Frank McLaughlin has done scads of work for many years among many publishers, but perhaps some of his best stories from our enjoyable conversation were about his time at Charlton…to include a couple of choice stories about Steve Ditko.
Bryan Stroud for Comics Bulletin: What sort of people did you know in the business?
Frank McLaughlin: I knew several of the cartoonists. I remember Frank Springer and I don’t know if you ever met him, but he always seemed youthful. Like he was perpetually in his 40’s. He kept his girlish figure, too.
CB: I’d seen photos, but never had the pleasure of meeting him. He was heavily involved in the Long Island branch of the Cartoonist’s Society and really wanted to get back there, but unfortunately didn’t make it.
MCLAUGHLIN: There were some terrific artists that used to meet there and I imagine they still do. I know when Creig Flessel was still alive he was involved and of course Bunny Hoest.
CB: Yeah, they’re still going strong. Joe Giella is a very active member. I have a standing invitation from him to go to one of the lunches if I ever get up there.
MCLAUGHLIN: I guess you never know who you might meet at one of them. I’ve never been, but my late friend Gil Fox was a regular there. He and Flessel went way back. Way back. And every chance he got, he’d go out there to these things and it’s a changing cast of characters, I guess. They have a few regulars, I’m sure.
CB: That’s what I’m told. I was able to talk very briefly with Creig shortly before he passed and he took credit for naming the chapter there after Walter Berndt when someone suggested a tribute to him and Creig said something like, “Yeah, a Berndt toast!”
MCLAUGHLIN: These things happen when you’re drinking.
MCLAUGHLIN: That is some crew out there. I’m reminded of a cover recreation I did with Gil Fox. It was a Jack Cole Plastic Man piece and I can’t remember what year, but it was one he and Gil had done originally and Gil said, “Hey, this would be a good idea,” and when he died I just hung onto it. We did a couple of them and this collector bought them and had Joe (Giella) color it and he did a terrific job.
I got a copy of it. Joe said, “Next time, Frank, see if you’d be interested in coming to one of the meetings out here on the island.” I’ve only seen Joe once or twice. We just never get together as cartoonists. I’m good friends with Joe Sinnott and other guys like that, but I get to see these guys maybe once a year.
CB: That’s the sad part.
MCLAUGHLIN: We all live far apart from each other.
CB: Yeah, and as a fan, I’d just assumed that all you guys hang out together all the time.
MCLAUGHLIN: It doesn’t happen. At conventions the seating arrangements are made and recently at the big New York one at the Javits Center I got to sit next to Joe Sinnott and Carmine (Infantino) so that when there wasn’t much going on there was at least someone to talk to and catch up with. Grandkids and other news. It’s pretty cool. Actually I got to meet Al Plastino for the first time as he came in and sat between us.
CB: Isn’t Al great? He’s one of my favorite people.
MCLAUGHLIN: He’s terrific. (Chuckle.) He was all dressed up. A real gentleman. And all these other people are pretty casual, but this was his first convention, I assumed. His daughter was there and I got to talking with her and she said he wasn’t too happy that day. Some people at conventions can be rude and she told me about this woman who came up to Al and said, “Oh, are you having a good time today?” and he said, “NO!” (Chuckle.)
I fell off the chair. I couldn’t believe it. He was serious. The woman didn’t know what the heck to do, but it was really funny. He did leave early I guess. We got to talking at one point and I said, “You know, we missed each other when I was at DC because you, apparently, were cutting way back on your work and I asked, “Who was the boss when you were there?” He said, “Yeah, I worked for Carmine, too.
CB: They have only the greatest respect for one another. Al said it was another story with Murray Boltinoff.
MCLAUGHLIN: I did one job for him. I knew his brother and they were like night and day, Henry and Murray. Most of the time, though, I worked for Julie Schwartz and I was very happy with that arrangement.
CB: I’ve heard wonderful stories about Julie. Len Wein called him a “wonderful curmudgeon.”
MCLAUGHLIN: Ah, Wein. He was one of the fanboys. He and Levitz and Wol McLaughlinan and all those other guys and they ended up making them editors.
CB: I’d heard more than one suggest that the kids were being put in charge of the candy store.
