There's just something about working in comics that allows creators to work in the industry into their 80s. Ernie Colón is one of those cartoonists who have continued to do world-class comics during a time when most people have long since given up their paying job. I was delighted to catch up with Mr. Colón upon the release of his latest book, Inner Sanctum. I think you'll agree that Colón is a really interesting man with great insight into the comics medium.
Jason Sacks: Tell Comics Bulletin's readers a bit about your latest project, Inner Sanctum.
Ernie Colón: [It was adapted from] a favorite radio program. That medium played with your imagination — scary stuff. My mom wouldn't listen to it, which made it even more appealing to me.
I've wanted to work with Terry Nantier for years. When I approached him with this idea, he accepted immediately. Joy, Jason. Joy.
Sacks: Were you a big fan of the radio show from when you were a kid?
Colón: There were others — Lights Out, Suspense — but they were not as lively and convincing as IS. And it had actors who were famous or went on to greater fame — Richard Widmark, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Mary Astor, Helen Hayes, many, many more… even Orson Welles!
Sacks: What about the show stuck out in your mind after all these years?
Colón: The combination of humor and horror/mystery. In later media, that was copied many times.
Sacks: How did you select the stories that you wanted to adapt?
Colón: Don't know. Spook content, I guess. The buried alive one was especially shiver-inducing. Back when I read Poe's story of the same theme, it actually gave me nightmares. Great.
Sacks: Had you remembered some of these stories for all those years?
Colón: Yeah, the above one. Then, listening to the downloads, some are familiar again.
Sacks: You mention in the press release of this book that much of what made these stories memorable is the power of suggestion. How did that approach influence the way you adapted these stories?
Colón: I tried to keep the same pacing and sense of surprise — [which is] a lot harder when the reader can see the whole page. But every page was like living with the program and the stories. Wonderful experience for me.
Sacks: You added one new story to this collection, an eerie tale called "Mentalo." What made you decide to insert your own story in with the rest of the stories?
Colón: Fun. Feeling as if I were part of that team of talented writers — masters of their craft. "Mentalo" doesn't come up to them, of course, but, hey [it's] my book.
Sacks: This book is quite different from some of your other recent work like the graphic adaptation of the 9/11 Commission Report and the adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank. How was your approach to the Inner Sanctum book different from your approach to those books?
Colón: The same as yours. When you read a light, entertaining book, then pick up something more serious, you adjust. Inner Sanctum is pure fun. It doesn't sell anything. You lean back and enjoy and sometimes re-read and enjoy again.
Sacks: You mentioned in an interview once that "graphic continuity is best at clarifying difficult and complex subjects." I'm really fascinated by statements like that. What do you think are some of the unique aspects of comic continuity that make it well-suited to approach complex subjects?
Colón: It's interesting how — for so many years — publishers and educators have resisted using graphic continuity.
Yet, so many books have been illustrated by talented artists. Every fifty pages or so, there was a Wyeth, or a Phiz. What a lovely surprise they were as you read on.
But sequential storytelling — comic books — have struggled for many decades, living down their raffish, vulgar, lowbrow reputation. A rep that's unique to us. The European readers and the Japanese have no such impediment to their enjoyment of comics — serious or comic.
Sacks: You're well known in my house because my then ten-year-old picked up the Anne Frank graphic novel when we were in Amsterdam. You really made that book accessible for a young child. What was your strategy to make that horrific moment in history not feel overwhelming for a young kid?
Colón: I never talk down to kids. At Harvey Publications, we instinctively used ordinary, good English.
Sacks: Like many world-class cartoonists, you're still working and creating great comics at an age when many people have stopped working in their business. What keeps you working?
Colón: My youngest, who is at Cornell. Also that I can't think of doing anything else.
Sacks: And you're taking on some very serious subjects, too – the 9/11 attacks, Anne Frank, a book about slavery in the US. Was Inner Sanctum an attempt to take a bit of a break from the more serious work?
Colón: [I'm] always taking "breaks." Too long on one subject stales you out. (This from a guy who spent 25 years drawing Casper and Richie Rich!)
Sacks: What attracts you to take on such difficult topics in your books?
Colón: I'm offered the projects and I can't resist them.
Sacks: Why do you think so many great cartoonists keep working late in life? I think of Eisner, Kirby, John Severin, George Tuska, Gahan Wilson and so many more people who have done amazing work for their entire lifetime.
Sacks: Is there any project that you wish you had a chance to revisit? Any characters that you miss not creating?
Colón: Sure. I have files full of characters and storylines I'd love to finish and have published. I do wish I owned Amethyst in partnership with Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn. Lovely character, prodigiously enjoyable team.
Sacks: Is there anything else you'd like Comics Bulletin's readers to know about you or your work?
Colón: I love what I do and the fools pay me to do it. Does it get better than that? Complaints? Sure. My knees hurt going up and down stairs. About my work — no complaints.
Sacks: Thank you so much for your time with this interview. It's a real pleasure to get to talk to you!
Colón: Thank you, Jason. It was fun.