"So I Took The Subway And There Was Shelly Mayer..."
An Interview with Golden Age artist Irwin Hasen, conducted
by Roy Thomas, transcribed by Carla Conway
Ego Vol. 3 #1
This never-published page by Hasen is marked "Written Off", meaning DC opted
to destroy it, probably when Green Lantern was cancelled in 1949; but a kindly
fate spared it.
©1999 DC Comics, Inc.
For most of the 1940s, with time out for World War II, Irwin Hanan Hasen
was a major artist at National/DC Comics' sister company All-American
Comics. While he is noted mostly for his two stints as a primary artist of
the Golden Age Green Lantern, between 1946-49 he also did some of the best
work in All-Star Comics, before becoming the original artist (and later writer,
as well) of the long-lived Dondi newspaper comic strip. The following phone
interview was done in late 1998.--Roy Thomas
Alter Ego: In his Who's Who of American Comic Books, Jerry Bails
lists your nickname as "Zooie." How did that happen?
Irwin Hasen: I was working in the bullpen in the late '30s--1939--with
Charlie Biro, Irv Novick, Mort Meskin--for Harry Chesler, an entrepreneur type.
I was a kid doing fill-in pages, and I sort of got friendly with the group,
and Charlie Biro called me Zooie. To this day I have no idea why.
A/E: This must be an error in Jerry's book. It says you were born
in 1918. But you can't be eighty years old.
IRWIN: I'm eighty years old. I grew up on the West Side of Manhattan.
We moved from Brooklyn to 110th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. And across the
street was the National Academy of Design, a huge structure like a garage,
an airplane hangar. One of the oldest art schools in America... one of the
most prestigious. Classical art. I was always drawing. I was drawing in the
backs, on the empty pages, of books. So my mother, God bless her soul, took
me across the street and enrolled me in a course of drawing.
A/E: You had to go all the way across the street, huh?
IRWIN: Across the street. Honest to God. Around the corner. I was there
for three years, every night during the week, drawing in charcoal all the statues
of Michelangelo and all the Bernini and all the classics. And it was something
that I couldn't believe later on--how the hell did I get into that? Because
during the day I would hawk, sell, drawings of prize-fighters down in New York.
That was my first job--boxing cartoonist. I made a very small, very slight
living. I was 19-20 years old. I sold my cartoons to the Madison Square Garden
Corporation. They were printed all over New York, in different newspapers.
It was like public relations for the fights.
A/E: What years did you go to the National Academy of Design?
IRWIN: 1939--when I got out of DeWitt Clinton High School. And after
that came the Art Students League, in Manhattan. You know, so many of these
young kids who go into comics never really learn how to draw.
A/E: Joe Kubert tells me he and Lee Elias and Frank Giacoia and Carmine
Infantino all worshiped Alex Raymond and Hal Foster and Milt Caniff--but Caniff
was the one they could copy easiest, because he had the most direct style for
comic books. Did you have that feeling, too?
IRWIN: Yeah, absolutely. Caniff was one of my idols. He was a great
transference into comic books because he kept it simple and he knew how to
tell a story. But my greatest idol is Roy Crane, who did Wash Tubbs. He was
the first adventure cartoonist in the newspapers. I think he is the ultimate
A/E: You started out freelancing for comics shops like Chesler and
Bert Whitman--and Lloyd Jacquet--that was Funnies, Inc., right? Did you know
Bill Everett and Carl Burgos there?
IRWIN: They were there, but I didn't deal with them. I didn't
travel in that company. And there was another shop--Phil McClide; that was
for Archie Comics--MLJ, then. We all hustled in those days, Roy. It was the
Depression. You had to try to make a living, a buck. We were self-taught when
it came to comics, where today you've got these schools--the Joe Kubert
School, the School of Visual Arts, etc.
A/E: You found out only in the past few years that you did the very
first Cat-Man story for Holyoke, didn't you?
IRWIN: Yes. I saw it in a magazine. I think I was working with Whitman
then, but I really don't remember. But it's my artwork.
A/E: Since the Batman, Superman kind of heroes obviously weren't
what drew you to comics, what did you think of the idea of drawing that kind
of character? Did it make any difference to you?