MCLAUGHLIN: They really were, and I couldn’t understand it. What happened was, they brought along their friends to do the writing and the artwork and DC didn’t object to it because any time they brought in anybody new they had to start them at the bottom of the pay scale. Those of us that had been there a long time…I had a contract with Julie and Julie was great.
Just the way you would expect a top editor to be. But some of the newer guys didn’t behave like editors, for one thing. Combine that with a colossal ego and you’ve got problems and look what’s happened now. You can’t sell a comic book. That’s industry wide, though.
CB: True. It does seem to be in a downward spiral and I wonder if they’ll be able to pull out of it this time.
MCLAUGHLIN: I agree.
CB: For example when I talk to Carmine we compare notes and I often suggest that the old stuff has legs. It’s still being successfully sold in reprint format, but I can’t see that happening with the modern stuff, at least on the same scale.
MCLAUGHLIN: Carmine and I were collaborating on some stuff and it was selling. He suggested getting together and he penciled some stuff and I inked it and the first couple sold very quickly. I thought, “Wow. There are still people out there who appreciate this kind of work.” The kids out there today don’t have the money that the people in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s do to buy up pieces of their youth.
“Look here. This is some stuff I loved as a kid.” They have no trouble writing a check for that. And they make no bones about it. One guy just adored the series where the Flash went on trial for something and he said, “Whatever you’ve got.” I don’t have any of the original art anymore, so Carmine and I were doing recreations of the stuff. It’s been fun to do. He’ll be the first one to tell you, I think, that he wasn’t cut out to be the boss at DC. But he took the job at the time.
A couple of people complained about the way he did things, but I thought he did a great job and just to have the name alone to head up the company was something. For a while even Bill Gaines came over from Mad to be involved. I’m not sure if that was after Sol Harrison left or what. Gaines. Now there was a character.
CB: I’ve heard some stories.
MCLAUGHLIN: He’d take the whole staff someplace in the world for a week or a month or something. They’d just all pack up and go and pick a place somewhere.
CB: Russ Heath spoke very fondly of those days.
MCLAUGHLIN: I don’t know how Russ got along at Warren. A lot of the guys were pissed off at Warren because he wouldn’t return the artwork.
CB: That was some beautiful work, too. You did some for them, didn’t you?
MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. I did a few stories. I was talking once with Al Williamson and he didn’t see eye to eye with Jim Warren. They didn’t get along well at all, for that reason and he’ll even downgrade what he did for Warren. I’d say, “That stuff you did was pretty nice,” and he’d say, “Ah, it was crappy. It was the worst stuff I ever did.” It’s all because he didn’t get it back and they worked for peanuts on that stuff, I guess. I’m not sure what the rate was at that time, but I don’t think it was much.
CB: I was going to ask you how on earth you survived on Charlton’s rates when you worked for them.
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the thing is, you couldn’t. That was after the flood. They had a big flood up there in the (something) river valley and it gave Santangelo, who owned the place, a chance to say, “Geez, Uncle Sam, we’re broke here and we need money to rebuild.” They’re right next to the river, so the Government coughed up a lot of money to him and he in turn downgraded everybody’s salaries, crying poor mouth.
Well, he cleaned up. This was before I went there. It was probably in the 50’s, I guess. Joe Gill, who was a very good friend of mine, I sat next to him for years, was making $400.00 a week as a writer, which was unheard of. He was writing pretty much everything that they published. He said, “Well, I’ll just have to work harder.” He was getting $4.00 a page and he was typing 100 pages a week. I can’t even write that fast.
CB: It’s astounding.
MCLAUGHLIN: He’d be able to talk to you while he was typing. I couldn’t believe it. He was a radio operator in the service. One of the best, I’m sure. He could just type and talk at the same time. I don’t know how the hell he did it.
CB: What was your production rate when you were working on deadline, Frank?
MCLAUGHLIN: That’s another thing. I never missed a deadline. Editors really appreciate that. I’m not saying it was always pretty. I tried to keep the quality up. I just worked longer hours. When I was working with Sal Buscema at Marvel on Captain America or something, I was inking a book a week.
CB: That’s flying.
