He also taught me to ink around the figure with the inside of the brush, the part that’s against the flesh, so that if you put solid black behind the fingers, for example, their shape would be right.
Jack was being forced to spend more and more time selling and less time laying out since we were now turning out much more work. It was my great luck that he decided to teach me how to lay out stories. He impressed me on how important it was not to think of each story as ordinary comic book art, but as though it were "Prince Valiant," "Flash Gordon," or something else terribly important; to get keyed up, excited about it. He told me to think of myself as director of a play acting out the parts of each actor in my mind, then sketching them out on paper. To my amazement, layout and storytelling came easily to me under his tutorage, the only thing in art that ever had.
Jack now needed a background man to do the work I had been doing, so one day in July of 1941 he asked me if I knew of anyone who could do backgrounds.
"Know of anyone . . . I know twenty-five or more."
Comic books were mushrooming – after all, it was their "Golden Era." Unable to find enough trained artists, the publishers were turning more and more to shops. I phoned the fraternity house. A wealth of raw talent lay there, ready to be gulped down by the artist-hungry comic book boom. Recently graduated a mere year after me, they lay ready and waiting.
For Jack Binder the timing was excellent. It was less than a month after they had graduated and Pratt hadn’t had a chance yet to place them with their employment service. I was overwhelmed and a bit apprehensive at their response. Almost all were coming, all my brothers. Most importantly of all, better artists than I were coming; could they reduce me to a minor role?
Of course they could. One of the unusual things about artists is that they can’t be unionized. It has been tried many times, but seniority means nothing. A talented kid, just out of art school, can do a better job than the little talented man who has worked 25 years in the field.
A group of ten or more showed up first, headed by Ken Bald, destined to be the most successful amongst us, destined eventually to be Jack’s art director of a shop of over 40 men. Comic books in those days were, to say the least, frowned on by art students at Pratt. They were thought of as the lowest rung on the ladder for a graduate – we all wanted to be illustrators. However, remember that we were still in the depths of the Depression – jobs were few and far between. All ten were absorbed; more and more trickled in as they gave up and accepted their fate.
The room in the barn was at least 55 feet by 30 feet, enough room for 40 men at least. Had I made a mistake? Would I be driven back to become a background man, the bottom of the ladder? As it turned out, I had just enough training by Jack to maintain my lofty position as the sole layout man for the Binder shop. The scripts poured in, most written by Jack’s brother Otto, a prolific science fiction writer and Fawcett’s foremost writer. The shop grew to 20, then 30 men.
Perhaps it might be of interest to mention the system that Jack developed as time went on. On the back of each page was a box with eight categories listed: layout, pencilng main figures, penciling secondary figures, penciling backgrounds, inking main figures, inking secondary figures, inking backgrounds, and lettering.
As each man did his individual bit, he signed the back of the page. Pay was simple: he was allotted a dollar for each item signed. Hence, Jack Binder was getting complete lettered pages for $8 each.
It always intrigued me that with eight men working on the same page a shop-style developed. However, there were over 30 men working altogether, not just eight. True, I did all the layouts, but there were three or four persons each in the other categories, mixed together with each succeeding job, resulting in no true shop style. Yet somehow it was recognizable, and it is to me to this day. I can always spot it in the books of the "Golden Era."
Wendell Crowley had been a life-long friend, my closest as I look back on it. He had just finished his freshman year at the University of Oklahoma and was home for summer vacation. Jack needed an all-purpose man: someone to erase pages, to deliver pages, and to go out for coffee. So Wendell Crowley entered our happy group. He was destined to be the foremost comic book editor of all time.
In no time Wendell’s class showed through and he graduated from cleanup and deliveryman to editor of Binder’s whole shebang. We both lived in Ridgewood and the war was on now. Gas was rationed to five gallons a week. I had a 1936 Ford and so did he. We alternated driving together to Englewood. We made that five gallons last, coasting down every little hill with the clutch in, as we all may have to do again soon.