IRWIN: No. All I did was take samples up to National at 480 Lexington--that
was when Donenfeld owned it. Jack Liebowitz was the main accountant then. I'll
never forget, he used to wear shiny black suits. Jack was Donenfeld's
right-hand man, and my uncle knew Jack, so my uncle said, "Go down there.
I made an appointment for you. Show some samples." So I went to National
and Jack looked at my work and he didn't know. He said go down to 225
Lafayette Street, M.C. Gaines....
A/E: That was the All-American branch.
IRWIN: Right. So I took the subway and there was Shelly Mayer and M.C.
Gaines, and that's how I started in comics. And later they went up to
A/E: You were the first artist after Martin Nodell to do Green Lantern
regularly, though E.E. Hibbard did one or two in '41, too. How did it
come about that you wound up doing GL stories?
IRWIN: I don't know. In those days, you didn't ask. Bill Finger
was the genius behind some of those characters, because he created the motifs.
He did Batman. He wrote all the stories and he practically created it in spite
of what a lot of other people might say. He was the best of all of them. He
died young. But a lovely talent. A very talented guy.
A/E: I met him once or twice in the 1960s. I'm sorry I didn't
get to know him better. It took years for him to get his proper due. One of
the first times he had a credit on a strip was when you and he created Wildcat
together for Sensation Comics #1 in '41. He became the second most successful
feature in it, after Wonder Woman.
IRWIN: Wildcat--Ted Grant--in real life was a prize-fighter. And they
knew I did cartoons for the prize-fight business. That's the only reason
I got involved in that. Shelly Mayer and I at that point became very close.
In those days cartoonists weren't stars. We didn't get our names
A/E: But it says "Irwin Hasen and Bill Finger" on Wildcat,
for the first couple of issues.
IRWIN: I insisted on that. It was kind of a joke. Shelly said, "You
want a byline?" I said, "Yeah, sure. Why not?"
A/E: Someone told me once that DC might have wanted to make sure Finger
got a byline because they felt he'd gotten a little bit of a shaft by
not getting one on Batman.
IRWIN: You're absolutely right. So that's why I was very proud
to have my name with his.
A/E: What kind of guy was Shelly Mayer to work for?
IRWIN: Shelly Mayer was almost--well, not quite a genius, but he was
a brilliant, perceptive guy. A damn good editor. He baby-sat all the cartoonists
and he sometimes became irrational. In other words, he would be--a character.
He was a character.
A/E: I think it was Alex Toth who told how as a young man he was in
Mayer's office and suddenly you popped in, and you and Mayer began fencing
with invisible swords for several minutes, up on furniture, all over the desk.
Did this happen more than once, or was it just to impress Toth?
IRWIN: It happened a few times. Shelly would look at my work and he
would sort of nurse me. He really was one of my great influences, and when
I would screw off, he would straighten me out. But once he took my pages, looked
at them, and threw them all up at the ceiling. And people--in those days the
offices had windows, there were no doors. So everybody would look, and they'd
see this little guy--me--standing there, and my drawings were all over the
ceiling, floating down. That's one of the worst things he did. He was
an erratic, strange young man. He wanted to be a cartoonist.
A/E: He was a cartoonist.
IRWIN: He was a damn good cartoonist, but he was outdated. His heroes
were Ed Wheelan and all those older types. He was--what is it called?--an anachronism.
But he was a great editor. And then in '49 he left to become a cartoonist
fulltime and live on a mountain. And you know, it's funny, Roy--Shelly
almost died when I got Dondi. You know he always wanted onist. That was his
life. And when I got Dondi, we stoto be a cartopped being friends. He never
once congratulated me. Never once called.
A/E: I believe he created Sugar and Spike to be a newspaper strip originally.
It didn't work out that way, but it became a successful comic book for
quite a few years. It lasted longer than a lot of strips. Not Dondi, but still,
Mayer is very much respected by people who know comic books, though he's
not known by the more casual reader.
IRWIN: No, not by them. He was, as they say, an inside job.
A/E: The desire of so many people who went into comic books was to
eventually do a comic strip. But Dondi wasn't the first strip you did,
was it? You did the Goldbergs strip at one time.
