Thank for returning for part two of Bryan’s interview with the legendary letterer Tom Orzechowski! Part One is available here.
Bryan Stroud for Comics Bulletin: I’ve wondered on occasion if the craft of writing has benefited or suffered from things like grammar and spell check.
Tom Orzechowski: I don’t think that’s really an issue as much as the fact that the sort of people writing the books have changed. And of course it’s awfully easy to make generalizations, but at one time you had writers and one time you had editors. And Archie Goodwin might have been the first guy to do both jobs superbly, but often times you had people who were…and I won’t name them, who should not have been their own editors because they needed someone to go back and say, “You know, none of this makes any sense at all.” (Mutual laughter.)
“Where’s the motivation? Does anyone really care about the outcome of this? Why is this person so obsessed with “X” if repercussions will never be felt anywhere? There’s no emotion centered on this character.” All these sorts of things that an editor would point out to a writer who’s just doing guts and glory and having a wonderful time going straight ahead, but not stepping back to think that, “There’s no consequence to this villainy. If this villain really wants to kick the hero’s ass that badly, why is he going through such complicated ways of doing it?”
Of course it makes a good cover, but is that reason enough? Is this real life or is it a comic book, and if it’s a comic book then there ought to be some point to the villainy, right? Not just a grudge match that involves threatening everyone with a skyscraper.
ORZECHOWSKI: There was a fellow named Perelman. He was at Revlon. I guess he might still be the CEO of Revlon. He bought Marvel Comics in the early 90’s. I think Jerry Jones wrote a book about this. And he didn’t know what he was buying, he just figured, “Oh, Disney has theme restaurants and Warner Brothers has theme restaurants, I’ll just make Marvel-themed restaurants and merchandise these characters in the same way,” without realizing you can’t really do a Hulk-themed restaurant, or Wolverine placemats. It doesn’t make any sense, because there’s no gooshy-gooshy good feeling about these characters in the same way. You can’t have murals painted in Kindergarten’s of the X-Men. It wouldn’t make any sense. You can do that with Warner Brothers characters.
ORZECHOWSKI: And, as a cost-cutting measure, the first thing he did was fire all the editors, and so all the assistant editors became editors and all the interns became assistant editors. He probably shaved a third off his costs that way. But that means that completely inexperienced people then took over writing the books, editing the books, and that was a dark age for Marvel.
And some of these people have gone on to have fabulous careers and become extraordinary writers, but for the entire corporate structure to change that way instantly… And then within months Lee and Toddy [McFarlane] and Robby Liefeld left the company, so suddenly there was no one to do training for on the job training.
CB: A recipe for disaster.
ORZECHOWSKI: That created a culture…I don’t think exclusively at Marvel, because by then you had so many smaller presses as well, but there was just no editorial oversight with any gravitas; any long view. And this was a time when the Marvel characters were really showing their age because by then they were getting to be 35 or 40 years old and then, again, you’ve got all that back-story. How many times can you bring Doctor Octopus back before it stops having any weight, any bearing?
At the same time the Image boys ran off and said, “We don’t need editors. We don’t need writers. People buy these books based on visuals, and so we need strong concepts and strong visuals and that will carry the day.” And it wasn’t long before they were getting writers and editors also. Because the visuals didn’t really build enough mythology to carry these things for a truly long time. I think Todd’s extreme close involvement with his book has kept that quite fresh and he keeps reinventing it. I couldn’t even tell you what the high concept of the sport is any more. There have been so many evolutions. And Dragon is a cop and he fights bad guys by beating them up. It works every time.
CB: You were talking a little bit about Manga earlier and I noticed in my wanderings around that it’s just beginning to dominate the graphic novel section of the bookstores. Any idea why?
