Bryan D. Stroud for Comics Bulletin: If my information is correct, you began at Continuity at the age of 19?
Joseph Barney: Yes, I was hired in March of 1975. I was at the School of Visual Arts at the time, but my credits didn’t transfer from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where I’d studied for a year, majoring in art. So because SVA, for some reason wouldn’t recognize my credits, I was forced to repeat all the foundation year courses about color theory, etcetera, all over again, and I began to get bored and impatient. I was there because I wanted to learn to draw comics, and SVA was supposed to be the comics school, founded by Burne Hogarth, with instructors like Will Eisner. But there were a lot of teachers there who had zero respect for comics, or even illustration. It was the times I suppose, and in the 70’s avant-garde was the order of the day — illustration and comics weren’t real art. “Art School Confidential” had it nailed with that John Malkovich teacher character –“I was the first to do triangles”. I had a few teachers like that there. I did get to sit in once on one of Will Eisner’s classes, a second year course. I was smuggled in by an older student, and I wasn’t supposed to be there, but he looked at my portfolio anyway, and was really encouraging to a dumb kid who barely knew who he was. I got the impression he was a very kind man, and really enjoyed imparting his wisdom to a new generation.
I was renting an apartment with two schoolmates in what was basically a classic tenement building on East 92nd Street. One of my roommates from school had a friend, who took his portfolio up to Neal Adams, which we figured was kind of crazy, given his portfolio. But then he came back and said, surprisingly, that Neal was very nice to him, gave him coffee and even had his secretary call up Marvel, to get him an appointment to show his stuff. And the amazing thing was, the guy’s drawings were just horrible, childish. I thought, “If he can get that kind of reception, what have I got to lose?” So I grabbed my portfolio and went to Continuity to see Neal Adams.
Of course I was pretty nervous. I got the same routine I saw lots of other artists get, including Frank Miller, Marshall Rogers and others. He flipped through my portfolio, giving about a second or two to each page (chuckle) while I stood there sweating. Finally, he just said, “What would you say if I said you don’t draw enough?” “I’d say you’re probably right.” “Mm-hmm… Would you like to do a little work while you’re here?” I said, “Sure.” “Well, here, trace off this macaroni package we’re doing for this commercial job.” So I’m tracing macaroni in one of this little reference library room, where they had this lightbox desk, and about 20 minutes later he comes back and says, “listen, I’m kind of looking for assistants right now, and I thought maybe we’d give you a try, and if it turns out to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, maybe we’ll make it an ongoing thing.”
So I was in the right place at the right time, really. I was pretty much the first of what I think of as a second wave of young blood there, being at the tail end of the Crusty Bunkers. The Crusty Bunkers, I think, had sort of served as a test run, intentional or not, that proved that a group effort inking late books under Neal’s supervision could be a profitable thing for all involved, and keep the work flowing for the young up-and-comers. But it consisted of a lot of independent artists, not Continuity renters, just guys who would come up and occupy a desk for the duration of a particular inking job. There were a bunch of young guys who were hired on, or rented space after me in the following year or two. After me there was Joe Brozowski, Carl Potts, Michael Netzer, Lynn Varley (not a guy), and Bruce Patterson; I think Terry Austin and Bob Wiacek had already been working for Dick Giordano, and started formally renting a space soon after I arrived. Ralph Reese and Larry Hama were already renting in one of the back rooms, and had been doing the freelance thing there for Neal, as well as their own stuff, for a couple years already. They both had sort of apprenticed with Wally Wood in the years before that. It was quite a time–and place–for young artists.
CB: I expect. Did you have a particular specialty? It seemed like for the most part that a lot of the Crusty Bunker work was strictly inking during those frenzied overnight turnaround jobs.
BARNEY: Well, the Crusty Bunkers was basically inking jams, whereas we all pretty much did a little of everything—whatever was called for—penciling, coloring, paste-ups, whatever. By the time I was around, because it was basically a new group, and guys like Berni Wrightson and Alan Weiss were busier with their own work, the Crusty Bunkers were basically no more, so we needed a new name. Somebody dubbed us The Goon Squad, and that sort of stuck for a couple years. Neal had gotten an account with Charlton Comics to do these black and white, magazine-sized comic book adaptations of three TV shows, The Six Million Dollar Man, Space 1999 and Emergency! (which was the most boring one of the three for us to draw). Do you remember that show?