IRWIN: Yes, that was based on Gertrude Berg. It was in the New York
Post, from '44 to '45. When I got out of the army I did The Goldbergs.
But then I started to go on a rampage in my own mind. I started to create other
strips for myself, and I took them up to syndicates.
A/E: Few achieved the goal of doing a comic strip, especially starting
a new strip as opposed to taking over an existing one.
IRWIN: I'll tell you, Roy, it's not that they didn't
achieve it. Most of them didn't really try. I tried. I have three weeks
of dailies of strips I wanted to take to syndicates before Dondi. I had my
eye on the star, I really did. It was a romantic thing. But most of the guys
we've been talking about didn't really work to that end. The work
I put in! I swear to God, Roy, I don't know how the hell I did it.
A/E: I didn't see your early-'40s work until the '60s,
but I can understand why it went over. You have a nice, simple, clear style.
IRWIN: I can't believe it when anybody compares my work to that
of Mort Meskin and Joe Kubert and Infantino and Toth. I remember Alex Toth
came to me when he was like sixteen years old, and he loved my work. This isn't
false modesty, but I couldn't figure out how this guy went for my work.
But like you gracefully say, I have a nice simple style. And Alex Toth was
a kid then. He and I became very close. I was like a big brother image to him.
A/E: Even though he's a little taller than you?
IRWIN: Oh, yes. He was a tall, skinny Hungarian kid. He became an iconoclast.
We used to talk maybe once or twice a year on the phone and he used to write
me incredible letters. Hand-written. And then he went on to become the genius
of all of them. I think Kubert is another of the great artists.
One of Irwin Hasen's greatest hits: Green Lantern. To see more rare
and unpublished Hasen art, be sure to pick up ALTER EGO #1.
Green Lantern ©1999 DC Comics Inc.
A/E: They definitely had two of the most distinctive styles up at DC.
I looked for their work as a kid, along with Simon and Kirby. But your own
work and that of Lee Elias and the early Carmine--there were a lot of good
artists up there. I know Toth and Kubert both denigrate their early work, but
those 1940s Green Lanterns and Johnny Thunder westerns Toth did, and Kubert's
late-'40s Hawkman and of course his Tor from the early '50s--those
hold up well with any comic artwork you'll see anywhere, anytime.
IRWIN: Oh yes, absolutely.
A/E: And your work had its own virtues. That's why, even in the
early '40s, you wound up doing a lot of covers for Green Lantern and All-American.
IRWIN: All-Star, Green Lantern... I did about a hundred covers, and
also Wonder Woman, later.
A/E: I think you were considered a cover artist the same way Shelly
Moldoff and Howard Purcell were, earlier. There are certain people who have
the right sense of design to do covers. I was telling Al Feldstein recently
how, when Woody Gelman of Nostalgia Press wanted to put a Wally Wood or Al
Williamson cover on the first hardcover EC collection back in the '60s,
Bill Gaines insisted it have a Feldstein cover. Gaines said, "Al's
covers always sold better! He's the one who made money for me."
IRWIN: That's the bottom line. I guess I was bored working on the
insides. And I loved assignments for covers. As a matter of fact, when I was
in the service from '42 to '44 I was stationed in New Jersey. I became
with my own guts the editor of the Fort Dix Post, and I did the strip Sgt.
Round-Step O'Malley. The happiest day of my life--my creative life; notwithstanding
anything--was working as the editor of that newspaper. I turned out a paper
every week there. I turned it out alone, with the strip and columns. And I
went to Philadelphia to set up type myself. I tell you, it was the most wonderful,
productive part of my life, those two years. And also I came out alive.
A/E: Were you and Joe Kubert close friends around 1947? That's
when the photo I've seen of the two of you roughhousing was taken. Or
rather, Joe looks like he's roughhousing and you're being roughhoused.
IRWIN: We became friends. He introduced me to his wife-to-be, Muriel.
But Joe is a loner. And I think he's the most focused cartoonist I've
ever met. Now, of course, I teach for him as an instructor.