MCLAUGHLIN: That is flying, and I was doing other stuff besides. The DC stuff was a little slower. I worked with Dick Dillin for a long time on Justice League and boy; he put in everything but the kitchen sink. He even drew the logo that was a paste-up. He drew it, and shaded it in where all the blacks were. I said, “Dick, why do you do that?” He said, “I want to see what the page will look like when it’s done.” I said, “Well, you know you’re spending all this time drawing the logo.” It didn’t seem to bother him. You know I never met him. I worked with him for over 20 years and never once met him.
CB: The life of a freelancer.
MCLAUGHLIN: Same thing with Irv Novick. I worked with him for about 20 years and I didn’t meet him until a convention I think at Westchester. He showed up and I broke a leg trying to get to him to meet him and we talked for a while and he was very, very nice and paid compliments and I mean he was a pleasure to work with.
He’s the only guy I knew of that had a contract as an employee with DC. In other words, he was guaranteed something like five pages a week and they paid his benefits like insurance and whatever, the same as they would an editor. The only one I ever heard of like that.
CB: I think the only thing similar I ever heard was with Jim Mooney. I think he had a deal kind of like that with Marvel when he moved to Florida.
MCLAUGHLIN: Now there’s another guy I never met, but he was instrumental in getting me involved with Captain America when he was penciling it.
MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, and not only that, but I was doing a job for IBM through John Martin down in Florida and I was recommended to him by Jim Mooney. They approached Jim Mooney to do a series of comic books explaining how they got started and a whole bunch of things for IBM, and he said, “I can’t do it, but you can call Frank McLaughlin up in Connecticut.” At the time I had a studio. And sure enough I got a call from this guy John Martin who I’d never heard of.
He said, “How’d you like to come to Florida?” I said, “Who is this?” I thought somebody was yanking my chain. “Yeah, right, Florida.” He said, “No, I’ll send you a plane ticket and you come on down here and spend a week here in West Palm Beach.” “Two things: I don’t fly, and I’ve never been to Florida. If this is some kind of gag, forget it!” He said, “No, it’s not.” So I sent Joe Gill down to find out what the hell was going on. So he went down and came back and said, “The guy’s legit.” He had a good time down there. (Laughter.) The guy had a couple of apartments down there and Joe got to stay in the apartment by himself and had access to a car and the whole thing.
He came back and I asked, “Do we have a deal with this guy? He said, “Yeah.” These were comic books that were later to be converted to video games and it was called “Writing to Read,” teaching kids how to write stories on the computer when the IBM computer first came out. That was a great project and I went down to Florida later on. I took the train, and it turned out to be a pretty good situation for everybody all the way around. John was a wonderful guy.
CB: It seems those commercial jobs were usually heaven sent and often paid better than comic page rates. Sometimes they were more fun, too.
MCLAUGHLIN: This one was pretty fun. I was designing computer games and didn’t even know how to run a computer. I didn’t know anything about how to do it and I was working with a guy up here in Hartford who would call me on the phone and say, “Those drawings you did, I can’t use them. One thing gets in the way of another thing.” So I had to redraw them. I learned a lot about what you can and can’t do drawing pictures for computer games. John Martin came up a few times to Connecticut, too.
CB: And all due to a referral from Jim Mooney.
MCLAUGHLIN: Who I never knew and had never met. I’m beholden to him.
CB: It sounds very like him. I don’t think Jim Mooney had an enemy in the world with the possible exception of Mort Weisinger, who didn’t seem to have a friend in the world.
MCLAUGHLIN: Didn’t he play cards with Julie Schwartz every day? And then they stopped talking to each other?
CB: Probably. They went back a long way to the early days of science fiction.
MCLAUGHLIN: It seems to me they played cards every day over their lunch hour. Julie used to tell me he was a living legend. (Chuckle.) I said, “Really?” He’d say, “Yeah,” and then he’d show me pictures of himself with some of the old well-known science fiction writers. He was a big science fiction fan. Anyway, I’m sure he played cards with Mort each day over lunch and then one day they got into an argument at the card game and they never spoke to each other again. At least that’s how I heard it from Julie.
CB: I did hear a one-liner attributed to Julie referring to an appropriate epitaph for Mort: “Here lies Mort Weisinger…as usual.”
