In 2010 I decided to try to track down as many of the fabled “Crusty Bunkers” as I could to tap their memories of working at Neal Adams’ and Dick Giordano’s Continuity Associates.
This segment is part 2 of 3.
Bryan D. Stroud for Comics Bulletin: Just one of those eccentricities, I guess.
THEAKSTON: Tex Blaisdell showed up. He worked there for a while. And I kick my ass around the block for not interviewing these guys. Here they were, sitting down at work and I could have just set up my tape recorder and got all this history. And Russ Heath. What a character. I remember we were working on a Peter Pan records “Spider-Man vs. Dragon Man” story. It’s Friday and we’re trying to finish this thing up and get out the door before closing time and Heath rolls in at about 4:30 and says, “What have we got?” “Spider-Man vs. Dragon Man.” “Okay, give me a page.” And the very last panel of the story Dragon Man is turned into a tiny lizard. So Russ inks this little lizard, inks it, washes out his brush, and hands the page to Neal and says, “Who wants to go for drinks?” That was Russ Heath’s work ethic.
He’s one of the seniors, one of the deans. This guy had been around since forever and he would say, “Ah, I’m a little tight until my next check. Can you loan me twenty bucks?” “I’d rather have you do me a drawing for twenty bucks, but yeah, here’s twenty bucks.” Now let me phrase this carefully: He had overdrawn his salary to the point…well, generally the tops of the desks were covered with a piece of matte board and when the matte board became dirty you’d just peel it off and put a new piece of matte board on and throw the old one away. So he’s got like a list of people he owes money to. (Chuckle.)
CB: Oh, boy.
THEAKSTON: Well, on the other hand that’s very commendable. He’s at least keeping track. So I come around behind him and I don’t know what the deal was. Delivering work maybe. I was just talking to him and I see this list and it’s like, “This guy owes $250.00 to everybody around here.” And he slaps his hand over this list and he says, “Nobody told you to look at my accounting!” I said, “Don’t write it on your desk.” The next time I passed his desk he had taped a piece of paper over it so you couldn’t see his accounting.
At some point, Mike Nasser was there and he was drawing something on Heath’s matte cover and the next day I go back to visit Mike in the seventh room back and Russ has taken a big Magic Marker and scrawled over the entire desk, “RUSS HEATH DOES NOT LIKE HIS DESK WRITTEN ON.” Mike is like, “What am I going to do about this? Paint the thing?” I said, “Have you got a Phillips head screwdriver?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Let me at this.” I get under the table on by knees and take out four screws, turn the thing over so it’s fresh wood and screw the thing back in. “Easy peasy. It’s all done.”
THEAKSTON: Now you’ll have to ask Mike about this, because I don’t remember what happened, but there became this thing where he and Neal started doing pranks on each other. Ha! I can tell you exactly how it started. Mike Kaluta comes in and he pulls something out of his portfolio and says, “You want to see something really funny?” Neal had drawn this picture of Superman flying toward you; it’s in the Neal Adams Treasury I with a little bit of Metropolis in the background. “You guys want to see something really funny?” He takes this piece of acetate out of his portfolio and it’s black. It’s been trimmed into the shape of a giant ink spill. Neal is out. Kaluta puts this on top of this drawing of Superman and takes an empty bottle of ink and he places it strategically so it looks like a bottle of ink got knocked over and ruined his piece of artwork. Ha!
So Neal walks in and it’s “Oh, my God! What happened?” We’re all snickering. He finally gets the joke and pulls the piece of acetate off and holds the thing up and says, “Who do we do this to next?” (Mutual laughter.)
That’s pretty congenial, don’t you think? So Neal goes out again and Mike takes the Superman drawing out to the Art-o-graph and copies it, and Mike could do a pretty good Neal imitation, and then he takes the acetate splotch and he outlines it and then he fills it in with real ink. And he puts it back on Neal’s desk. (Chuckle.) And Neal comes in and says, “I know this joke!” Then he picks it up and it looks like his artwork is really f—ed up. And again we’re all about to explode from trying to hold it in.
So this started a prankster war between Neal and Mike, and Mike comes in one morning and his art table is gone. Neal has disassembled it and reassembled it in the very tiny bathroom. There’s no way to get it out. Mike is going to have to take it apart and get it out and reassemble it.
CB: Oh, geez.
THEAKSTON: So I’m in there working on the storyboards around midnight and Nasser comes in and says, “Where can I get 60 feet of rope at this hour?” “Sixty feet of rope? What are you talking about?” “Yeah, yeah. What I want to do is take Neal’s desk and go up to the roof and lower it down so that when he gets in his desk is outside the window.” I said, “This has gone too far. (Chuckle.) You guys need to cut it out!”