CB: Oh, yes. I used to watch it when I was a kid. My Dad was very much into cop shows and anything related to them so I saw ‘em all. The FBI, Dragnet, Police Story, Police Woman, The Rookies, Adam 12…
BARNEY: Yeah, and I think Emergency was sort of a spin-off of Adam 12. I think they had the same producers. Of course we all wanted to draw super-heroes, but those books were actually a good thing for all us young artists to cut our teeth on. It’s a lot more of a challenge to make comics about paramedics exciting than it is super-heroes.
Neal had a process where he would review our layouts, our incompetent, 19-year olds layouts, and he would go over them with a Pentel and correct our drawing, and if necessary, the compositions. It was amazing what he could do with a Pentel and a tiny little space of paper. Everything he put down was structurally correct: anatomy, perspective, folds in clothing, cars, buildings… his knowledge was just amazing.
I don’t know if you know his technique, how he would do his own layouts. He’d take an 8-1/2” x 11” sheet of paper and fold it in four, and make four pages of the story out of it, so each quarter was a complete page. And they were incredibly tight, precise little things. He would then stick the layout into an Artograph, which was this huge overhead projector sort of device. You’d stick the layout sketch in the projector, and it projected it onto the drawing table. You would then raise and lower it to enlarge or reduce the image to the size you needed on the final page, and trace it off, enhancing it as you went.
So we would basically use the same technique for the Charlton TV stuff. We’d take the layouts that Neal had edited, then go into the Artograph room, turn off the lights, and follow the process. There were two desks in the room, each with one of these big, unwieldy projectors, and there would often be someone else working at the other Artograph to keep you company. We also used a lot of photos, which the TV people provided for us, that we’d also use the Artograph for. Wally Wood had a famous credo that was passed on to us through Larry and Ralph: “Never draw what you can copy; never copy what you can trace; and never trace what you can cut out and paste in.”
So anyway, then Neal would review the finished penciled page one last time, and then “Diverse Hands” (that later became a pseudonym Marvel used for group deadline saves) would do the inking. On the Charlton TV books, besides Neal, who did primarily figure work and faces, there was Gray Morrow, Vicente Alcazar, Ed Davis, Sal Amendola… I think Russ Heath did some work, Bruce Patterson, Terry Austin and Bob Wiacek, and of course Dick Giordano — and the rest of us ‘kid pencilers’ all pitched in on the backgrounds. So it was one big group effort. The end result could be kind of a mish-mash — some pages would turn out better than others — but they still came out better than most of what Charlton published, and it was a really great learning experience for all us young guys.
CB: I know more than one of your colleagues has said they learned a tremendous amount there even though they said Neal was not exactly a teacher.
BARNEY: That’s true, for the most part — he wasn’t specific about any tips, per se, other than generalities like “thinking about what you were doing”. (Which is of course, a good idea for most things). He also emphasized the need for using reference photos, instead of just drawing, say a car, out of your head. A large part of his incredible store of knowledge of how to draw things, and people in particular, came from his years doing Ben Casey, where he used Polaroid’s he’d shoot for each scene, using himself, family and friends as models. I remember he also had specific ideas about the proper way to hold a pencil or pen. I tried to change my grip to the way Neal held it, but I just couldn’t get used to it, and control the pencil as easily. Later on, I asked Berni Wrightson about that, and he said Frazetta told him you should just hold it in whatever way came naturally… Recently though, I saw a close-up photo of Frazetta holding a pencil — and he had the same grip as Neal’s.
You mostly learned by observing what he did, and by what he corrected in your work. Looking back on it, Neal was really a generous guy to take on this unruly mob of dysfunctional kids. It probably didn’t make him much money for the bother.
But I wouldn’t say he accepted just anybody. I was sitting next to Neal when Frank Miller came in. Much like me, he was this nervous kid from the sticks — here in the big city with the famous Neal Adams looking at your work. Neal gave him pretty much the same routine I got, where he just thumbed through his work and concluded, “It’s not good enough.” Obviously it didn’t discourage Frank. He worked up more pages and came back and went through it again, I think two or three times. It was the same with Marshall Rogers. I think he told Marshall he was too old. He may have been 5 or 6 years older than we were.