If I were on my deathbed, thinking back on the happiest days of my working life, I think I would select those days in 1941-42 in the Binder shop. We were mostly all kids, 20 years or younger, developing our talents, making good money in the Depression, and most of all, enjoying ourselves.
The Englewood High School baseball field was just down the road. At noontimes we went there to toss a ball around. Then we started playing softball. Finally, two teams were formed: pencilers and inkers, natural antagonists. Each day, rain or shine, we played a seven-inning game on into the winner. Jack was going mad, production was lagging, and we were taking 2 hours for lunch. He knew better than to try to stop us, not at $8 a page. We had other fun besides the games. One day I was taking a break, standing by the rickety old barn window staring out at the rain. As I turned to go back to my board, I happened to glance down and couldn’t believe what I saw on the top of the guy’s head who sat inking. He was one of the few older men in the shop and had a bald spot, but only close inspection could tell you so. This inker, who shall be nameless even after 35 years, had inked in his bald spot with black India ink. Probably with the aid of a mirror, he had done it beautifully: fine brush feathering, flowing along exactly in the direction he had combed the thinning surrounding hairs.
"Wendell," I whispered a few moments later, "go over to the window and look down at the top of ----‘s head."
Wendell, all six feet nine of him, ambled over to the window, stretched, and glanced down. A look of disbelief came over his face.
"Jeeze," he grunted when he came back to me, "he never inked anything that good for us." Good old Wendell – dead now 7 years – always the company man.
It was at this point that an event happened that to this day I have a hard job accepting, not to mention understanding.
Although I had been the sole layout man for a long time at Jack’s, I was still the fastest man in the shop on backgrounds due to my training in the early days at the shop. Towards the close one day, Jack came to me and asked if I could do him a special favor: He needed six backgrounds penciled and inked by the following morning on a story that was late . . . could I do them?
I realized about three in the morning that I should have turned him down. I had layed out all day, a strain in itself on the eyes, and now I could scarcely see the page.
I managed to finish the job but the quality of the work was poor, as you might expect – "hacked out" as we used to say. I went home to sleep just before the shop opened. When I returned in the afternoon, Ken Bald, the art director called me over to his desk.
"Sorry Bill, but Jack is furious over the quality of your backgrounds. He’s asked me to lay you off."
I couldn’t blame Ken; he was just doing his job, but it did hurt to leave a shop filled with fellows whose jobs I had obtained for them – good jobs in a terrible depression. Of course Jack in his anger momentarily forgot that my real contribution to his shop was layout, not backgrounds.
A week later Wendell, who had taken it worse than I had, phoned, a note of glee in his voice.
"Jack wants you back," he said, "production has been cut in half. We don’t have anyone good at layout." Brother did I strut triumphantly back into that shop!
Draughtsmanship had always been my main problem: the ability to draw the figure in any position, at any angle. This was the fruit of my inattention at Pratt. Now however, under Jack’s guidance my draughtsmanship was improving. After hundreds and hundreds of layouts, I felt I was now able to do a strip on my own.
My chance came when Jack was offered a complete book of Captain Marvel (to this day I don’t know, but it may have been No. 1), a great feather in his cap. I had layed out a few Whiz Captain Marvels for C. C. Beck. Jack knew that the shop style wouldn’t do, so when he took me off layout for the time being to do the book, it was my greatest break. Bob Butts did all the backgrounds and I did all of the figures.
I was no Beck, but Fawcett liked the job and I felt I was on my way. After over a year of layout, inking, penciling, and backgrounds, I finally got to do a story, and not only that, an entire book on CAPTAIN MARVEL!
One day on the trip home from Binder’s, as we coasted down the hills, I told Wendell I felt I was now able to handle a strip . . . who would he suggest I go to?
All artists have idols in their fields. Most of us at Binder’s admired the work of Beck and Mac Raboy at Fawcett; Simon and Kirby of Captain America; and most of all the group at Quality Comics, Will Eisner of the Spirit, Jack Cole of Plastic Man, Lou Fine, and my personal favorite, Reed Crandall of Blackhawk fame.