A/E: By the time you drew Green Lantern in All-American and All-Star
in '41, you were already drawing some Green Lantern covers, too. You didn't
have any relationship with Marty Nodell?
IRWIN: No. Marty Nodell was only in the business a few years. Then he
went into advertising.
A/E: A few times in the early '40s you inked Nodell's pencils.
How did that happen?
IRWIN: I don't remember. Jesus, you're able to tell? I can't
believe you could pick up on that.
A/E: I cannot tell a lie, it was Jerry Bails who pointed it out. You
did the first story with Doiby Dickles, the cab driver, didn't you? What
was he--Lou Costello with a Brooklyn accent?
IRWIN: Yeah. Bill Finger made him up. But Doiby was really Edward Brophy,
who used to be a fat little movie actor. He wore a derby in the movies in the
1940s, and that's where I got the character from. Now, Stretch Skinner
in Wildcat--I did that on my own.
A/E: So why didn't you do more writing? You obviously had some
ability to put words together.
IRWIN: No, I didn't write--until Dondi. Dondi, of course, was created
by Gus Edson, who had been doing The Gumps. He wrote the Dondi strip for about
ten years, until he died. After that, Bob Oksner helped me with plots and I
would do the dialogue.
A/E: After the war, a few artists have said they had trouble getting
their jobs at DC back when they came out of the service. Did you have any trouble
IRWIN: No. As a matter of fact, a few times during the war I'd
come in on weekend furloughs on a Thursday or a Friday and I would do covers
in uniform. I never left the States; I was always in New Jersey.
A/E: If the Nazis attacked Hoboken, they were sending you in?
IRWIN: I was a prison guard, walking prisoners. And one day I passed
with my bunch of seven American AWOLs, deadbeats--with an empty rifle, of course,
wearing my uniform, and I'm 5'2"--and I'm walking past the German
prisoner-of-war camp in Fort Dix. And I see this group of POWs and they're
laughing behind the barbed wire. The sons of bitches are laughing at me! They're
saying, "Look at the little guy! This is America! This is a soldier!" They
were laughing because these American AWOLs of mine were all 5'11" and
6'3", but when I edited the camp newspaper, I had to go on the rifle range
and I had to do guard duty at night.
A/E: But you sneaked up to New York occasionally to do a cover?
IRWIN: Once in a while I would get a call from Sheldon Mayer: "Can
you come in this week? Can you get away?" And sure enough, I got away
about three or four times. I think Julie Schwartz was my editor.
A/E: He came in in '44. Some of your first postwar work was the
Atom chapter in All-Star #31, that I sent you a copy of. Kozlak did the first
page or so, then suddenly the rest of story is by you. Do you know how that
IRWIN: No idea.
A/E: You're not in the next issue, but then, in #33, you suddenly
started doing the covers and the openings and the conclusions. I also sent
you a copy of that Wheaties giveaway issue of Flash Comics; if you bought two
boxes of Wheaties, you got that comic. Kubert did Hawkman, and you did Flash
and Johnny Thunder and the cover. The Flash story you drew was odd, because
a couple of years later you drew two Green Lantern stories with almost exactly
the same villain, only with a different name--a "last criminal" from
the future. Do you remember that character? His name was Andar, or Knodar,
IRWIN: Yeah. Knodar.
A/E: He had this prison costume with "P's" all over
it, very inventive. And he's almost exactly the same character as "Dmane" in
the Flash giveaway two years earlier. Do you know who wrote either of them?
IRWIN: Not now. Of course, whenever a script came, maybe the name was
up on top. I did some stories with Robert Kanigher, and of course Finger.
A/E: For a couple of years in '46-'47, Green Lantern was
drawn in All-American by Paul Reinman. I liked his work. But when you came
back, except for one or two Reinman GL stories probably from inventory, he
was suddenly relegated to backup features like Black Pirate. Do you know why
he fell out of favor?
IRWIN: I have no idea. He was good. You know, when you were that young,
you did what you had to do and you didn't ask questions. Shelly Mayer
would shut you up.
A/E: For some reason, several pages of the art from one of your first
postwar Green Lantern stories, in All-American #85, which came out in early '47,
seem to have survived in the hands of various collectors. Did you ever have
a desire to get your originals back?