MCLAUGHLIN: Julie had a way with words sometimes. He used to spoon feed the writers sometimes and he’d sit there and bullshit with them and they’d throw ideas around and come up with a plot and so forth. One day, poor Cary Bates; all I could hear was Julie yelling at him through the office door: “You’re the genius. You write the goddamn thing!” (Laughter.)
CB: Now that was something Carmine told me. I’d mentioned to him how much I enjoyed Gardner Fox’s stories from back in the day and Carmine told me that his stories were very, very heavily edited by Julie.
MCLAUGHLIN: Julie had a way of knowing exactly what he wanted and he would steer the writer in the direction that he thought he should go. I mean, that’s what an editor is supposed to do after all.
CB: If they’re doing their job. Did you consider Julie your favorite editor?
MCLAUGHLIN: Absolutely. No doubt about it. He gave me this phony, gruff exterior kind of thing, but he was a softie at heart. He’d be the first guy to say, “Hey, are we taking care of you? Are you getting paid on time? Are you having any problems?” He was a real gentleman about the whole thing. We all miss him. For years after he retired he represented DC at conventions. I think that was a deal he cut with them. He liked going to those things and they’d get him a room and put him up. Everybody knew who he was.
CB: Kind of a goodwill ambassador.
MCLAUGHLIN: Exactly, and he felt useful about it, which he was.
CB: Not a bad “retirement.”
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we don’t retire. What am I going to do? Go to the beach and paint watercolors all freaking day? No. That’s not what we do. I say “we.” Mike Gold was an editor of mine at DC and we’re friends and years ago we decided that comics as we know them today are on the downward slide and maybe we can work out putting them on the computer. He’s very computer smart and he said, “That’s where it’s going. Let’s put together a website and put comic books there.” I said, “How are we going to make any money doing that?” He said, “Let me worry about that.” That guy went out and got backers to create and put up ComicMix.
I don’t know how many titles he put there. I know Wheatley was doing one. Five pages a week. So Dick Giordano and I got together again after 100 years and we do a book called “White Viper.” My daughter writes it, I ink it over Dick’s pencils, and we did that for 100 pages. We got paid against the publishing end of it, which starts in June. IDW picked it up.
Note: I checked in with Frank’s daughter, Erin Holroyd, to get her impressions of working with her father on “White Viper” and she shared the following delightful observations:
Working with my father, or as we call him, Fast and Fabulous, was interesting. I had been around comics my entire life but never read one. My brother and I used to wait for his shipment of books to come in and sell them instead of lemonade…oh, what we would do for those books now!! I have been working as a freelance writer for many years and “White Viper” was a great opportunity to try something new. I have been writing screenplays and for magazines so the structure for comics was completely different. I had a great time and there is nothing like a comic fan! Looking forward to book two!
CB: Excellent. I think I saw a couple of those installments now that I think about it. I remember Dick being involved in it, but I didn’t realize you were, too.
MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. It’s actually a property I ran past DC years ago and they gave me money for it, but never published it because they were loaded on their pub schedule. They were very busy because they’d picked up some titles that they thought they were stealing. One was from England, I believe and it fizzled. In the mean time I got back burnered and I said, “Screw it,” and I got the okay to warm it up again and do it with ComicMix, which I certainly don’t regret at all.
CB: No, of course not. I think maybe Mike is onto something. The way distribution is done now it’s hard to get the books you’d like, especially if you’re in an isolated area.
MCLAUGHLIN: That’s part of the problem. It used to be that comic books were the driving force behind production because when you were selling maybe 120,000 copies of “Spider-Man”, for example, you knew you had a built-in movie audience. Now, comic books aren’t selling. You’re lucky if you sell, I don’t know, 5,000. The movies are driving what little bit of sales are being made in the comic books, so we now see the power shifting. And since DC and Marvel now do their own movies…more or less, now that Disney bought Marvel. I can’t wait to see Spider-Duck.
MCLAUGHLIN: That marriage sounds like mine. (Laughter.) I’m only kidding. Time-Warner was also a puzzle to me and a lot of people really didn’t like it and a lot of people regret it now.
CB: And the changes continue with the recent announcement that Dan Didio and Jim Lee are the new co-publishers at DC.