Wendell said, "Shoot for the top; try Quality. If you’re rejected there, go right down the line."
I had incredible good luck. My timing was perfect. When I walked into George Brenner’s office, the top editor at "Quality," he welcomed me with open arms. Reed Crandall, you see, had just been drafted.
My head was whirling. I had been hoping for some little secondary story in a book, something I could do on weekends. They offered me the moon instead; Blackhawk in its entirety, covers and all. And I had to replace who was in my mind the greatest comic book artist of them all – impossible!
When I left Binder’s, I didn’t realize at the time but the happiest portion of my life came to an end. Gone were the daily baseball games, the close association with all my friends, the camaraderie. I became a freelance artist, destined to work at home (with the exception of 4 years in the army) for the next 35 years.
I never regretted leaving, however, for Binder’s shop didn’t last long . . . the draft took care of that. Working at home, by the way, has its benefits. You’re your own boss and you can regulate your time. If it rains on the weekend – you can work right on through, then take sunny days off the following week. I have a waterfront beach house in the sand dunes at Montauk Point, on the tip of Long Island. When the weatherman predicts a spell of good weather, I head out there and work and fish on my own beach. However, I’d still swap it all for those days in the shop.
Insecurity is the main problem in freelancing. The only way you can protect yourself is by having lots of accounts so that if one goes wrong, you have the others to fall back on. Also, you might get two or three jobs to do at once from two different publishers. You can’t say, "Oh I’m sorry, I’m working on something for someone else." All you can do is burn a little midnight oil.
I took naturally to Blackhawk. My training by Jack in layout stood me in good stead. All of that practice in inking paid off. They especially liked my covers. I’m especially proud of Military No. 30, a shot of that silly Blackhawk plane coming at you, cannons firing, Blackhawk piloting, Chop-Chop waving his meat cleaver menacingly over his shoulder.
I drew that idiotic plane (from the early Military Comics) for years before it was changed to a jet. I used to wonder what nut designed the damn thing. Of course it could never fly – ridiculous to think so.
A few years ago I was leafing through a copy of a 1942 "Aerosphere" that I had acquired. Imagine my astonishment . . . there it was, an actual photograph of that same silly plane! Reading on I found it was an experimental model, the Grumman "Sky Rocket," that the army had rejected. Can you blame them? . . .but it must have at least flown!
I was doing great in the fall of 1942. My training was behind me and I had my own strip. Somehow I still wasn’t satisfied. Now that my ability to draw girls had improved, the girls on the old beer jacket looked amateurish to me now. I felt that the world should have a chance to see my girls.
I worked up some cartoon ideas and went to see Ken Brown, who edited "Army Laughs." He liked them and shortly I was selling cartoons to "Army Laughs" and "Buddies." "Film Fun" came next, and soon I had quite a few accounts. I was getting, unknown to me of course, closer and closer to "Torchy."
Suddenly, when I was at the top of the world, as had happened to multitudes of others, I found myself on a train heading for Fort Dix, New Jersey. Yes, I had been drafted. It was December 7, 1942, one year after Pearl Harbor. Whenever anyone asks me when I went into the service, I say, "December 7th." Well it was, wasn’t it?
After basic training I was put into the Eastern Defense Command. I went to an Automatic Weapons outfit at Quonset Point Naval Air Base, Rhode Island, still active today. Yes, I said Naval. For some unexplained reason the Army manned the anti-aircraft guns at the Naval Air Base. I was put into communications, which I didn’t know at the time would turn out to be bonanza for me. Night after night I sat in the airfield tower, with earphones on connected to the searchlights and anti-aircraft guns that surrounded the field.
I received a letter from Wendell with the great news that he had left Binder’s to become editor of Captain Marvel at Fawcett. He went on to say that he needed someone to lay out stories for his artists. Me, why not me? I had all the time in the world in the tower. A week later I sat in the tower with earphones on, a drawing board in my lap, laying out stories for Wendell.