IRWIN: No. None of us ever did. Isn't that crazy? Kubert, I think,
was the only one. He was the only smart one of the bunch. And you know, when
I go to conventions I sit next to Dick Ayers, and he has all his goddam originals!
A/E: In the early '70s, Marvel and DC started giving the original
artwork back. About the covers you did--sometimes you'd do a Green Lantern
cover that had nothing to do with the insides. Did you ever do a cover where
they just said, "Do a cover and come up with a scene?"
IRWIN: Yes. I did a cover with Doiby Dickles and Green Lantern walking
A/E: You probably mean Green Lantern #4, back in '41-'42.
GL was marching as Alan Scott, with Green Lantern's image towering over
them. A great cover! But of course that did have something to do with the story
inside. You probably don't remember because you didn't draw that
story. Martin Nodell did.
IRWIN: All I know is I'd get the order from Shelly or from Julie
or whatever to do a cover.
A/E: Did Shelly describe them verbally? Did he ever draw a sketch?
IRWIN: I think he might have, sometimes. We'd sit at his desk.
I lived in New York, so I'd go down there and have conferences.
A/E: Occasionally there'd be a splash page which used the same
art as the cover. I suppose the splash page usually came first, because whenever
anyone had a script to draw, it always had a splash page, right?
IRWIN: I would say so. I think sometimes Shelly would take the splash
page and make it into a cover.
A/E: Did you know writers like Henry Kuttner and Alfred Bester, who
did some Green Lantern stories?
IRWIN: I met Bester once or twice. He was a friend of Julie Schwartz.
I met John Broome through Julie, too. And Lee Goldsmith.
A/E: I get the idea that if there was a halfway star writer at DC in
the late '40s, it might have been Bob Kanigher.
IRWIN: He was certainly one of the top guys there.
A/E: He had a hand in creating a lot of the major villains after the
war, when they went in more for super-villains. The one he is most associated
with was The Harlequin.
IRWIN: Yes. I drew that. Kanigher created her. He was the most prolific
of them all.
A/E: I'm curious--did you design that Harlequin costume with the
little tutu, or did Kanigher?
IRWIN: I wish I could say I did, but I don't remember. In those
days we'd come down to the office, all of us. We'd sit around and
talk. It wasn't like one man creating everything. You'd have a joint
effort. And he'd come up with the Harlequin, and I'd make suggestions.
But this was all done in committee.
A/E: There was one issue of Green Lantern where you drew all three
stories--and they were all Harlequin stories! She was in a lot of GL stories
for about a year, and then she vanished, so I guess she wasn't as popular
as they'd hoped. But obviously Kanigher liked her and the editors liked
her. I liked her, too. In fact, I had her and Alan Scott get married back in
the '80s, at age 60 or so. I thought with Molly Mann [The Harlequin's
secret identity] having chased Green Lantern around all those years, she should
come back into his life and marry him.
IRWIN: That's great.
A/E: You also drew the first Icicle story and cover. Icicle was also
in an Injustice Society story you drew part of....
IRWIN: You know more about my life than I do.
A/E: Well, I know a little about your professional life. As you drew
those last few Green Lanterns and All-Americans and Comic Cavalcades, did you
have any sense that super-hero comics were on the way out, and that All-American
would soon become All-American Western?
IRWIN: No. Never thought about it. I think that was when I was phasing
A/E: This was still '49 or so. You worked for DC for another two
or three years after that. What did you do for DC after the super-heroes faded?
IRWIN: Near the end, all I did was fillers. As I told you, in 1951 I
was starting to be phased out. I really couldn't hack it with the competition
of all these damn good artists.
A/E: They weren't all that great. When we're talking about
Toth and Kubert, anybody would have had competition--but they had a lot of
losers at DC, too. And I don't mean you.
IRWIN: I understand what you're saying, but it was time for me
to go. Thank God everything worked out for me. And I didn't have a wife
and kids to support. One day Whit Ellsworth called me into the office, and
he looked at me and said, "Ah, you're a bachelor. Why don't
you take a trip on a boat?" And I didn't know he was firing me! So
like an idiot I left and went to the Pierre Hotel, and I didn't think
anything about it. I had a couple of drinks. And I walked off to a travel agent,
and I booked passage on the Liberty, and I went to Europe. That was the greatest
decision I made. Ignorance is bliss. I didn't know I'd been fired.