MCLAUGHLIN: After Paul Levitz left. The way they do this is pretty interesting. When they want to cut costs they hire new kids out of the Kubert School and some of them are very good and they’ll work for peanuts, so, duh! Get rid of the old-timers and bring in some kids at a lower cost, and that’s terrific. What they do is kind of buy you off. They give you some money to make you a consultant, but you never get to consult. It’s kind of like a layoff, but it’s not a layoff.
They give you a chunk of dough and make you a consultant. But at the time it didn’t bother me much because I’d just signed a contract with the Chicago Tribune to do the Gil Thorp strip. It was five days. No Sunday page. It was a strip I’d always read growing up and it was a chance to actually do it. What they didn’t tell me was they (the Tribune) were about to go bankrupt. (Chuckle.) They had a guy over from the sports department who was trying to act as the comic editor and I guess it didn’t work out. There were all kinds of shenanigans going on there. His buddy was writing it. He was a feature writer with a big paper out west and he was friends with the editor here and he’d never really written a comic strip. He was a good writer, but not a good comic strip writer.
It requires a certain talent that you don’t run into when you’re writing a newspaper column. Anyway, he caught on. He was pretty good. Better than the guy before him. The circulation kept dropping because newspapers kept going out of business. Many weren’t willing to pay for a comic strip every week when they were getting a free one. There were people out there giving away free comic strips. I can’t compete with that.
CB: Oh, of course not.
MCLAUGHLIN: So when I first took the strip over there were maybe 100 papers, but it’s an old strip. 50 years old, and it’s a continuing strip. There’s only maybe half a dozen of those. I think Joe Giella might be working on one of them.
CB: He sure is. Mary Worth.
MCLAUGHLIN: Mary Worth. So, anyway, they’re the first to go. Gil Thorp in a lot of papers got moved to the sports page since it was a sports oriented strip and that’s one foot out the door. We got down to about 35 papers and I said, “I can’t afford to do this anymore. I have to crank out a set of five dailies in two days.” They wanted me to sign a five-year contract. Then I started doing this thing with Mike Gold at ComicMix and of course I’ve done a lot of teaching.
CB: It looks like you’ve been at it quite a while. You must enjoy it.
MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Up at the Paier College of Art up here in Hamden. I’ve been up there 22 years.
CB: Holy cow!
MCLAUGHLIN: I say that every time I think of it. I like doing it. I really do. I learn a lot from the kids. More than they learn from me, I’ll bet.
CB: That sounds familiar. When I interviewed Dick Ayers, Irwin Hasen and Ric Estrada about their experiences when the Kubert School was starting up Ric in particular said he didn’t know what he was doing initially, but after a while he discovered his rhythm and what the kids needed to know. One thing that stuck out to me when he said he was always telling them to “Move the camera, move the camera, move the camera.” Change the angles to make the story more interesting.
MCLAUGHLIN: I worked with Stan Drake for a while and he was a great teacher. He said, “What you’ve got to do is take the curse off it.” (Chuckle.) I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about at first, but Elliot Caplin, Al Capp’s brother, was writing “The Heart of Juliet Jones” and he would send a script to us and we’d read it and it would be two people talking to each other in a living room. So he’d say, “We’ve got to take the curse off this.”
So we’d put them in a zoo, going past animal cages, talking to each other while stuff was going on behind them; little subplots, and he was great at that. You didn’t mind that it was a boring conversation going on, and you learned to do that. He had great storytelling techniques, too. I learned a lot there and I tried to pass that on. Stan was the absolute best. He and John Prentice were two “uncles” in the business.
John passed, too, as did Stan, and oddly enough John’s son, Whitney is a teacher at Paier. I’d not known him since he was a little kid and here he is teaching a painting class. A big, tall guy. I asked, “Are you related to John Prentice?” “Yeah, he’s my father.” So we hit it off right away. I get to see him a couple of times a week. We teach classes at the same time. A very nice guy. Very mild-mannered. One thing I didn’t know. John was at Pearl Harbor in the Navy during the attack.
CB: How about that? My wife’s stepfather was a Pearl Harbor survivor. He’s been gone a number of years now.