CB: Oh, that’s funny.
BARNEY: (Chuckle.) I guess that was the test. If you really wanted to be a comic book artist, and Neal Adams gave you the bum’s rush, you needed to come back and keep trying.
CB: Your earlier recollection reminded me of Bob McLeod’s story that his artwork wasn’t really up to snuff but Neal realized he needed a gig, so he made that magic phone call to Marvel and got him a job as a letterer.
BARNEY: Sure, he would recommend you to the companies, and vouch for you if an editor asked. The first comics job I worked on was a Wonder Woman job that Dick Giordano had, and he didn’t have time to do, and Neal offered the penciling to me, as a sort of “ghost artist”. So that was the first actual comics penciling I did; this was before the Neal got the Charlton TV adaptations. It was in my first few months there, pretty much before any other “Goon Squad” members were hired on. So actually, this was my first experience with the Neal Adams Method of penciling a comic book page. Again, I would do the layouts on 8X 11 paper– in this case from Marty Pasko’s full script–and Neal would then review them and correct them with his Pentel. Then I’d Artograph them onto the final page, polishing them until they were acceptable enough for he and Dick to ink. I think Dick did most of the inking on that story, with Neal most of the close-ups of faces, and maybe Terry Austin and Bob Wiacek doing backgrounds, as they were exclusively Dick’s assistants at the time.
That was pretty cool, to be 19 and doing published work with Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, even if it was uncredited; looking back, I think it was basically a gift from Neal, to give me a shot so early on.
CB: I’m sure the thrill was immeasurable and probably a good confidence boost, too.
BARNEY: Oh sure. Then, about a year later, around the time we were finishing the run of the Charlton books, Cary Bates came up looking for artists to work on an idea for a spinoff book he had. Cary had been coming around the studio to visit, and I think he also became a renter soon after that period. This would have been early ’76. He had an idea for a spinoff of The Flash, which he was writing then, featuring Gorilla City and starring Grodd the Super-Gorilla, and he was looking for artists to do some samples to pitch a series to DC.
CB: I remember the character well.
BARNEY: I’m not exactly sure how it came about that there were two pencilers involved, but Carl Potts, another new Continuity recruit, got brought in on the project, and Terry and Bob, who were kind of a team then, were assigned to the inking. So there were two pencilers and two inkers on the book, as well as two writers, Cary and Elliot Maggin. But Cary and Elliot had already been a team for many years, on several DC books, with Elliot more the dialogue guy, and Cary more the plot guy. If you go to my website you can see the double-page spread for Gorilla City, inked by Terry, who did a great job on it. I spent about a week just on those two pages, because they set the scene, and the design style of the city for the story — and they helped to sell the idea to DC.
So at one point in 1976, Carl and I had to go up to meet with Carmine with our sample pages, to get the green-light on the book, which was sort of like going before the Mafia Boss. (Chuckle.) Pretty nerve-wracking. He had been the publisher since about 1970, I think…
CB: That sounds about right. (Note: Carmine’s wonderful autobiography, “The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino,” has the timeline listed as 1967 for his ascension to Editorial Director and then Publisher and President in 1971.) And of course not only was Carmine the big boss, but also the original Silver Age Flash artist, which must have added an additional burden to your pitch.
BARNEY: Exactly! (Chuckle) We were trying to outdo his own, established version of Gorilla City I guess, which for the most part was standard ‘50s futuristic architecture. But he did green-light the thing, and we finished it, it was lettered, and were all paid… but then there was a big shakeup at DC, with Carmine leaving and Jenette Kahn coming in. So it just sat on the shelf for a year, until they finally stamped it with that infamous stamp, and gave the artwork back to us. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but basically it was, “This is not going to be published.” Like I said, the final product was a bit of a hodge-podge, so it was understandable. Everyone did a good job, but the style varied drastically from page to page, and it just didn’t gel.
Someone else recently did an interview with me about Gorilla City, under the title “Greatest Stories Never Told”. It would have actually been a very commercial idea, I think. Sort of a Planet of the Apes meets Howard the Duck satirical kind of thing.
CB: Why not? It worked for Kamandi. Did you have anyone at Continuity that you hung out with or was there any time for socializing?