It didn't occur to me.
A/E: What did you do when you came back?
IRWIN: I came back and I was out of work. I tell my students, when you
get fired, don't despair. But I also tell them that I was in my thirties.
If I'd been married, it wouldn't have been that funny. I couldn't
have recalled this with jocularity. Because that trip to Europe was gorgeous,
the best thing I ever did. I traveled to London, Paris, and Italy. But I would
have been in despair if I'd had kids.
A/E: I notice that some of the late Green Lantern stories you did in '48, '49,
had a slightly looser look. Was this all still you, or were you working with
another inker, like Bob Oksner or Joe Giella or Frank Giacoia?
IRWIN: Occasionally, but not often. I don't know what changed the
style. Maybe I was nearing the end of my tether.
A/E: Besides that cartoon you did in '41, what was your impression
of Max Gaines?
IRWIN: The only boss I ever had was Shelly Mayer. Gaines would walk
around the office and have other problems on his mind, and he didn't even
look over your shoulder. He had a small office on Lafayette Street. He was
a grumpy old guy, but a square shooter. He was a very provocative guy in his
business, a progressive guy. He died too young.
A/E: That boating accident....
IRWIN: Terrible accident. [ED. NOTE: When M.C. Gaines was killed in
the forementioned accident in 1947, his son William inherited his second comics
company, EC, and proceeded to develop horror and crime comics, and eventually
A/E: What about E.E. Hibbard, whom you drew in that cartoon?
IRWIN: E.E. and I were friends in the office. We never socialized. He
was a tough guy to talk to, to get involved with. He was a strange guy.
A/E: You knew Carmine Infantino pretty well.
IRWIN: Yes. Since we were both single, we went out together. We socialized
a lot. I met his parents. We got to be close. And we still are.
A/E: I recall this press conference in the Allied Chemical Tower in
New York in the mid-'70s, when Neal Adams was beating the drum for Siegel
and Shuster to get pensions from DC because of the announced Superman movie.
I was there representing the Academy of Comic Book Arts, and I read a statement
on their behalf. Reporter Pete Hamill was there--and another thing that was
there was your drawing of Dondi with a tear in his eye for Siegel and Shuster.
IRWIN: I made a statement which was broadcast all over the country--"Is
it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a shame!" And two or three days
later Carmine calls up. This is my friend, and he says, "You don't
know what's behind all that. What are you doing? Why do you say a thing
A/E: Of course, Carmine wasn't the guy who took away Siegel and
Shuster's rights. You weren't attacking him.
IRWIN: I just felt, these guys created Superman. These two little guys
from Cleveland are the reason why Warner is alive. Of course it's a shame.
Carmine said to me what he felt he should, I guess. But all I could see was
that we were all cartoonists, and I could see the shafting they were getting.
But Carmine and I are friends again now, I'm glad to say.
A/E: It was a difficult period. Did you know Frank Giacoia well? He
was buddies with Carmine and Gil in the old days.
IRWIN: A sweetheart of a guy.
A/E: Julie Schwartz--you once drew a picture of him and referred to
him as a chipmunk.
IRWIN: Well, he looks like a chipmunk. His teeth hang out. And I still
make fun of him. We have a love-hate relationship.
A/E: In '49 Sheldon Mayer left the editorship, and Whitney Ellsworth
was suddenly listed in all the books as the editor. There's a change in
the flavor of the books then, even though he evidently wasn't that "hands-on" an
editor. He was a guy who really despised working in comics, from what I've
IRWIN: He was more hands-on-the-bottle. Whitney was like the token WASP.
He was a very elegant, tall, Hollywood-type looking guy.
A/E: And he ended up in Hollywood working on the Superman show. I get
the impression that writers and artists worked on books with Kanigher or Julie
or Weisinger, but not with Ellsworth himself. Yet they never put those guys' names
in the indicia as editors back in the '40s or '50s.