MCLAUGHLIN: I was trying to recall when Prentice passed away. Maybe 10 years ago? He and Stan were around the same age, I think. All those guys like Red Wexler; they all lived near each other and had studios together. Stan and I worked in the same studio as Red Wexler and he was a good artist, too. Whew! A fine illustrator. He did a lot of magazine work and then he was doing advertising for a woman’s makeup line. It was a beautiful account. It was for older women and the promise was that it would make you look younger. And it was called “Second debut.” (Mutual laughter.)
I’d say, “Red, what are you doing today?” “I’m working on second daboo. Let’s go to lunch.” (More laughter.) Now Red had a daughter who was a wonderful artist who never really did much with it, but she was terrific. The best family deal I know is Joe Sinnott. His son Mark runs his website. In fact, Joe and I did a book together on how to deliver a newspaper for the Washington Star and we used Mark, his son, who at the time was about 12 or 13 years old as the model of the delivery boy for the cover.
Now he’s a great big guy with a couple of kids of his own. In fact he has a daughter, Erin, same name as my daughter, who is a budding writer and she’s still in high school. Joe, for that matter is still prolific. He doesn’t like doing a lot of recreations, but boy, he gets all kinds of attention. He was famous for his work at Marvel. He does well at the conventions, but he sells existing artwork.
CB: There seems to always be a market for it. I think sales may have slowed some, but the prices don’t seem to come down.
MCLAUGHLIN: No. When I was hooked up with Carmine doing these recreations they were going like gangbusters. His old Flash and Batman stuff remain very popular.
CB: I wanted to mention to you that I discovered amongst my collection one well-loved and well-read book that you may have forgotten about.
MCLAUGHLIN: I’m sure I did. (Chuckle.)
CB: Do you remember when the Joker had his own magazine?
CB: It went for nine issues and I have all of them, and you inked after Irv Novick on issue #7, and I don’t know how many times I read that story, but for the first time I noticed that when the Joker was getting into this taxicab, down on the license plate it reads: “Frank.”
MCLAUGHLIN: Maybe it was my background man. I had this kid who was at the studio every day after his classes at the high school. “Let me help. I’ll fill in blacks. I’ll erase pages. Anything.” So I let him do some stuff, just to get him off my back. He’d left some pages one day that I had to send in and he’d put his name on the side of a truck and buildings and everything else he could. “What the hell did you do?” He put his name on every goddamn space available. It felt like I was watching a hockey game live in an arena. Those signs did everything but spin.
MCLAUGHLIN: He spent the whole day whiting them out. I said, “Don’t you ever come by here again or I’ll throw you down the goddamn stairs. And that wouldn’t hurt because you’re on the first floor.” Ah. I found what I was thinking about on some of Carmine’s early work: Danger Trail. The stuff looked really good! A lot of people had trouble inking Carmine, but this stuff is very good.
CB: I understand he wasn’t the tightest penciller.
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he wasn’t always easy, but he was under the gun on a lot of these jobs. He was doing a lot of stuff, too. “This Danger Trail” really looks good, though. I’m surprised it wasn’t more popular.
CB: Well, that sounds like his old “Pow Wow Smith” work. That was nice, too. He could do good figures.
MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. The only thing that bothered me were his ice cube tray buildings. He sometimes didn’t spend much time rendering his architecture, but you know Kirby did the same thing. He had his own buildings. Kirby buildings. It’s not the kind of thing that bothered the regular readers, though, obviously. It was part of his look.
Ditko was the same way. He had his own look to stuff. You know when I first met him at Charlton he was terrific. He was funny. He was friendly. He was affable. He was best man at Billy Anderson’s wedding. But he would never allow his picture to be taken. And still doesn’t. He had his own look in his work.
CB: Very distinctive. I confess I’ve found a lot of his work to be an acquired taste.
MCLAUGHLIN: You’d be surprised how often I hear that. People are afraid to make waves. “Well, Joe thinks he’s a terrific artist, so I’d better say the same thing.” He did some terrific stuff at Charlton. Gorgo and Konga, the Japanese monsters and so forth. He does a great job on the horror and mysteries and that stuff. I thought it was as good as his “Spider-Man” work.
CB: I would agree.
MCLAUGHLIN: Doctor Strange.
CB: I think designing weird landscapes and monsters and stuff are really one of his great talents. There’s no one better.
