I got the great opportunity to speak with Jay Scott Pike in 2010. A wonderful “good girl” artist, war artist and the creator of the short-lived, but not forgotten Dolphin character, Scott is a wonderful gentleman who has been a force in the industry for decades. You’ll soon see why.
Bryan Stroud for Comics Bulletin: You must have had a very early interest in art. I understand you enrolled in the Art Student’s League at the age of 16. Is that correct?
Jay Scott Pike: Yeah, it is. I was 15 or 16. I know I was partway into high school. I wasn’t a junior or senior yet.
CB: What spurred your interest?
PIKE: I always liked to draw, and when I was a kid the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves movie was out in the theaters and I used to draw the dwarves and even tried to draw Snow White. I don’t know that I was any good at drawing her, but I can remember doing that and I just really liked to draw.
CB: I think probably Walt Disney started some careers whether he knew it or not.
PIKE: Probably so.
CB: Apparently you also had other training at the Parsons School of Design and the Ringling School of Art?
PIKE: That’s right. I went into the Marine Corps in ’42 and I got out in ’46 and I went to Parsons I guess in ’46 on the GI Bill for one year. I wanted mainly to do illustration and Parsons didn’t seem to give me what I wanted, although Parsons is a good school. So I took a semester at Syracuse and didn’t like them much better and then heard about Ringling and the idea of being down in the sunshine seemed good to me, so anyway we were married in ’48 and we came down here to Florida where we live now and I went to Ringling for a year and a half. When I got out we went back up to northern New Jersey, near enough to New York so I could get in and out every day.
I was hoping…really expecting to find that New York would have been just waiting for me to get there. (Mutual laughter.) But by golly, they weren’t. In fact, I couldn’t get any work at all. I wanted to get work without actually working in a studio in New York. I wanted to work at home where we lived in New Jersey, and somebody said, “You ought to go talk to Al Hartley. He’s a comic book artist.” I thought, “Gee, that’s probably the bottom of the barrel,” but anyway I did and met Al and Al was doing very well. He had a beautiful home and a brand new car in his circular driveway with a private pond in the back, and a pretty good-sized pond at that. He was obviously making plenty of money.
So I went into drawing comics with Al, but we just didn’t get along, so by the time we decided to split I’d gotten to know Stan Lee and Stan said that he would give me work of my own. So I got started with what was then Timely Comics and then drew comics for the next 7 or 8 years. The bulk of my comic career was in the 50’s.
CB: The earliest credit I could find for you was in 1951 on a western comic book.
PIKE: That sounds right.
CB: Since you started at that point and also did some a little bit later it sounds like you did work both before and after the Comics Code was instituted. Did that have any effect on your work, Scott?
PIKE: Yes it did, because at that time, when I first came out, I was drawing jungle girl comics. “Jann of the Jungle” and “Lorna the Jungle Queen” and it seems like another one, too, and I can remember I got a whole book back and had to make the bosoms smaller on the jungle girl, whichever one it was, and when she was flying through the trees on a vine or something her skirt couldn’t go above her knees. I can remember having to go over the whole book and having to fix those things.
CB: Censoring to meet the standard. I remember when I spoke to Russ Heath about it he was kind of cussing the Code, saying that if you showed someone sweating it was too violent.
PIKE: (Chuckle.) Well, it did get ridiculous. When did you last speak with Russ?
CB: About a week ago, in fact.
PIKE: I haven’t seen him for about 50 years, I guess, but his Dad was actually a neighbor of ours when we lived in Montclair, New Jersey. That was how I got acquainted with Russ.
CB: He’s a great talent and still knocking out work, like yourself.
PIKE: Well, I haven’t done any comic work in decades, but I have done recent paintings of Dolphin, a comic book character that I created. It was an oil painting of her.
CB: I’m glad you brought that up, as I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about “Dolphin”. It looks like that was a one-man show. You scripted it and illustrated it all in one.
PIKE: Yeah, it was all me. I did that and I decided that if I was going to keep doing it I wanted part of the copyright, so I went in to talk to [Irwin] Donenfeld about it and he didn’t even give the idea a glance. It just wasn’t done at that time. So I said, “Hell, I’m not going to write this thing and draw it, too.” It was too much work. So that was really the end of “Dolphin” as far as I was concerned.
CB: I was curious about that very thing. Showcase, of course, was used to preview potential new characters for a series tryout and “Dolphin” was just a one shot and I thought it was odd and wondered what happened. I guess now I know.
PIKE: I felt that the people and talent that worked on the books should at least have the right to work out some kind of a copyright deal.
CB: Absolutely. At least that’s been one positive development at DC at least where they make certain to compensate the creators for reprint royalties when the old stories are reproduced.
CB: It looks like you never really did any superhero work. Was that by choice?
PIKE: No. (Chuckle.) I’m really sorry I missed out on that. I think I started out doing Westerns and then I did a general collection of Weird stuff and I did a few war books and then I realized that I’m very much against war and I told them I wasn’t going to do any more war stuff, so I didn’t do any more from that point on.