BARNEY: Well, we were all together pretty much 24/7—or at least, 16/7– so I was friends with pretty much everyone there, I guess. Marshall Rogers was a good friend. As was Larry Hama, Ralph Reese, Michael Netzer, Bruce Patterson, Joe Brozowski, Mike Hinge, Bobby London… Carl Potts and I were sort of partners for about a year, freelancing onsite at an ad agency Continuity farmed us out to.
Continuity was this long railroad kind of layout, basically a long hall with a series of rooms off to one side. I started out in the front room, sitting to there right of Neal for the first year or so. I was on salary that first year, and I forget exactly how everything happened, but at some point I changed over to working freelance, billing by the job, with storyboards or animatics work broken down into penciling, inking and coloring. There was the front room, and then the next room back was the Art-O-Graph room, which was next to the reception area/office, by the elevator, then down the hall was Jack Abel’s space– a room with two or three desks in it. Next to that was Terry and Bob’s room, then the small reference library/ lightbox room, which was later rented by Greg Theakston; then Ralph and Larry’s room, and in the back was what became Marshall’s space, which he shared with Bobby London for a time, and later his writing partner Chris Goldberg. The rest of the back area was storage, which was eventually cleared out and became the space I was renting for my last couple years there. Each space consisted of a drawing table and a tabaret. In the in-between years, I was Jack Abel’s roommate for about a year or two, during the period I was doing the Gorilla City project. Jack was one of the old-timers who had been around for a while. Of course, I was a big fan of all the 60’s Marvel stuff, that’s really why I got into comics, and I didn’t fully connect at first that Jack was the guy who inked Iron Man over Gene Colan, in “Tales of Suspense”, because he had used the pseudonym “Gary Michaels” on those books. In the 60’s, artists often didn’t want to take the chance of burning bridges at either Marvel or DC by crossing between companies, so they sometimes used pseudonyms to keep the rival company from finding out you were working for the enemy. Anyway, we would listen to the Bob and Ray show every noon hour — they still had a daily show on AM radio, with their hilarious comedy skits, in the 70’s. Bob and Terry were in the next room, and they were fans too, so we would all listen to Bob and Ray together while we worked. Fun times.
Finally, for whatever reason, I ended up in the very back room, a former storage area where the air conditioning unit was. My roommate there was science fiction illustrator Mike Hinge, who was from New Zealand, and was primarily a cover artist for science fiction novels and magazines. He specialized in covers for digest books like Analog and Astounding. He’d also done a couple of covers for Time magazine in the early 70’s, including the famous Nixon cover, “The Push to Impeach”. He was a very imaginative guy with a unique style – his work inspired a lot of Steranko’s psychedelic graphics that he inserted into stuff like his SHIELD books in the late 60’s. Steranko even published “The Mike Hinge Experience”– a large-sized sort of portfolio book — through his SUPERGRAPHICS company. Mike had kind of fallen on hard times, and had lost his lease on the loft he’d lived in for years, and he was in dire need of a place to work, so Neal let him stay in the back room. It became his living/work space. It was pretty rough going for him — he was probably in his early 50’s at the time, and had to shower at friends’ apartments. I think it, understandably, made him a bit cranky, though he was a basically a good-natured guy (unless you were a publisher) — a little eccentric, but then most of us renters there had our quirks… He had this incredible record collection — it was his prime focus, his main obsession, next to science fiction. He hated the term “sci-fi”, and would jump down the throat of anybody who used it; he considered it a vulgarization of the term for what he considered a legitimate art form. He liked to listen to whatever the latest was in music, the more avant-garde the better. Many was the night we’d stay up working – often all night– at Continuity, with separate headphones, taking turns introducing each other to whatever was “the latest”: Ultravox, XTC, Terry Riley, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Talking Heads, Philip Glass, and scores more … but my favorite band name from the Hinge collection was this early Industrial group, with the hilarious name “Throbbing Gristle”…THEY were OUT there. But then, so was Mike… We were studio mates, there in the backroom, for two or three years. He passed away a few years ago.
CB: Ah, yes. I think it was Greg Theakston telling me about Mike Hinge and his affection for using “Gehman Mahkers.”
BARNEY: Yeah, I was reading about that on Greg’s blog… it’s true, I can still hear him saying that, with that thick New Zealand accent…
Pt. II Will Continue Next Week!