ORZECHOWSKI: Well, there are two or three answers to that. The easiest answer is that they’re there because nobody is buying them. As I understand it, TokyoPop has cut their output by a third, I think the last two years. A problem with Manga beyond entertainment value is that they have no collector value. So no one is scrambling to get all the issues of “Mai”, the “Psychic Girl”, or “Fist of the North Star”, or you name it. It’s usually good for two more printings, but nobody cares if it’s the first printing or the fifth printing, they just want to read the material.
There’s no clamoring to fill in the gaps in the collection at conventions because they take up so much space; they’re kind of expensive; and they don’t have whatever verve, whatever sex appeal that comic books have that cause people want to get the entire run and not a reprint.
Manga might have been kind of a generation thing that ran its course up to a point, but I don’t think I see as many kids at Borders and Barnes and Noble just sitting there reading Manga all day long any more. I think Manga brought an awful lot of people into the stores, into the concept of comics as a valid entertainment form which they’ll carry into their adulthood, and their kids will therefore be exposed to more comics, so in the multi-generational sense it’s a fabulous thing.
Also, I think it added more legitimacy to DC’s Showcase Presents line and Marvel Essentials and just the fact that you can have things in black and white with square spines that sit on the shelf and you don’t have to buy the pamphlets because the collection is the same.
It stands on a shelf, you can read a whole bunch at a time; you can buy the whole bunch for seventeen bucks. So it’s given us a different packaging strategy for the comics and it will keep them in people’s hands to make them affordable. If you want to pick up the new Claremont “X-Men Forever”, you can pick up every issue before it, in Essentials volumes, for less than a hundred bucks all together. If you’ve got the time to read all those things, you can be up to date with the book as soon as it comes out. Instead of buying the pamphlets which would cost…well, you tell me.
CB: You’d be combing eBay for months.
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah, I was at the shop the other day and there was a “Blackhawk Showcase” book and a couple of “Challengers” volumes and I’m tempted by them, but I’d never have the time to read them, but to have “Superman Family” featuring Jimmy Olsen reprints back to 1956? Oh, man, I’m there. That’s just fabulous and I think Manga had a lot to do with this, because it brought a different introspection to the part of the buyers. “Hey, we can have them cheap. I want them cheap. Why hunt for back issues? Let’s just have them in one block.” So that’s one thing that Manga did that was just incredible for us.
CB: I’d never made the connection. It makes perfect sense.
ORZECHOWSKI: It’s all about marketing, which sort of gets back to what I was saying earlier about Orlando and Carmine and these other guys giving up the drawing table for the administrative desk. “How do we get these things into the hands of a lot of people? What are the trends out there?” And Manga kind of came out of nowhere. When Toren started publishing Studio Proteus books he was trying…well, they had a satellite book and a teenage girl superhero book. Kind of a high school girl and a military thing. Area 88, Air Force and Toren was going for science fiction for the most part. Some samurai and mostly science fiction. He wanted them to look as much as possible like the American comics.
So he brought me on board for my sense of the sound effects for the body copy and this was in ’89 so it was 20 years ago and they became, to everyone’s complete astonishment, an enormous genre. (Something) Communications became just a powerhouse. They were backed by one of the Japanese publishers, Shogo (something?). They do voiceovers for animation; they’ve got a couple of rather fat weeklies; a couple of things that were about ¾” thick for five bucks, which really seemed like market suicide in superhero comics, but in Manga, people want to get a whole lot of this stuff in a big chunk just like the Japanese do. They wanted to get the Japanese experience.
There had been kind of a schism forming, because even as early as ’89 or so Lois thought, “Why aren’t you publishing the books in the Japanese format, back to front, then why are you taking all this trouble to recreate the sound effects? Why not just read them like the Japanese do?” And that was dismissed out of hand as crazy. “Oh, the Americans just want to read these things the way they want to read them.” But by now Manga is so ubiquitous and so ordinary to a whole generation that they want to see the experience, they want to see the sound effects as they were, they want to read the books back to front, and be as close as possible, including in some cases really bad translations.