CB: I appreciate where you’re coming from, but the couple of examples I’ve seen of your war work was simply stunning.
PIKE: Really? I don’t know about that.
CB: The one example I’m thinking of sure looked like it was on a par with Russ Heath or Joe Kubert.
PIKE: That’s quite a compliment. I really don’t remember it that way, but those are certainly kind words.
CB: Between your jungle books, pinups and romance books you’re a great friend of the female form.
PIKE: It’s my favorite subject. (Mutual laughter.) I did pinup calendars back in the end of the 50’s and Marianne O. Phillips got a hold of me I guess about 15 years ago and asked if I wanted to do any more and ever since then I’ve done…well I haven’t done a lot, but every once in awhile I’ll do one and send it to her and she sells them.
CB: I can see why. It’s beautiful stuff. Did you use models?
PIKE: I did do some nudes that Playboy had in their resorts and those were sold for me for a while. It didn’t last too long because it came down from Playboy headquarters in Chicago that they didn’t want any more artwork. Only photographs of the Playmates. Anyway, I had a bunch of photographs from those days and now of course it’s so easy to get photographs off the Internet. Most of it is absolute garbage, but once in awhile you get some shots that are well lighted and are useable and I swipe them.
CB: When you worked on the romance books at DC comics you worked with the only female editor at the time, Dorothy Woolfolk. Do you remember anything about her?
PIKE: You know I remember the name, but can’t even put a face to it. I sure did, but I’m sorry, I just can’t remember her.
CB: When you’d pencil a story, did you prefer the full scripts at DC or the Marvel synopses to work off?
PIKE: To me they weren’t that different. I would get a script and I’d pencil it and send it back to them and they’d letter it and put lines around the panels and send it back and I would ink it and then return it to them. It worked that way with both publishers. I always did my own inking.
CB: That must have been satisfying to finish it off yourself.
PIKE: It was in that I could make the pencils pretty rough and I know the guys who later on would do just the penciling would do these beautiful pencils and they’d really bone them out, but I was able to make a fairly rough pencil drawing and then ink it myself, knowing pretty much what I meant with a pencil line; what I had in mind when I penciled it.
So it sped things up for me. I went to romance comics mainly because of the speed at which I could do them. You know a lot of times you could get away with things like a close-up of an eye with a tear coming out, whereas if you do a western you have a posse of guys riding around on horses and it would take me maybe twice as long to do a book other than a romance.
CB: Of course. All the backgrounds and details.
PIKE: I had trouble with horses to begin with. (Chuckle.) I really think horses are beautiful, but I really don’t know that anatomy of them very well.
CB: What was your typical production rate?
PIKE: The way I remember it was that I figured I had to make $500.00 a week and I think most of the time I was getting $35.00 a page. Rarely it would be $40.00. So whatever that works out to. I know I’d keep working through the weekend until I figured I’d made 500 bucks and then I’d relax until Monday morning.
CB: The freelancer’s life is not an easy one. You did pull off what many in the industry would call the brass ring when you went into advertising work and what an impressive list of clients: Ford, General Mills, Pepsi, Procter and Gamble. Was that an enjoyable time in your career?
PIKE: When the comics began to go down the tubes in the mid to late 50’s, Timely had quit buying and DC wasn’t doing anything. I got associated with Charlie Biro, but he couldn’t pay anything. At that time we had 5 kids and I couldn’t support the family and somehow I’d got in contact with a friend in New York who was getting illustration jobs, but there again it wasn’t enough to keep going, so we had to come up to the New York area and I went to work for an ad agency in New York as a T.V. art director, which really was a snap for me, because going from doing comics into doing storyboards was really the same old thing. It was like a continuation of the comics almost.
CB: Better pay, though, I guess.
PIKE: Well, it didn’t start out that way, but it got better. I think I was making $12,500.00 a year when I first started with them. I stayed a year and went to another one and they paid something like $16,000.00. I was there a little less than a year and then I went to a third agency and got up to $20,000.00 and was also a producer there.
By then I realized I could probably make a heck of a lot more money freelancing, which is what I did after about a year at the third agency. I did work for all those companies, sometimes when I was working for an agency, but more often than not I would get freelance work, mostly doing storyboards for the agencies.
CB: It seems like a lot of people don’t realize the demand for that kind of work, although of course you’ve got examples like Neal Adams’ Continuity Studios pursuing storyboard work among other things. Your fellow romance artist Ric Estrada did different types of assignments, too. He even worked for animation studios for a while. It always fascinates me to realize how flexible a good artist can be if you look around a little bit.
PIKE: That’s true. Sometimes you’ve got to do different things. I actually knew Neal Adams. I was in a movie he made. I never saw it. I played a bad guy. (Chuckle.)
CB: I have a hard time featuring that, Scott.
PIKE: I made a good bad guy. (Chuckle.) I haven’t talked to Neal for years. I essentially retired in ’83 and have been pretty much out of touch with these folks since then.
CB: You do some teaching?
PIKE: I do. It’s enjoyable.
CB: I’ve appreciated your time.
PIKE: Well, it’s pretty easy to talk about yourself. (Chuckle.)