CB: (Chuckle.) This can’t end well.
THEAKSTON: What next? Neal’s got to top this. And you know that Neal will. He’s the boss. He’s got to. Give up this rope idea. What happens if it kills somebody? And he even wants the light and all the papers to be on the desk as well. Antics went on like that a lot at that studio. I was very partial to Doritos. I would finish painting to deliver and I would have a fresh bag of Doritos on my desk, and when I got back half of the bag would be gone! I’d go up to the front room and Neal’s fingers would be orange. “You sonofabitch you ate half my bag of Doritos!” So I started hiding my Doritos and Neal took it as a challenge. He’d come in when I was out and scour my office for my Doritos. I hid some behind some books and he found them.
CB: Just sniffed ‘em out, huh?
THEAKSTON: Oh, yeah. He was a real munchie fan.
At some point Mike Nasser had…I don’t know whether to call it a breakdown or a revelation, but he found Jesus. He thought he was Jesus. Let’s just call a spade a spade. He thought he was the second coming. I’ve met a couple of people that have had afflictions that felt the same way. I don’t know what it is. And mike rationalized it. He would explain to you how he was the second coming of Jesus. It got to the point that the amount of work he was doing petered out to the point that he didn’t have an apartment any more. I had known Mike since high school. I introduced him to Neal. I said, “Look, you can come and sleep on my couch and it will be a little island of security. Save up some money and get your own apartment. I’ll let you hang here until you get on your feet.” So he was working not only out of my place, but out of Continuity as well.
One afternoon, Kristine calls up and says, “Is Mike there?” I said, “No, Mike’s not here.” She said there was a brownie on Mike’s desk. “Well, Daddy ate it, and he’s feeling really strange.” “It’s a marijuana-laced brownie! Mike Nasser’s eating them and they’re filled with marijuana. And tell your father to stop eating other people’s treats.”
So at the end of two months I ask, “Mike, how much have you saved up?” He dips into his pocket and he says, “Thirty-seven cents.” I said, “Mike, you’ve got to go.” So on the roof of 9 East 48th was this decorative façade, which had a really nice circular window, but it was basically a small room, so Mike took his stuff and he moved up there. If he had to use the toilet he had a key to Continuity, so he’d just go downstairs, use the facilities and then go back up to his perch on the roof.
It was kind of a moment when his life went into shambles. Cross-country trips to California. Several. Kind of an Easy Rider self-discovery sort of thing. And it came to this point where I was kind of losing track of him. He finally shows up and I said, “What happened? What have you been doing?” He says, “Well, you know I went to the airport and I boarded an empty plane and I got into the pilot’s seat and that’s when security caught up with me.” “What were you going to do, fly a plane back to Lebanon?” I didn’t see Mike for a long time after that.
But, my favorite part of Continuity, aside from the good money that I made there, was Fridays. Because everybody who didn’t live in the city, who had a job to deliver in the city, showed up. It was an unbelievable line of celebrities. You could always count on Gray Morrow coming in. We had Sergio Aragones visiting. You never knew who was going to show up on Friday, but you always knew somebody would. “My God, Wally Wood!”
CB: Good night!
THEAKSTON: Yeah. And you could interact with these guys on a reasonably professional level. Everybody was working. Fridays were always my favorite. Gray Morrow, what a dry sense of humor. Gray would not say anything for fifteen minutes and then he’d just lay something on you, like oh, my God! He was just waiting for the moment to actually say this.
Denys Cowan got his start up there. Carl Potts. Another one of those angry guys. And he despised smoking. And a client would come up, or the agent would come up with a new job and be talking to Neal and the guy would light up a cigarette and Potts would go into a huff and he would pry open one of these gigantic front windows and leave the room. Now Gray Morrow tended to smoke a pipe. But Potts was not going to give any guff to Gray Morrow. So whenever Gray came in with his pipe, Carl got into a huff and just left. Again, I was not equipped to deal with people with issues. I really kinda didn’t have any. I came from a happy home. I felt like the freak.
On Friday afternoons, Marvel had started a volleyball league.
THEAKSTON: In Central Park. Every Friday afternoon at about 5 o’clock during warm weather we’d all get together and play volleyball. So once all the Continuity guys figured it out, we were there. Eighteen people. And it came to this point where there were so many people we had to rotate people out and rotate people in. So there would be four people on the sidelines watching the game and when that round was over, somebody would rotate out and somebody would rotate in. It was super cool, because in the heat of the game, you got to see what these people were really like.