MCLAUGHLIN: Blue Beetle was great. I thought he did a great job with Blue Beetle. He designed the costume and The Bug. IF he went to one convention, he could make himself 30 grand in a day just selling his old pages. Stan Lee has some of his old pages. He turned more than a dime at the auction houses with Steve’s stuff, which Steve believes that the publisher owns.
CB: He’s got some very different attitudes about things.
MCLAUGHLIN: From what I understand he moved out of the city and in with his sister’s family down in Pennsylvania again. At least that’s what I heard.
CB: I don’t know.
MCLAUGHLIN: He was always sickly. The funny thing is I had a million laughs with that guy at Charlton. He looks like Steve Allen and he’d laugh like him and everything. He was a fun guy, believe it or not.
CB: That’s the funny thing. I spoke to him on the phone a couple of times and it was like a different person, at least compared to the way he writes.
MCLAUGHLIN: In the summer he would dress in an overcoat when it was pretty hot out. I think he had TB when he was younger.
CB: I’d heard that. Dick Giordano was telling me that they’d play a lot of ping-pong at the Charlton offices and it was partly a way for Steve to build his system up.
MCLAUGHLIN: He changed completely. When Dick became editor at DC they were looking for somebody to take over on the “Red Tornado”. I said to him, “You know who would do great on this? Steve Ditko. As far as I know he’s not doing anything.” He says, “Ummm…I don’t think he’d want to do it.” I said, “Well did you ask him?” “No, but he’s turned down other things that I’d offered him.” “Well, let me call him.” So I called him up. “Hey, Steve,” I ran it by him. “They’re looking for somebody to do the Red Tornado.” He said, “Yeah.” So we made a date to meet at the DC offices. Now Steve won’t go to lunch with anybody.
Go figure. So we met in the afternoon and Bob Greenberger was in the outside offices and Steve was actually excited about the prospects of doing it. And if Greenberger hadn’t been there, people would swear I was lying. So we go into Dick’s office and Dick says, “Here’s what we want to do.” Ditko says, “Well, I don’t like it.” “Why?” He says, “Well, this is a superhero doing the work our military should be doing.” And he gets up and he walks out! Dick looks at me and he says, “I told you.” Who knew? “I swear to God, two minutes ago I was out in the other room there and Greenberger was there and we were talking together and you ask him what went on.” “I believe you.” What an excuse to not do a comic book.
CB: Jim Shooter told me a similar story about giving Steve an assignment and he came in one day and dropped it on his desk and said he couldn’t do it because it represented a sub stratum world or something and it went against his beliefs as an Aristotilian.
MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. I don’t think I’ve spoken to him directly since then. I still don’t know the point of it all. I just don’t know. The sad part is that’s not the old Steve Ditko we knew back when. Ping-pong games and card games and John Santangelo and Joe Gill played cards against each other all the time. John would cheat and Joe would roll over once in a while because John was signing his paycheck.
I’ve got a story for you. As you mentioned we weren’t making the highest rates at Charlton, God forbid, so we all had to use a little subterfuge. We were working under different names. Somebody blew the whistle. Somebody I guess who wasn’t getting work under a different name and told about what was going on to John Santangelo and John had a rule that you could not do freelance work if you were an employee of Charlton. So Joe Gill gets called in first. He was working under about five names. (Chuckle.) That was one of the ways he was able to pull down his $400.00 a week.
Pat Masulli was the boss at the time and he was letting us get away with it because he was doing the same thing. So Joe knocks on Santangelo’s door and John says, “Who is it?” “It’s Joe Gill.” He said, “Come on in, boys.” (Mutual laughter.) Joe said, “I knew the jig was up then.” One guy was having his brother pose as him and he couldn’t draw, so they called him down and John puts a pencil and a piece of paper in front of him and says to draw him a picture of some character. He draws the worst picture you ever saw. John looked at it and said, “Well, you’re okay.” (Laughter.) The guy came back laughing his ass off. “Well, I passed the test.”
CB: Your story about Joe Gill and “Come in, boys,” makes me think of when I spoke to Jack Adler and somehow Bob Kane came up and he immediately asked, “Which one?”
MCLAUGHLIN: I used to kid around with Jack Adler all the time. Do you know who his nephew is?