The Navy guys in the tower stood in awe of the soldier who sat hour after hour, day after day, week after week, drawing pictures. What perseverance, what dedication, what a nut! Of course, they didn’t know that during the day I would sneak over to the base post office and mail the stuff to Wendell, and that I probably was making more money than the Admiral on the base.
One night while working away in the tower, a naval officer approached me, "Say, son, rather than doing all this silly practicing, how would you like to do a real comic strip for the "Quonset Point Scout" . . . actually get something into print?"
I was desperate. If I said "Yes," it was going to cost me money and I would have less time for layout. If I said "No," they would smell a rat, and once they found out I was making money, forget it, jealousy would take over. Ex-service men know what I mean.
Would you believe that this was the beginning of Torchy? I was actually forced into it. True she was a brunette and her name was Ack-Ack-Amy, but she had the same fabulous shape and she was a nitwit who always won out in the end. Right away the strip took off. After all, she was more interesting than how to disassemble your M-1 rifle or how to replace the back-plate group: the type of thing that the paper had been featuring.
In those days every soldier had a M.O.S. number, describing his occupation. When a chicken plucker or a plumber was needed, they just checked the M.O.S. numbers and picked him out. I was picked out and sent to Fort Hamilton right on the edge of New York City to do training aids for the War Department. I didn’t complain, after all New York had more lonesome chicks than any other place in the country. Almost immediately a major approached me and suggested I do a similar strip for the Fort Hamilton paper. I sighed and agreed; my fame (tiny as it was) had preceded me. Anyway, anything was better than getting shot at.
So Torchy was born. I dyed Ack-Ack-Amy’s hair blonde, changed her name and voila, there she was. Shortly the strip was appearing in Army papers all over the world. And I was making out with the lonesome dolls in Manhattan like mad. I felt like I was back at Ocean City once again, minus the beer jacket, of course.
The Training Aid hut that I worked in was next to the post theater. It was the Army’s policy to send small groups of soldiers who had been entertainers in civilian life, overseas to entertain troops in the front lines, in places that the USO couldn’t reach. They rehearsed their acts outside of the theater while waiting for a boat. Bobby Breen and other well-known stars moved through, all privates but looking like generals in their tailor-made uniforms. Then Mickey Rooney, the top-salaried star in Hollywood, came in. No tailor-made uniform for him, and what a great guy he was. I’m afraid I used to envy him his success. He used to drop into the hut for a cup of coffee to get out of the cold, and I got to know him pretty well. He was so excited, just like a little kid, for he had just married Miss Alabama. "This is it," he told me. How was he to know then there were five more to come.
One winter’s day in the hut I said to him, "Boy, you’re a lucky guy, a big success, a millionaire before you’re twenty."
Very seriously he replied, "Look, at the age of five I played Mickey McGuire, and I’ve had to work my butt off from then on. While you were chasing chicks and going to football games, I was going to work at 6 a.m., seven days a week, returning late at night. I never had any youth." I envied him no longer, but to me he was real class.
There was a full colonel on the post who had a serious stutter. He arrived at the hut one day, a panic-stricken expression on his face. He stuttered to me that he was being sent across country on a lecture tour. He hoped that I would be able to make it easier for him by drawing large illustrations that would show in picture form whatever he was speaking about, plus lettering, to eliminate the need for a lot of words from him.
I jumped at it: I saw a 3-day pass in the offing. The problem was he wanted me to deliver the finished drawings to his plane the following day. I stayed up all night and finished the job just in time to make the plane! I received a commendation from the colonel the following week and promptly forgot about it. A short while after being discharged from the Army 3 years later, I was astonished to receive the Medal of Merit in the mail. A letter stated that the Army had decided to issue it to very GI who had received a commendation from a full colonel or higher.
A day later a female writer on the local paper phoned me. "Oh, we feel so honored, Mr. Ward, you are the only one in this area to receive the Medal of Merit. We’d like to do a story on how you got it."
I was horrified. I couldn’t say that I received the medal simply for drawing pictures, so I replied, "Please . . . my war experiences . . . You know . . . well, I just can’t speak about them."