CB: (Chuckle.) The façade comes down.
THEAKSTON: Absolutely. No more of that. Guys that you thought…well, they might have been, but under the heat of the moment they became somebody else. And look, tell you what: If you’re that nice guy all the time and you’re that kind of prick at the volleyball games it sort of counteracts the notion that you’re a nice guy.
And the list of guys who played in those games. It was the Who’s Who of comic books at the time. Jim Shooter was always one of the captains. Steve Mitchell, Bob McLeod…in fact Bob was part of Continuity for a long time. He was Neal’s left hand man. Alan Weiss. Anyway, at any given moment if a comic fan happened by and somebody started pointing out who all these people were he’d orgasm in his pants.
I remember we set up a Saturday game once and 27 people showed up. We had a whole third team that had to be rotated in and out. Unbelievable. I’m not a very big guy, but I’ve got a tall leap. The ball would be headed over the net and I’d jump up and just put my hand out and the ball would just fall and there was no way to field it. I could have smashed it down on somebody’s face, but…it was all very subtle. It became known as the “Theakston dink shot.” Dink…
THEAKSTON: If it’s just going to drop in front of you, yeah, what can you do? In my first game Steve Mitchell’s in the front row to my far right and I’m serving and the ball comes back to me and I punch it up to the far right and I say, “Steve.” And everybody’s like, “What? My God. We’re working like a team here.” “Yeah. The tall guy in the front row. I’ll set him up. We’ll make the point. It won’t come back.”
So that was part of the Continuity experience.
Mike Hinge, from New Zealand eventually ended up living in the back. He had very esoteric tastes in music. There was a really nice stereo up front and he would come in at one in the morning and he’d be playing something and it was, “What the f*** is this? You’ve got money for records, but you don’t have money for rent?” But it became obvious very quickly why he didn’t have money for rent. He’d say, (faux accent) “Aht Directors are all whores! They’re all whores!” Well, if you let that seep through during your interview, you’re not going to get a job. He’d be wearing a waffle long-john top and raggedy jeans and dirty work boots and go to interviews dressed like that.
CB: Great first impression…
THEAKSTON: I always got out a nice suit for my first interview. I said, “Mike, why do you do that?” “So they’ll think I’m poor and give me work.” “So they’ll think you’re a failure and can’t get work anywhere else, so they’ll give you work?” Terrific…
He worked in rapidograph and “Gehman Mahkers.” Which were very brilliant at the time, but 10 to 15 years later, the markers faded. It became a completely different piece of artwork 10 or 15 years later. Not permanent whatsoever. You’d see him walking down the street and he had this scowl on his face. He looked like a leprechaun on a bad day. He had grayish hair and a beard, but with no mustache. And he always had this scowl on his face as he’s walking down the street. It finally came to the point I asked, “Hey, every time I see you on the street you’ve got this scowl. What’s the deal with that?” “I don’t want to walk around looking like a grinning fool.” “You don’t have to grin, but you don’t have to scowl either.” That was ultimately one of the reasons he wasn’t successful: this terrible attitude.
Jack Abel. Everybody loved Jack. Old workhorse. Probably the senior member of the entire office. He’d be plugging away, drawing and inking Mighty Samson for Dell and he would pin his artwork to his board with a pushpin. Everybody’s got their own work technique, but the top of his desk was chopped to pieces by 30,000 pushpin holes.
THEAKSTON: I was very, very interested in ‘30’s and ‘40’s popular culture at the time. I had some common ground with this guy because he’d lived through it. Every once in awhile he’d say, “How do you know that?” “It’s my thing.”
CB: It sounds like things were happening around the clock.
THEAKSTON: Oh, yeah. At any given moment something was going on. I’d go there in the afternoon and take a nap and I would then get up at six and come back in at midnight when all these guys were at their very dead end and it was like, “The Cavalry is here! What have you got?”
I met Lynn Varley when she was 16. She’s from Detroit as well. She was dating my best friend who was 18, which I thought was a little bit odd, but on the other hand she was f***ing gorgeous. And she eventually moved to New York City and was going to the Fashion Institute of Technology. She was friends with me and my first wife even after she broke up with Tony. We kind of maintained the relationship. So she calls me up out of the blue and she says, “I’m miserable at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Is there any way you can help me get out of here?” I said, “Yeah, of course. Come on up to Continuity. There’s always work here.” So she came up on a Saturday afternoon and we were doing some corn-chip storyboards. Some Frito Bandito rip-off, which you just knew was never going to make it to air. So I gave her her first coloring lessons that afternoon and she became a regular member of the staff. And she eventually met her future husband, Frank Miller around there.
I’m having dinner when Julie Schwartz, Harlan Ellison and his wife, Lynn and Frank, and a science fiction writer from Hollywood. I can’t remember his name. And the guy who co-founded Dragon Con. And at the end of the meal, this is about 1991, the crowd presses ahead and she turns back and motions for me to sit down and she says, “I never got to thank you for changing my life.” And I just thought, “How sweet.”
THEAKSTON: I don’t think Trevor Von Eeden was part of the studio. I do know he visited there often.
CB: He was kind of a wunderkind as I recall.
THEAKSTON: Yeah. And Dennis Cowan got his start there. Dennis used to come in and sit with me. I had a record player in my room and a lot of records and I remember playing Chorus Line for him and somewhere during the first half of the record he said, “Hey, do you have Chorus Line?” (Mutual laughter.) “What did you think we were listening to?”
And Potts was in the office up near the front and he comes in all steamed because he thinks I’m playing my music too loud. He makes this fist at me. “What? You’re gonna beat me up?”
There was this thing with the air-conditioner. If it was left on all night it would freeze up the coils. It would literally turn it into a block of ice. This thing was so efficient that it froze the condensation and as studio manager, at 11:00 in the morning when it’s starting to get warm, my job was take care of it. So I figured out that if you took a blow dryer and just set it in front of it in half and hour to 45 minutes you’d get the A/C working again.
CB: Necessity is the mother of invention.
THEAKSTON: There was also a latrine in the hallway. They weren’t really bathrooms because there was no bath in them. But the one in the hallway had a drain in the center of the floor and I said, “Hey, Neal. You know it would be really inexpensive, maybe $150.00 and we could put a shower in that room.” He said, “I don’t want this place seeming too much like home to these guys.” And it was an unwritten rule that you were not allowed to have TV’s. Certainly not in the front room. So I was painting paperback covers and wanted to be amused, so I had a little TV back in my room. I know Neal disapproved, but he never said anything about it.
CB: What an experience, Greg.
THEAKSTON: So…I’m sure none of these guys give a damn. Somebody comes in and says, “I know you smoke pot.” “Yeah.” He says, “I’m going to buy a pound. How much are you in for?” I said, “What does it work out to an ounce?” “$28.00.” “Give me two.” Nasser and I smoked a lot of pot together. We were getting ounces all the time. Marshall Rogers also smoked pot. He was there at the time. So anyway, I cough up the dough and the guy comes in and says, “Here.” Big brick in his hand. So we go back, not quite as far back as Mike Hinge’s work area, but Neal had this very large room in the back. There was this lesbian martial artist who needed the room to practice her martial arts. She didn’t stay very long. So at some point Neal decides to put three more desks in here in an extension. There goes the couch that I used to sleep on, but I didn’t any more. So Nasser and Rogers and I can’t remember the third person are set up. This is shortly after the “Russ Heath does not like his desk written on” episode and Nasser’s got this immaculately clean board. So we upend it so it’s horizontal and my dealer starts cutting this pound of pot. And it was more than a pound because everybody got a really good count. So there are four or five guys in the back room, all with an ounce or two and everybody starts pulling out papers to roll their own.
I said, “Hang on. Put your papers away. I’ve got an idea.” I take a credit card out of my pocket and I scrape the surface of Mike’s desk and there’s this really fat little pile of pollen which the wood had held onto. “Let’s make the first one out of this.” It was a fatty about the size of your thumb. And as we start to pass it Neal shows up.
CB: Of course.
THEAKSTON: He’s not mad, but he’s letting us know he’s the boss and he says, “Are you guys doing drug deals in my studio?” “Yeah. But it’s the back room. Nobody will know.” Neal sits down in one of the chairs, an easy chair somehow got in there, and he says, “Pass that thing this way.” Neal was not all that much of a tight ass. So we pass him this gigantic doob. I mean this thing was really a big fatty. He’s like, “Give me that,” like it’s some kind of challenge. He takes this gigantic pull and he holds it and he passes the Jay to somebody else. Then he exhales. He said something like, “It’s no big deal.” He puts his hands on the rests of the chair and he stands up and he falls back into the chair in a daze. A man’s got to know his limitations.
We’re in Toronto in 1972 at a big convention at a university, and all my friends are there. Weiss, Neal, everybody. Apparently I’d come in a little late because they’re all tripping on LSD.