CB: The Godzilla effect?
ORZECHOWSKI: Kind of the Godzilla effect, kind of the thought that these writers are just working by the seat of their pants to begin with and they’re not the best writers doing it, but the visuals are awfully strong. But, I only know what I see in the stores, and it’s getting a little scary in the stores. You mentioned the “Secret Six”, well that’s out there again. The Creeper’s out there again, the Challs are out there. Everything that was ever in print; “Two Gun Kid”, “Bat Lash”, everything comes back from time to time. It’s amazing. DC being especially prominent in this one, there’s every character they’ve ever had in his or her own series, except maybe Hawk and Dove, are back in a series. I don’t know who’s buying them all.
CB: Good question. I get the sense that in some cases the revenue from licensing is actually outstripping the publishing.
ORZECHOWSKI: I can believe that. I’m sure Dark Horse makes a pile on the Zippo lighters and the lunch boxes and those nice little bisque figures. I’m not a collector of that sort of thing myself, but I’ve got a “Wonder Woman” Golden-Age figure here and a “Superman” Golden-Age figure. They’re beautiful. I think the fascination with the 40’s material and even into the middle-50’s is that they didn’t really know what they had.
“Superman” in the post war era was in domestic situations and was having battles of wits with Lois’ eight-year old niece. This is a guy who can move planets and fix dams and fly with 50 criminals strapped to his back and he’s having a battle of wits with an 8-year old. They just didn’t know what they had. They were desperate for sales, they couldn’t figure out who was buying these things any more.
There was just such a charm and innocence to the 40’s stuff, where the costumes were kind of ineffectual and would get in the way, at least in contrast to what current costume perceptions are supposed to look like. It was the Disney philosophy for years as expressed to me by a friend of mine who worked for the Disney comics arm back in the early 90’s. Another Rainbow or someone was publishing the Disney comics and then Disney said, “Well, we could just do it ourselves. Why license these things out? Let’s just keep them and make all the money ourselves.”
And they published them for about a year and then when the numbers came in they realized they can make more money by selling a $10.00 Mickey Mouse poster to a kid at a theme park than a comic book for $2.00, because a comic book is instant litter. It’s going to be dropped because it’s too small to hold onto. The kid reads it once or twice and he’s done.
But give him a poster and it’s going to be on his wall for 10 years. And he’s going to treasure it and carry it carefully because he doesn’t want to crumple the thing up and so they were simply much better off from the corporate point of view to not perpetuate Mickey as a character you care about, but as one image in the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Let’s just cast him in stone that way.
So Another Rainbow or whoever got their license back for a few years and they’re probably still publishing Disney comics. But the company itself never really cared if the character had any vitality, or any progression or friends in their life. It was all about selling these posters with their markup and they’re better off. I don’t buy the “Wonder Woman” comic, but I’ve got a figure of her on my desktop and that’s all I need. The gestalt of Wonder Woman with the khoulats and the weird outfit with the eagle on her chest rather than the “W-W.”
CB: The classic icon.
ORZECHOWSKI: And kind of normally proportioned. In the same way that Superman in the 40’s is proportioned pretty much like a guy, like a well-built guy, but still like a guy. The costume seemed so wrong, because it was more impressive than his physique was. In other words his physique didn’t match the costume. You have to look really out of the ordinary to wear a costume like that in order for it to make sense, it seems to me. I think that might be partly behind the Jim Lee costume design philosophy with all the buckles and straps and stuff.
It’s basically just a leotard with the flash and the bits of leather here and there across the biceps and buckles but nothing as pronounced as the classic outfits, the Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman things where you’d need a really large physique to make the costume not look too much. I think Kirby had the same thing going with the original Challengers jumpsuits and the original X-Men jumpsuits. Enough of these people are remarkable. Why do they have to look so outstanding just by themselves? And I guess you could go back and forth on this.
CB: There’s a lot of logic to that.