I was nervous when I returned to Quality after the war. Going there to get work when at least half of their great artists had been drafted was one thing. Returning along with all of them was another kettle of fish. I figured I’d be lucky to get some secondary strips.
However, things worked out great. Reed Crandall was given Military, changed now to Modern Comics, and I was given the Blackhawk book. Unfortunately, there was one difference for us: We were just to do penciling – inkers were to take over from there.
A few words about "inkers." I’ve always contended, perhaps unfairly, that an inker was an artist that couldn’t handle a strip on his own, that all he had to do was go over the pencil lines with a brush. I was very disappointed with the way my Blackhawks turned out. They weren’t nearly as good as the complete jobs I’d done before the war.
If it affected me, it affected Reed Crandall far more. Never again was he to create the classic Blackhawks that he did in 1941-42. His bold yet simple inking style was lost as the inkers butchered his penciling. He and I were destined to go on doing Blackhawk this way for 7 years.
Drawing Blackhawk was probably as difficult a job as there was in the comics. There were seven main characters and they had to be shown constantly, really overcrowding the panels. I envied the writers – they could type out "Show all seven Blackhawks in a mêlée with the thugs" in probably 10 seconds. Imagine how long it took me to draw it.
One of the most difficult things I found about drawing the Blackhawk characters was their military hats. A hat has to look just right, if it doesn’t, it looks silly. There’s no in between. Agitated about penciling and the length of time it took me, I developed a way of solving the hat problem. I had them all knocked off in their first fight, which usually occurred by the second page. Then for the rest of the story they would be bare headed.
I got away with it for about 6 months, then, not some astute editor, but some damn smart alecky kid wrote George Brenner, "Why don’t the Blackhawks get a new hatter? They don’t seem to fit very well. They all get knocked off at the beginning of each story."
They really ripped into me over this. So in the next story the Blackhawks all had to swim underwater out to a submarine. You’re right, I drew them swimming underwater with their hats on. "All right, Ward, let’s not overdo it," George Brenner screamed into the phone.
I think it was around 1946 that Busy Arnold, Quality’s publisher asked me if I could do another story for Modern and did I have any ideas? I mentioned the fact that I had drawn a strip about a daffy blonde in the Army call "Torchy." He went for the idea, and I convinced him to let me ink it. At long last Torchy was in the comics.
The strip was very popular, running in both Modern and Doll Man for about 3 years. They were getting so much mail on it that Busy decided to do a Torchy book. I was ecstatic, my creation, that daffy blonde chick, was going to have a book of her own.
Then disaster struck, the greatest disappointment of my career. I had finished the cover and the lead story for issue No. 1 when George Brenner phoned and told me they were taking me off Torchy! Romance comics had come on the scene at the same time and they were instantly best sellers. None of the other artists, due to the fact they had had no experience doing women, could handle it – it had to be me. They planned on a bunch of books, and I was to do the covers and lead stories. It meant lots more money for me, but I was furious!
I phone Busy and pleaded with him that Torchy was my baby. I just wouldn’t turn her over to another artist. We ended up with a compromise. If I could find the time, he would let me do as many of the covers as I could manage, plus the same with the lead stories.
Gil Fox did most of Torchy from then on, although I was able to do half of the covers and several lead stories. Gil, a great guy and a good friend, took over and did a remarkable job following my style. As a matter of fact, it was more than a bit disconcerting to me that he could. I worked day and night to turn the romance penciling out so that I could do Torchy. However, romance was selling like mad, so more titles were added.
The demise of Torchy? I shall never forget it. There was a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Wertham who milked publicity from criticizing comic books and the negative effect they were supposedly having on kids.
I used to deliver my finished jobs to Quality’s office in Manhattan. One day I was walking along Madison Avenue when I spotted Dick Arnold, Busy’s son and an editor now, ambling along on the other side of the street. "There goes our worst offender!" he screeched to a friend, pointing at me.