IRWIN: No, no. I think Ellsworth was a token name in a book.
A/E: How did it happen that you took over the All-Star assignment?
IRWIN: Whatever you did in those days, Roy, you were told. You weren't
asked. We were not the masters of our destiny.
A/E: DC had had Martin Naydel drawing the JSA chapters in All-Star.
He was actually more of a funny-animal artist, a fairly good one. He drew the
Flash very stiffly, and did the same with the JSA, yet they had him on it for
two or three years.
IRWIN: Marty Naydel, yeah. He was a sad sack.
A/E: I remember that when I saw your issues, starting with #33, I liked
them better, even at age six and seven, and thats still my judgment more than
fifty years later. In that same issue Kubert came back to Hawkman, and the
next issue Lee Elias began doing Fla'sh, and Carmine and Alex Toth came
along a little later, and suddenly the quality of All-Star and other comics
jumped. In retrospect, I realize some of these artists were returning from
the service, and the guys they were replacing had been the equivalent of those
one-legged baseball players and the like who stood in for major leaguers during
the War. You took over Green Lantern after two issues by Howard Purcell, and
suddenly you were doing a lot of GL in All-American and Comic Cavalcade. Did
you always know which book you were doing a Green Lantern story for?
IRWIN: No. You'd go in and get your assignment. You were very happy
when they handed you a script. They kept me very busy for several years. I
can't believe how busy, when I see some of the books I did. I always thought
that I was having a good time in life. But mostly a cartoonist sits alone in
A/E: How much work did you do on an average day when you were drawing
things like Green Lantern?
IRWIN: I would say, maybe one page a day, pencil and ink. I think I
got twelve dollars a page at first. I don't know where that number comes
from, in the back of my head.
A/E: Jack Burnley has said he hated drawing seven, eight, nine super-heroes
in the Justice Society chapters of All-Star. How did you feel about that?
IRWIN: I don't think I drew that many of those. All I did was Green
Lantern and Wildcat.
A/E: Actually, you did the introductions and conclusions to a whole
mess of Justice Society issues. One issue you did the entire 38-page JSA story,
and that had eight heroes in it.
IRWIN: Jeez, you know more than me what I did in my life. It's
funny, there was so much work done in those periods, that you just didn't
keep track of. The only things I really remember that I did are the covers.
A/E: When you mention drawing Wonder Woman, wasn't that just covers?
IRWIN: Yes. For Sensation and Wonder Woman. Bernie Sachs used to ink
them sometimes. I inked a lot of them in '53-'54.
A/E: After they got away from H.G. Peter covers. The first All-Star
cover re-creation you did, you've said, was the one you did for me back
in the late 1980s--the one with the hourglass, "The Day That Dropped Out
of Time." How would a dramatic symbolic idea like that have come about?
Would that have been your idea, or Shelly Mayer's?
IRWIN: I have a hunch it was Shelly Mayer.
A/E: Although people like Julie Schwartz and Bob Kanigher and Ted Udall
were editors of those books, you worked mostly with Mayer?
IRWIN: I didn't work with any of those guys. I worked with Sheldon
Mayer, and Bill Finger would do most of the writing of the things that I did.
We'd all sit together, Bill and Shelly and I.
A/E: The All-Stars you drew were by a combination of Fox, Kanigher,
and Broome, but you were probably just handed the scripts by Mayer.
IRWIN: That's right. We were just a bunch of young kids. We got
whatever they gave us, and they'd send us home.
A/E: You also drew me a re-creation of your Solomon Grundy All-Star
cover for #33 and the Injustice Society one for #37, and the cover of #36,
the one with Superman and Batman. Now, that cover was originally by Winslow
Mortimer, wasn't it? But it had some figures on it that were lifted from
you--and from Kubert, H.G. Peter, maybe Lee Elias...
IRWIN: Lee Elias. He was a damn fine artist. But a very troubled man.
A/E: You're the only artist who ever drew a whole issue of All-Star--#39.
It was 38 pages long. I know you have no idea of why they assigned you the
whole story, against their usual practice--but how long would it have taken
you to do something like that, pencil and ink?
IRWIN: Oh, I'd say--over a month.