ORZECHOWSKI: Just don’t think about it too hard.
CB: (Laughter.) Yeah, after all this is comics we’re talking here.
ORZECHOWSKI: I think it was Len Wein that tried a couple of redesigns on “Black Canary” when he was writing “Justice League” and he also redid the Zatanna outfit once or twice and they just didn’t evoke the same feeling as the stupid outfits that was just basically bathing suits with fishnet stockings. The fishnets were dressy enough for the other one that just kicks ass for a living and the other one who says everything backwards.
What kind of outfit do you need if you’re just going to say things backwards? The fishnets, the body stocking and a top hat. That’s all she needs. They kind of fulfill the male fetish stereotype in a way, but so what? It’s not like all of them are wearing that thing, it’s just her. She’s a stage magician.
CB: Why mess with what works?
ORZECHOWSKI: In fact, I think on “Smallville”, I’m kind of behind on these things, but I think on the “Smallville” show the Canary character pulled on a mask, which was beautifully done, and she was wearing a body stocking and fishnets, which works very well on a T.V. concept. I don’t know if Clark is ever going to wear the costume. They seem to be leading up to something. I don’t know if this is the final season of the show.
CB: I don’t know either, but if it is going to happen they’re certainly taking their sweet time about it.
ORZECHOWSKI: Lex is dead. Anyone who knows what he can do has been pretty well written out of the show. Clark has never worn glasses, so he doesn’t have a disguise as such, but it is conceivable that the final moment of the final scene before the curtain draws for all time, he’ll have the costume on. But since he’s still got Clark Kent’s face, I don’t know how they can truly do that, unless he’s wearing a mask. I guess we’ll find out by about June.
CB: I see on your webpage that you’re doing logo design and so forth. Could you describe that a little bit?
ORZECHOWSKI: I always enjoyed the letter forms a great deal since I started looking at calligraphy when I was in my 20’s, and then at the same time old movie posters, opera posters, packaging design, and trying to incorporate those elements into comic book logos, which is completely different from what Marvel was doing at the time.
The only one of those I did that’s still in use is the Wolverine logo. I did a lot of things for Eclipse, a lot of things for Manga. But that’s all pretty transitory. At the moment I’ve got a book in front of me for Eclipse called “Pug.” It’s about a boxer and it takes place between about 1951 and 1956, and so for the cover…remember the old film noir posters?
ORZECHOWSKI: That kind of stark minimalism that kind of evokes an emotional feeling without a whole lot going on. Also, I’ve got a 3-letter word. (Chuckle.) That’s a little challenging. But I’ve got about eight things I’ve roughed out. P-U-G, you’ve got your round letters. So you could square off the edges, you could really play with the roundness, a lot of bottom-heavy or top-heavy, ragged edges; there are many, many possibilities. And since it’s a short word I could do more treatments in less time than a title like Wolverine, which is almost all the letters of the alphabet when you get right down to it.
I’m not doing as many logos as I’d hoped to be doing at this time, because Marvel keeps a lot of that stuff in house, and I’d probably have to go back to New York and make an acquaintance with a lot of people to get my hat back in that ring because Klein does countless logos. Pretty much any new titles for anything, the Elseworlds books, anything they’ve done in the last 20 years was probably done by him. I think he’s got a lot of this stuff on his website. Just countless treatments of the word Batman; countless…I mean you name it. The range of what he’s been called upon to do is a testament to him. He keeps it fresh.
I never did more than about 20 or so myself and then locally I was doing things in the music world, like bars. The smaller level music thing. But I’d love to get back into it. I keep sketchbooks. Letters are incredible. If you follow them historically there have been so many variations in their elemental forms. Between the calligraphy versions, Helvetica, the more stringent typeset versions and the more florid things.
There’s always been…and now more than ever, they’ll have a type of brand new ways of announcing the same old things. The free font sites, like PC fonts (www.pcfonts.com), they’re not truly free, of course, but if you don’t use them for anything that makes money they’re free. There are thousands! I went through 37,000 fonts one day and saw eight that I thought I could use. For web purposes especially there’s just an endless hunger for more fonts.
CB: Good grief.
ORZECHOWSKI: Not so much for product packaging. I see that some of the Blambot fonts are showing up in product packaging, which is a fabulous thing. Because it kind of pulls comics and the real world ever tighter. It blurs the difference is what I’m trying to say.
CB: Yeah, it creates a bridge that way.
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah, American culture especially. The bridge connecting pop culture and comic books has never been stronger. Everyone’s heard of Spider-Man movies. You see Spider-Man backpacks, Spider-Man piñatas; it’s amazing the saturation of Wolverine and Spidey and Superman and Batman. Everyone knows that Superman is Clark Kent. Everybody. Everyone has heard of Kryptonite. Because of Heath Ledger everyone’s heard of the Joker if they didn’t before. Everyone’s heard of Batman. It was inconceivable not that long ago.
CB: Yes and the irony, at least when I’ve spoken to some of the creators who worked in the Golden Age, like for example Jim Mooney, who told me that back in the day you’d tell people you did almost anything other than work in comic books.
ORZECHOWSKI: Well, consider my business. I do lettering for comics. I don’t even make up the words. “No, I don’t make up the sound effects, thank you very much. I’m just typing dictation.” But it’s fun. It’s a design thing. I think the comic book art stigma is gone partly because the royalties were so fat in the 80’s and 90’s that some people, like the Image guys, got to the point where they could do anything they wanted.
And there’s Miller who became outright a prominent star, and pulled comics into more respectability just by doing weird comics. I don’t know how many people saw “Sin City”, but everyone saw that imagery and everyone knows it was drawn as tightly as possible to the comics, likewise “300”. “The Spirit” has received a mixed reaction. But I think he’s going to be doing other things anyway. All in all this is a great time for comic books; I just wish the sales would improve.
CB: That’s just it. The figures seem to be pretty dismal. It makes you wonder what the future holds.
ORZECHOWSKI: I don’t know what the economies of scale are. I don’t know if it’s in their interests to keep publishing books that sell 20,000; 30,000; 40,000 copies. There’s got to be a certain amount just to keep the number of people employed because that’s your idea factory for the movies and the animation. Who’d have thought there would be a Legion of Super-Heroes animated show? And it’s actually good.
CB: It really is. Have you seen the “Brave and the Bold”?
ORZECHOWSKI: My wife has seen it and didn’t care for it too much.
CB: I was taken by the fact that they seem to be fairly true to the heritage. The art reminds me very much of Dick Sprang. I also loved the fake ad on one episode selling Plastino Kitty Snacks. I told Al about it.
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah, they do a lot of nods to the older guys. Plastino is an artist I’ve come to appreciate a lot more as time has gone by as I’ve seen more of his early work. Because he was best known for, dare I say, the kind of doofus looking Superman of the late 50’s and early 60’s, but in the early 50’s his stuff and Boring’s had the same kind of punch, the same kind of real vibrant vivaciousness to it. Then in the middle 60’s again he was almost handling the Clark and Lois stuff in such a way that it was almost like a romance book. He had a very sensitive line in there.
CB: Al had a great versatility.
ORZECHOWSKI: I was always impressed with the artists who could follow the same model sheets with the same vivacity and how they could bury themselves in someone else’s style to that extent. Drake was drawing “Blondie” for a while and he looked just like Chic Young.
CB: You bring up a good point. Someone had suggested to me that Shelley Moldoff’s work for so many years doing another style may have lost his own artistic identity.
ORZECHOWSKI: I’m kind of piecing his stuff together, as a matter of fact, because I’ve got a passion for coverless 50’s DC comics. I’ve got a couple hundred of them by now and I usually get them…I just got the final H.G. Peter “Wonder Woman” issue from ’57. $5.50.
CB: How could you beat it?
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah, with the cover it’s five times as much, but without the cover… I can just download the cover from Heritage Auctions or somewhere. In one batch of 50’s comics, a grab bag with House of Secrets and a bunch of other titles there was a copy of “Mr. District Attorney” that was Shelley’s pencils and Sy Barry’s inks, who was the definitive 50’s DC inker. Giacoia got a lot of his chops by looking at his stuff and Esposito used to look a lot smoother along those same lines. Very brush oriented.
Moldoff was doing “Batman” at the same time, but this “Mr. District Attorney” stuff evoked a lot of what he was doing in the new look of Batman. I think if he’d had an inker more like Sid Greene, who was a bit more flamboyant rather than Joe Giella who would bring everything down a notch, kind of averaging out the look of everybody, it might have been better received. But I don’t know if he lost his own approach to the stuff, but it must have been kind of tough to subsume your own work to the look of someone like Bob Kane, or anyone else for that many years.
He kept inking. He was inking Dick Dillin’s “Blackhawks” from time to time. He was inking a lot of covers; I think to keep a sense of himself intact. He did a lot more work than you might think. At the same time Dillin, I didn’t realize this until later; he was penciling “World’s Finest” covers and some other stuff for quite a long time while drawing “Blackhawk”.
CB: I didn’t realize that either.
ORZECHOWSKI: I never really thought that much about World’s Finest. This would be about the early 60’s. They were good solid covers. Moldoff had a line a bit more like Giacoia’s. A bit broader. Not as fine as Chuck Cuidera’s. So it was pretty clear when he was inking the Blackhawk covers, when he was inking Dillin on these other covers. So it makes it more understandable that how it is when the “Blackhawks” were canceled around ’68 and I think [Mike] Sekowsky had finally had enough of drawing Justice League that they put Dick Dillin on that book. He’d been drawing some of those characters on covers. He didn’t just come out of nowhere. He’d been more of a DC mainstay than we thought because the covers were just never signed.
It was determined early on by some Hollywood producer that people were going not just to see these Little Tramp movies; they wanted to know who the Little Tramp was. So they started pushing Charles Chaplin, and his female co-stars and then the movie magazines. Then there were more credits on the posters and more credits on the films, but to begin with people just wanted to see their entertainments and who cares who the players are? But then the players very quickly became very important. And how it is that Stan [Lee] saw this, I don’t know, but whoever were the powers to be at DC at that time did not see it and it’s always been a mystery to me.
CB: The only inkling I’ve ever heard was from Jim Shooter about Mort Weisinger. Apparently he told Jim something to the effect, “I want them to care about Superman, I don’t want them to care about you.” Jim’s reaction was, “Fine, just send me the check.”
ORZECHOWSKI: I guess he kind of had a point. Speaking of “Superman”, it had been Plastino, Boring and Swan drawing that book for 15 years. Each issue would have those three guys, Al Plastino and maybe two Boring stories. So indeed, it was Superman himself, but when Stan was pushing credits so hard and people were signing the covers, I’m kind of surprised that DC didn’t tweak to the fact that Marvel is getting all this strength because they’re selling more than just the characters.
It was Stan selling this whole bullpen mythology. Everyone had a nickname and he was making more of a clubby kind of thing. Here’s DC being all grown up and losing sales and wondering what happened. People have conjectured, this is based on talks with the senior guys at DC, the Jack Adler generation that they figured finally the reason Marvel comics sold so well is because they were so ugly. They were really drawn to that ugly Kirby and Ditko artwork.
ORZECHOWSKI: Is that the best they can come up with? And then within five years Ditko was drawing the “Creeper” for them and inside seven years Jack was busy drawing Forever People and so on. DC was so tied to its long time stable. Infantino, Kane, Moldoff, and a few other people. Jack kind of compared to cool jazz. And Marvel was Rockabilly.
