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A Conversation with GILL FOX - Artist, Writer, and Editor (1940-43) of Quality Comics Group
Conducted and Transcribed by Jim Amash [All materials for this interview furnished by Gill Fox and/or Jim Amash, unless otherwise indicated.]
From Alter Ego Vol. 3 #12
INTERVIEWER'S NOTE: Gill Fox had the amazing combination of talent and luck to be at the right place at the right time, over and over again in his long career. As editor at Quality Comics in the early 1940s he oversaw the flowering of that company's best period of publishing. Later he worked with the agents of advertising art at the legendary Johnstone and Cushing Art Service, worked on the first Hi and Lois strips with Dik Browne, and showed a remarkable flair for cartooning, always earning the respect of his peers. A friendly, funny, giving man who has always cared deeply about his chosen profession, he has not received the attention he deserves. Hopefully, we can fix that just a bit, starting now...! -Jim.
JIM AMASH: What spurred your interest in cartooning?
GILL FOX: It was survival. I come from the depths of the Depression. I knew the way it was going I'd be driving a truck. I had to make a positive decision, and it seemed to me that cartooning would be a way out. For my sixteenth birthday, my mother and father gave me the Landon Art Correspondence Course, which many of the famous artists like Jack Cole and Roy Crane had taken. Once, two other cartoonists and I took Roy Crane out to dinner in New York and questioned him about the course. Crane told us he went out to Cleveland once and found out Landon was an alcoholic. But Landon was awfully, awfully good. In the old-fashioned style.
The course took about a year. If you bought the course, you paid about $7-8. If you took instruction from him, which meant every week, you'd send stuff to him and he'd correct it and send it back for an additional $20. I had to take the cheaper way, but I swore to myself that I would religiously follow it, and it worked.
JA: Did you take art in school, too?
FOX: Yes. Textile High School in Greenwich Village in New York had some excellent art courses, including a course in advertising; and under that was a course in cartooning. I took four years in textile design, but cut those classes to go to the advertising class. I didn't get credit for it, but around me were some very good guys like John Stanley [future Little Lulu artist], who had gotten out a year ahead of me. You wouldn't believe how good his work was at 16-as good as most professionals today. There was one school that was better than ours, and that was the School of Music and Art. Alex Kotzky and Al Jaffee went there.
John Stanley and [future Timely artist] Vince Alascia took an art course that was an offshoot of the course at Textile. I was deeply impressed with Vince's talent; he did great stuff for the yearbook. Years later, I went to see him and he had totally changed. I tried to get him to make a move into a better kind of work, but I couldn't get him to do it. Vince had an uninspired art career.
I started copying the newspaper comics when I was twelve. I was totally fascinated by them. My favorite was George McManus' Bringing Up Father. God, that man was good! He had been a trained architect. The way he drew his figures, his stylization fascinated me. For instance, if you see a hand pointing, the wrist bends downward and the finger comes up. To this day, I'll draw a guy pointing the way McManus did.
I was about sixteen when I went over to the King Features offices in New York and asked the receptionist if I could see McManus. She said I couldn't see anyone without an appointment. I mentioned I'd come a long way to see him, so she took me down the hall. McManus was sitting in a chair, smoking a cigar, reading a newspaper, and a guy was shining his shoes. I stood there for five minutes looking in a doorway, and she said, "Have you had enough?" Then she took me back. I loved McManus that much. He looked like Jiggs.
As a kid, I wrote and drew my own stories of that strip. That training taught me to write. I've done a lot of gag cartoons, and that training is what a lot of people doing strips today don't have. How to build a gag and have impact, leaving out a lot of unnecessary elements. Landon told his students, "Don't go out there until you are ready." A lot of guys who get syndicated are not ready, and they're locked in to this semi-professional style. So I followed Landon's advice.
While I was going to high school and taking the Landon course, I went to Washington Irving High School in New York City at night. They had life drawing and continuing education classes. I would go home and have dinner and then go back to New York City and take the life drawing class at night. I did that for about a year.
There were others at Textile High who got out and got jobs and came back and told us about them. One of the places we were told about was Fleischer Studios, which was in the heart of New York. In order to pick up samples for reproduction as quickly as possible, I asked a friend going to St. John's and said, "Hey, let me do a cartoon for you, and you can put your name on it." I did a couple of covers for St. John's magazine and my cousin and someone else let me do the same for their high school papers. So I was able to have printed samples for a portfolio.
II. Fox at Fleischer
JA: Did you get your start at Fleischer's?
FOX: That was my first job. I had enough of an art background that they hired me as an opaquer in 1936. Opaquing is simply coloring the backs of animated cartoon cells. It was easy to do. I was about twenty years old.
A fascinating thing happened there. There was a good-looking man with a little moustache and this guy was good. He was about twenty years old, and his name was Burne Hogarth. He went out to lunch and put his portfolio on a rack. I took his portfolio and looked through it. He came back and I told him what I had done, explaining that I'm a nut and trying to get somewhere. Hogarth had already gotten into advertising and had done a campaign about baby powder with a baby lying on the floor. I said, "I'd love to have an original." And he gave me that thing and I still have it. But he was so good that he was out of there in a week or two. [NOTE: Hogarth soon become the renowned artist of the Tarzan newspaper strip, and later a teacher of future generations of cartoonists. -Jim.]
Incidentally, one of the men who caused all this interest at my high school was Shelly Mayer. He had gone to my high school. [NOTE: By the late '30s Mayer had become both a cartoonist and a major editor at All-American and National/DC Comics. -Jim.]
JA: Who did you know at Fleischer's that we would know of today?
FOX: Harry Lampert, who was the co-creator of "The Flash," was in the inking department. In fact, