Not long ago we were having a spirited discussion at the virtual kitchen table of the Comics Bulletin staff that got me to thinking. Was Shelly Moldoff right when he told me that comic book people are usually good people? I like to think so, and I’ve got lots of empirical evidence to back me up, but every once in a while, mercifully rare, you run across the inevitable exception to the rule.
I’m not out to trash anyone and won’t be dropping any names, but in the years I’ve been involved more heavily in this hobby (since the beginning of 2007 to be precise), I’ve met the good, the bad and the ugly, both virtually and in the real world and a few interesting trends have presented themselves along the way.
Generally speaking, I’ve noticed there are some generational differences. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview some Golden Age creators and pretty much without exception (okay, maybe one) they’ve been gentlemen of the first order. Quite often they were sort of baffled at the interest in their work, simply because for them that was what it was: A way to earn a living. In fact, more than one told me that they’d gone into comics as a way to earn a few dollars and do a little work while waiting for something a bit more respectable, such as magazine illustration or best of all a syndicated strip that afforded prestige, much better pay and stability.
The Silver Age creators were much like the Golden-Agers, but then again a lot of the Golden Agers and Silver Agers were the same folks. Then something interesting began to happen as I moved further along the timeline. The kids who grew up loving comics wanted to join in. Soon you saw the letterhacks, the visitors at the DC offices and those who simply wanted to get involved storming the gates. They loved the characters and they loved the genre and they wanted to be a part of it.
Once again, generally speaking, they were good to talk to as well, but I began to get hints of the occasional person who gave the impression I might have been wasting their time. Not much in the way of the out and out jerk, but a few weren’t really all that interested in talking to a fan about their career.
After a while, the law of averages was bound to catch up. A couple of times, I got the phone hung up on me. I met a couple of self-appointed gatekeepers who fed me a line of garbage about, “Oh, so and so only speaks to me, so don’t even bother trying to contact him,” or, “The artist is a really shy individual who has told his story so many times that he has no interest in going over it all again.” In each of these examples, when I finally was able to make contact with the people in question (no thanks to our gatekeepers) they were incredibly personable and happy to talk, not only for the interviews, but just to have a nice little informal chat from time to time. I like to think I made some friends.
Luckily, when my journey began, I was privileged to speak to some friendly, helpful people. Gaspar Saladino couldn’t have been any nicer and he would only laugh when asked about certain controversial figures he’d worked around during his career. More than one creator made the remark that it’s a very small pond they all work in, so it wouldn’t be prudent to publicly trash people as it has a way of hurting your future prospects.
Joe Giella, to my surprise and delight, called me back when I left a message on his answering machine. It’s hard to describe the thrill when you hear on your own answering machine, “Hi, Bryan. This is Joe Giella and I’d be happy to chat with you. Just give me a call when you get a chance.”
Carmine Infantino was all business, but willing to give me some of his time. He was a bit more candid, but he was entitled, having enjoyed a legendary career as an artist and then climbing the ladder to art director and publisher and president of DC comics. I still chuckle when I think of the interview and how he’d answer a question and then say, “Next.” He was determined to keep it to an hour and I obliged, but later when I’d call just to shoot the breeze he was willing and I loved how he called me “chum.”
Then there was the time I was taking a college course and decided to discuss work for hire and thought I’d try to get some information from a couple of folks in the industry who turned out to be really poor choices. One informed me rather haughtily that he didn’t have time for such things. This particular individual seemed to spend an inordinate amount of his time lamenting about how badly he’d been treated by the industry, ad infinitum and yet he couldn’t seem to give any credit whatsoever to anyone else at any given time. He was a one man creative force. It’s kind of sad to see someone so determined to live in the past and wallow in bitterness.
The other person couldn’t be content to disagree with my thesis. He had to get snotty about it and be generally rude and condescending. Similarly, I was doing research for an article and tried to enlist the aid of another well-known creator and while I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt (everyone has a bad day from time to time, after all) he proceeded to get more rude with each e-mail exchanged and couldn’t refrain from lecturing me on how journalism, comics journalism in particular, should be accomplished. I kept my cool, but mentally scratched him off the list for any future contact. There are far too many willing participants who make this gig an utter joy. For crying out loud even Steve Ditko was more cordial in our correspondence, even when he was turning down my request.
My final summation is that the vast, vast majority of contacts I’ve had have been incredibly positive and led to some friendships and terrific memories, not to mention the invaluable additions to my ongoing education about the history of comics.
Al Plastino was as kind a man as I’ve ever known and we used to laugh and laugh during our many conversations. They didn’t call him Gentleman Jim Mooney for no reason. He was a very sweet man who always had time for you. Mike Esposito had a million stories and his sense of humor was a force to be reckoned with. Nick Cardy made me laugh uproariously when, during one chat when he got up a good head of steam and then finally paused to say, “Bryan, you’re a nice guy, but…you talk too much!” Jerry Robinson was the busiest man of his years I’ve ever known and he kept putting me off, but never told me to quit calling and I may have enjoyed one of the final discussions with him about his part in the creation of the Scarecrow for a historical article. Even though he was waiting for another call, he graciously answered some questions and showed interest in whatever project I had in the hopper.
I’ve loved the opportunities I’ve had to speak with the creators across the various eras and despite the odd exception, it continues to thrill me no end to get to talk with my personal heroes. As I learned once from a wise man, any group is merely a crosscut of society and you’ll find the occasional bad apple wherever you go, but that doesn’t taint the overall experience in any way.
If you find yourself dealing with the occasional jerk or jerkette, remember how few and far between they are and focus on the good folk and the fun they bring to the table. There is absolutely a heavy weighting in that direction and it makes it all worth the while.