And the two schools were something that DC just could not see that this incredibly, almost testosterone driven Marvel stuff; this crazy, whacky Marvel stuff would have any appeal because it was jumping off the page. It was just nuts. They had “Lantern” and “Flash” being all mannered and nice and polite. The Thing, meanwhile, was punching people off the page. That’s why kids like it.
CB: It sounds like something Alan Kupperberg wrote when he was comparing the two cultures and saying something like, “At DC we make comics wearing neckties!”
ORZECHOWSKI: They did. In my early days working at Marvel it was all sweatshirts and jeans. I had long hair and was unshaven. It was quite a place. At DC you’d find Murphy Anderson there with his white dress shirt and tie and he’d be inking “Superman” or whatever and Al Milgrom is there assisting him doing the secondary characters and looking more like a Marvel guy but I think he played himself up a bit because that was the DC ethos. “We’re adults here.”
I think that was George Bush’s comment about President Obama, also. You still have to wear a shirt and tie to the office. Well, maybe. I guess it depends on who you’re meeting that day and maybe how late you worked the previous night. But Marvel was the fun place and DC was…the office. They had beautiful offices, up there on Lexington Avenue at the time.
They’d been in the same place for numerous years with this big, sprawling space with windows. Marvel had no windows. But the entire feeling of the people just doing the scut work around the office; very different. And I felt kind of self-conscious at DC because I just wasn’t dressed well enough. Now, of course you’ve got Paul Levitz and others in there that are of my generation.
CB: It’s been an interesting evolution.
ORZECHOWSKI: You mentioned the earlier generation of editors and they were kind of formal. George Roussous, a fine gentleman who would come into Marvel at the time when we were all scruffy; he’d be there in a dress shirt and a tie and he was carrying a briefcase, and he’d set himself into a small partitioned area in Sol Brodsky’s bullpen and he’d be listening to the ballgame or classical music or something and be coloring fabulous covers. He treated it like a job.
I’m sure his neighbors didn’t know what he did. He was just this professional man who worked in the city somewhere, and he treated it like a professional occupation and not like an extension of the ‘zines like we did. We didn’t know at that time, because comics’ history was such that we were just starting to get a sense of the background. There were no reprints of the old material except for the Jules Feiffer book, “The Great Comic Book Heroes.”
CB: A true classic.
ORZECHOWSKI: George was inking for Bob Kane in the first year of Batman. He wasn’t the first rung of the ladder, but he was just an inch above the first rung of the ladder. He was inking all sorts of stuff on “Superman” as well as the “Batman” books. He was universally inking everything at DC it seemed at that time, and we didn’t know that. It had only been about 25 years earlier, but that was the ground floor; the beginning of the whole thing. He was there! He met all those people when they were still having their fresh ideas.
All these first inklings. Incredible! But I think if he’d have told us we wouldn’t have left him alone. “What was Bob Kane really like? What was Bob Kanigher really like?” He just did his job. I guess I haven’t been up there in 25 years so I don’t know what Marvel or DC looks like. I see these people at conventions, of course, but…actually I don’t see that many people at conventions because everyone’s always mobbed. That’s one of the reasons some decide not to do the conventions very much.
CB: I’m sure they can be daunting. I’ve heard a few legends. I haven’t been to one yet and frankly I’m a little bit intimidated.
ORZECHOWSKI: You’ve never been to a comic’s convention?
ORZECHOWSKI: Oh, come on.
CB: It’s not easy to get to them from where I live.
ORZECHOWSKI: You’ve never been to San Diego?
ORZECHOWSKI: How old are you?
ORZECHOWSKI: My God.
CB: I know. Sheltered existence.
ORZECHOWSKI: Every year since ’68 I’ve been to two or three conventions. Maybe that’s obsessive. I went to Diego pretty much every year between 1975 and 2000. Then it just all became too expensive. Last year in San Diego I think they had 185,000 there, but that might be an exaggeration. The harbor is a beautiful sight and there are a lot of 60-story hotels within a stone’s throw.