CB: Oh, geez.
THEAKSTON: So there’s an open staircase leading to the second floor and Alan Weiss has a pack of cards and he’s balls-to-the-walls tripping. Look, if you don’t want it reported, don’t do it in front of me. He says, “You want to see something cool?” He stands up and goes to the rail and he peels all the cards over the rail and everybody who’s tripping on the floor is like, “Oh-h-h-h beautiful!” I said, “You want me to go down there and collect ‘em so you can do it again?” He said, “Nah. Kaluta’s down there and he’s a Virgo and he won’t be able to put up with the chaos.” I look over the rail and there’s Kaluta on his hands and knees collecting these cards.
Neal was perhaps the most gracious artist I’ve ever known when giving a critique. There was this thing where you were the big fish in the little pond. You were the best artist in your high school. And you would hit New York and you would ask Neal and you’d be expecting Neal to say something like, “Oh, this is the most terrific stuff I’ve ever seen,” and Neal would give you the real deal. I learned as much from watching him critique other people’s portfolios…even more than him critiquing mine. I remember watching Ken Steacy getting his portfolio reviewed at this convention and I’m wearing this long sleeved polo shirt that’s tight at the wrists and real loose and ballooney sleeves, and Neal points to me and says, “Look at the way Greg’s shirt moves. See where it touches his body and where it just floats over it. You have to remember as you’re drawing something that there’s this moment where the cloth obeys the structure underneath it and sometimes it’s just free falling.” And at the end of the critique, Ken’s lower lip was trembling. This is the last thing he wanted to hear. But absolutely the most important thing that he should have.
CB: I can see that.
THEAKSTON: Here was the real truth. And it was never done with malice. I do this to this day. The coolest thing anybody ever said to me when I underwent Neal’s critique. He would say, “Look, what I’m about to tell you works for me. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t discard it. Put it on the back burner. Because it will make sense in two years.” So you get, “This is what works for me. If I can convince you of any of it, it’s great, but if I can’t, don’t throw it away. It really works for me and you may find it works for you.” There were these moments, too, when I’d slap my forehead and say, “NOW I know what he’s talking about! Of course! I can see it now.”
CB: It falls into place.
THEAKSTON: He never said no. Anybody that wanted a critique, he’d always give it. And really, as a Mecca for comic-book artists, I must have watched Neal do these critiques twenty or thirty times. It got to the point where I’m nodding my head. “Yep. I know that one. Yep, he’s right about that one, too.” I distinctly remember Neal saying the Solar Plexus is like a Roman shield. And he draws this Roman shield over my terrible drawing and it’s absolutely right.
At this point, I’m painting paperback covers while working at Continuity. Most of these guys haven’t done their fist comic book job yet. So I’m kind of the high man on the totem pole. “This guy is doing oil paintings. Good Lord.” So I’m there on one of my occasional visits and I’d brought my paints with me. I had another set at home. So in a taboret to the left of Neal’s table, top drawer, I leave all my oil paints. I was like, “Neal, if you want, feel free. Experiment with some oil paints. It’s all here.” I came by about two months later and they’d not been touched. They were still sitting exactly the same way that I’d left them. So in some respects I had Neal’s respect.
Although unless you were somebody like Gray Morrow, he wasn’t one to really show it to you. There was a closeness that Neal and I appreciated that all of the new crop of guys didn’t get to enjoy. But there was a flip side to that, too. Because he’s a very competitive guy. I remember I had a really nice record collection and I’d bring them up to the front room to play them and Neal and I would sing along to these crazy old songs that nobody else knew. And he says, “Is there any period of music that you’re not really good with?” “I’d say 1948 to 1952 is my weak suit.” Then he got this smile on his face like, “Ha ha ha ha, well, I’ve topped you on that.” And there was a competition between Neal and I that no one else had to endure or enjoy, which is probably one of the reasons why we crashed and burned at the end.
CB: Just a little too close?
THEAKSTON: Yeah, though I wouldn’t say close. A little too competitive. Par of the whole psychology of Continuity was that Neal was on the top. He’s the guru. And here is somebody who can do something that he can’t. He never mentioned it, but I think it was a sticking point with him.
Jim Sherman came into the studio and at this point Lynn Varley is still working there and I’m kind of courting Lynn Varley and Jim Sherman, who is blonde and pretty and very talented become part of the scene. And Neal knows that I’m interested in Lynn and starts being Cupid for Lynn and Jim.
Next week – Part 3 of 3.