I ran across the street to find out what the hell he meant and he threw a bombshell. "Dr. Wertham has come out with an ‘unfit’ list, and Torchy is on the list!" I couldn’t believe it. Torchy, that innocent little blonde, the stories equally innocent. Can you imagine that happening today?
As it turned out, comics, for me anyway, didn’t last long after that. Television was the culprit. Bit by bit it took the audience away. Pay started going down along with sales. Suddenly, Quality threw in the towel and went out of business.
It was then that I discovered that it wasn’t all a bed of roses to be a freelance artist. I didn’t bother to look for more comic book work because all the outfits were laying off artists as sales plummeted. The person who saved me was Abe Goodman of "Humorama," the largest buyer of cartoons in the world at that time. He remains a close friend to this day.
Anxious to continue the small success that I’d had selling cartoons before the war, in the fall of 1946, I had dropped into Abe Goodman’s office with some of my stuff and he started buying my girls right away. For over 20 years Abe bought 30 cartoons a month from me. Whenever times were rough, and they were occasionally, I could count on that bread and butter income. A great demand for my girls started to come in from foreign countries, and he paid me a royalty on each sale. None of the other publishers ever paid me for foreign sales although they made plenty.
Around 1954, Bob Sproul started "Cracked" magazine. I was in the first issue, and I have been to this day. I’ve been very lucky with most of the publishers that I’ve worked for over the years: Jack Binder, Busy Arnold, Abe Goodman, and Bob Sproul – men of fine character who treated me fairly at all times. What more could one ask?
I’ll close with a couple of comic book horror stories, but not the type you may think I mean. At Quality there was a supply room where they kept all the original art, the covers and the current books. It was expected that the artists would go into there as they left and help themselves. The original artwork was always destroyed eventually, so it didn’t matter to them. When I think now how I could have had Will Eisner’s Spirit covers from 1943 on, Jack Cole’s Plastic Man covers, Reed Crandall’s Doll Man, Blackhawk, Buccaneer covers too, not to mention their stories! All that I wanted! I did take four Crandall covers to hang in my son’s room and they gave me a 13-page 1942 Blackhawk story to follow his style when I took over from him, most of which I gave to friends’ kids for their rooms, after the war before I had kids of my own.
However, on each trip I made to the city, I always loaded up with Quality’s current magazines, placing them in a large closet at my mother’s house where I had a studio. I had no interest in comic books of other publishers, but I did buy Captain America Nos. 1-13, until I went into the service. I liked the unique way Simon and Kirby had their figures fairly explode out of the panels at you, the tremendous foreshortening. Check the value of Captain America in the Price Guide. I’m afraid to or I might shoot myself! Along with this then, over the years from 1941 to 1953 I filled that enormous closet at my mother’s to the ceiling, mostly with comic books I had barely looked at.
When my mother passed away, unfortunately just before the comic book collector’s craze came along, I lived with my wife and family in another part of Ridgewood, and had to get rid of the things in her home. When I came to the closet, bursting with at least 5,000 Golden Era comics, it seemed too big a job to move it over to my house, so I burned the lot, the first 13 Captain Americas included.
Impossible to top that? Don’t you believe it. There was an older man trying to establish himself as a background man in the Binder shop around 1942. His name: Windsor McCay jr. His name ring a bell? It didn’t to any of us 20-year-olds. One day he brought about 40 daily strips with him to work. He went up and down the aisle, saying, "My father created the first comic strip, ‘Little Nemo.’ Wouldn’t you fellows like to have some? I don’t particularly want them." Before you start calling the young artists at the Binder shop morons, you have to remember that these were the days before all the publicity about comics and their origins came out. Windsor McCay’s weird figures were just badly drawn figures to us. Not one of us took one. I’m sure if I’d asked he’d have given me the whole batch.
Thirty-four years later, last year, I was reading a comic fan newsletter and noted a feature on comics and what they were worth. I almost had a heart attack when I read that "Little Nemo" headed the list at $3,000 to $4,000 a strip. What’s that they say . . . hindsight is better than foresight? Oh well, back to the old drawing board.