I understand that the Hyatt immediately next door to the site books for $350.00 a night for a room. And that was last year. I believe they’re about to officially open the housing division for the convention. You send them your list of your top 3 hotels and they place you as they can. Tumultuous numbers of things have to be done immediately because everybody wants to nail down their room at once. Some people get together groups of people to rent condos nearby. I’ve got my own place picked out, but I’m not going to mention them because that’s my secret.
CB: It gives a whole new meaning to the term “cottage industry.”
ORZECHOWSKI: Oh, yeah. Kind of like Obama’s inauguration. People are just leasing their condos out for $7,000.00 a night or something because everybody wanted to see the inauguration. It’s just a colossal event. Last year I went there for the first time in a while acting as a business person.
I had a portfolio with me, I had my business cards and I went to every single table, and we’re talking dealer’s tables half a mile long and three city blocks deep. I went to every table twice. I did the entire room twice, which took the full five days. I bought one comic book. In this sea of popular culture, I bought one comic book.
CB: (Laughter.) Must have been quite a book.
ORZECHOWSKI: It was five bucks. It was a DC western from around ’58. It had a cover, but the cover had a tear halfway across it, but otherwise all the pages were there. The cover was all there, it just had a tear across the cover. Carmine and Gil and I think Howard Sherman were all on the third story, so that’s a good five dollar comic book. A thousand miles to the south and back. Air travel has become ghastly expensive.
CB: Well, and a hassle, too. Have you tried to travel with a laptop lately?
ORZECHOWSKI: I have to. I have to take in the after con parties, which are legend. Everyone is there. If you have a British accent, people buy drinks for you.
CB: So have you perfected yours yet? (Mutual laughter.)
ORZECHOWSKI: But I had to do an issue of something. I forget what it was. Maybe it was “New Exiles”. So every night I was pounding the pixels from about 6:00 p.m. to midnight and then catching cold because the convention is like Kindergarten. Everyone is shaking hands and everyone is coughing in everyone else’s face. I was sick for two weeks afterward.
That’s a con, boy! You really should try it sometime, though San Diego would probably be far too much for a first experience. Having come up through it all these years, because I think the Detroit convention I went to then was in the low 100’s of people. More than dozens, fewer than 100’s, and I’ve just watched the whole thing grow. When I was first in San Diego it was probably no more than about 5,000 people. And of course there’s no way anyone could have ever imagined that it was going to become such a focus. I’m not sure if it’s the proximity to Hollywood or what that made it The One. Why not New York, because that’s where everyone is?
CB: Maybe a chance to get out of town?
ORZECHOWSKI: Again, being along the harbor it’s just quite a nice place to be. It’s quite warm there, quite nice.
CB: One final question, Tom. The bulk of your career has been with Marvel and I was curious, between the fairly significantly differences in the way that Marvel and DC script, did the Marvel method work better for you or did you like full scripting, or did it even matter from a letterers perspective?
ORZECHOWSKI: Full scripting is more of a balance. It does depend on the artist giving you what you, the writer, are asking for, and reading DC from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and so on you can see that often times the artist didn’t care as much about what the writer was asking for as the writer did. So lots of the panels were rather different. A lot of the dramatic settings were different from what the writer may have been asking for or even from what the writer was intending, so the two don’t match that well.
Chris [Claremont] is writing full script as often as Marvel style and he’s sometimes asking for more than the artist’s wanting to produce, so he’ll ask for maybe seven panels on the page and only get five. It’s easy to describe things that can’t really be drawn. In your mind’s eye you can see them, but on the other hand the Marvel style tends toward over-scripting. So it’s really on a case by case basis, because often times with a full script you don’t know who your artist is going to be, while obviously with the Marvel style you’re working off the art.