CB: I do. Howard Stern.
MCLAUGHLIN: He came in as a kid to the offices. So I asked Jack Adler, “What are you going to do when you get out of here?” He said, “I’m going to be a hypnotist.” “What?” “Yeah, I’m going to be a hypnotist.” So every time I saw him I’d go, “Woo-ooo-ooo…”
CB: Jack is still hanging in there. I believe he’s 91 now. He’s always a joy to talk to. A very intelligent man.
MCLAUGHLIN: Yep. That’s Jack. He worked in the bullpen with Sol Harrison when Sol was there and that was a great arrangement. The work they did was terrific and they got it out on time and it was well run and then they made Sol the boss and I think it might have been around that time that Jack left. I’m not sure. I wasn’t in there very often. Anyway, Jack Adler was always a very entertaining guy.
CB: Such a genius, too, with the wash tones and such.
MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, yeah. The best. You know I hit a goldmine once. I was working for Eastern Color in Waterbury, Connecticut and unbeknownst to me they were the first publishers of comic books. I was doing commercial work at the newspaper. The Waterbury Republican. Anyway, I went up there and I was talking to a guy by the name of Sandy whose brother, Dick Pape was involved and he said, “Come on, I want to show you some of the stuff.”
He takes me down into this crappy, dust-filled room with old beat up metal cabinets and he opens it up and I’m looking at this stuff. Comics on Parade, which was one of the first comic books, Daredevil vs. Hitler, just all the stuff that they’d ever printed. Stacks of it in there. Twelve copies of Comics on Parade. This was in the 60’s, but even at that time we’re talking value of a grand apiece. The real reason he had me in there was to find out if I could give him an idea of what this stuff was worth.
There were old copies of the pre-Batman Detective Comics and Frank Frazetta stuff. He said, “Here’s what you do. You go to these conventions and I’ll give you a stack of these things and see if you can sell them.” “Okay.” He said, “You can take your pick of whatever you want to sell.” “Okay.” I go down there and Phil Seuling, who ran the conventions, starts looking through the stuff and he about had a stroke.
He said, “Where the hell did you get this stuff?” I said, “I’m not at liberty to tell you.” So he grabbed most of it and I came back with a head of lettuce of money for Sandy and I said, “You’ve got a gold mine here whether you know it or not.” He said, “Holy cow!” Guess what? A month later, Sandy left the company. He retired. (Laughter.)
CB: How about that.
MCLAUGHLIN: What a surprise. I got a call from George Ward one day, who was helping Walt Kelly do Pogo. George is a real character and he collected the old Detective Comics. He was a character and he lived on the second floor and he had a stack of his comics in the corner of the room and his landlord, who lived downstairs, came up one day complaining in broken English, “My ceiling is-a falling down. What’s going on? What are you doing up there?” It was caving in from the stack of comics he had in the corner of the room.
It was causing a crack in the ceiling of the apartment downstairs. (Chuckle.) What a pip that guy was. So I hooked him up with Sandy and he spent a lot of money up there. He was a retouch artist for the Daily News and moved to the Long Island newspaper and I’m talking to him on the phone one day and he said, “I can’t talk to you anymore. I’ve got to put a shoulder on a general.” “Okay, Wardie.”
He was in his late 50’s and he’d show up at comic conventions with a teenage hooker on either arm. I’d say, “Where the hell did you meet her?” “I met her on the subway coming up here.” (Laughter.) “How old is she, fifteen?” “She told me she was eighteen.” “She can’t even spell eighteen.” I’m reminded of a dinner we put together for Irwin Hasen. Mort Walker’s son arranged it through the NCS down in Westport. So this dinner was honoring Irwin Hasen and he got up there and he had everybody on the floor. Talking about his war experiences and other things. A real beauty. Anyway, it’s a helluva business.
CB: Never a dull moment, it seems.
MCLAUGHLIN: No and it sure beats working for Westinghouse. (Laughter.) You won’t meet these kinds of people working in an office, I can tell you that. I can say without reservation that you’d never find a better bunch to work with. They’ve been my best friends for decades and while we don’t get to see one another as often as I’d like, there are relationships that take right up where they left off and I’m glad of that.