A/E: You also did that big golden robot cover--#42. You re-created
that one for me, too.... I've got a total of five of them. How many cover
re-creations do you think you've done?
IRWIN: Oh, maybe fifty. I just sold another one. Big Apple had a convention,
and somebody called me up and he wanted one, so I did it for him. A couple
of years ago they auctioned one of them. I did a Green Lantern cover, of him
and the Harlequin--he's being swept away with a blonde lady, and The Harlequin's
swinging her banjo or ukulele or whatever it is....
A/E: Green Lantern #29. That's the issue I mentioned earlier with
three separate Harlequin stories in it. You not only did the cover, but you
drew the entire interior--all three 12-page stories.
IRWIN: Is that right?
A/E: There's no connection between the three stories. It's
like DC had a whole bunch of Harlequin stories sitting around, and they said, "Hey,
let's put 'em all in the same issue!" I don't think anybody
besides you ever drew any of those eight or ten Green Lantern-Harlequin stories.
IRWIN: The more you talk to me, the more I realize that I worked my
A/E: So how did Dondi happen?
IRWIN: We went to Germany together for the USO, entertaining troops
there, a group of cartoonists. Gus was doing The Gumps, but that was finally
dying, and he asked me what I was up to, and I said, "This and that." I
didn't have a job, but I didn't tell him that! And when we got back,
he sent me a letter--on Waldorf-Astoria stationery--with a pen drawing of Dondi
sitting on a duffel bag, with a big overseas hat. And he wrote, "Dear
Kleine"--that means "little" in German--"this is the way
the kid should look." He didn't explain anything else.
A/E: Do you still have that letter?
IRWIN: Ohio State University has it, in their museum. The minute I saw
the letter, I called him up and I said, "Gus, this is gonna be the best
strip in America!" He said to me, "You're kidding!"--he
didn't know what he had, but I knew. It's like when you go to a party,
and across a crowded room [laughs] you say, "That's gonna be my next
A/E: It happens. And you were right. Maybe it's just because the
Korean War was so recent in my young memory in 1955 when the strip started,
but I always thought of Dondi as Korean. He was really Italian, right?
IRWIN: Yeah. But everybody thought he was Korean--or Mexican. Actually,
the story was inspired by officers returning from Korea and adopting war orphans.
A/E: The strip, of course, lasted over three decades....
IRWIN: Thirty-two years.
A/E: You wound up in the Dondi movie yourself, as a police sketch artist,
drawing him when cops were searching for him.
IRWIN: Worst movie ever made! It won a Golden Turkey award in that book.
It was a terrible experience for me when I went out there, dealing with this
producer, who was a Captain Queeg type... Alfred Zugsmith. That name is so
beautiful, for that kind of a man. Alfred Zugsmith!
A/E: How popular was Dondi at its height?
IRWIN: Very popular. We didn't have a lot of newspapers, but we
had the best. In other words, the highest priced. We started out with 46, and
we went crazy, we were so happy. Because in those days, when you had the right
46 papers, you had 46 capital cities. Frank Robbins used to joke that we made
as much as he made with 500 papers on Johnny Hazard, because King Features
blanketed every small town paper. Unfortunately, then, when you lost a paper,
you lost a lot of income. We had to split it three ways--me, Edson, and the
A/E: At what point wasn't the strip worth doing anymore?
IRWIN: 1987. When I got my last royalty check, I looked at it and I
said, "Oh Jesus, forget it," 'cause I had to pay my letterer,
and Bob Oksner, who was helping me with the writing. When he saw my check,
he cried. At the syndicate they don't give a damn, as long as they get
enough money to pay for paper clips. It just wasn't worth it any more.
And I was very proud that I made that decision. No regrets.
A/E: Of all the things you've worked on over the years, Irwin,
which one are you proudest of?
IRWIN: Doing that whole newspaper, the Fort Dix Post, while I was in
the army. I edited it, I published it, I took it to the printers, I learned
how to set up type, I did the comic strip, I wrote the whole goddam thing,
and I interviewed all the celebrities coming in from New York. I worked my
ass off, and I wound up in the hospital. But that was my proudest time, editing
that newspaper for a year and a half.
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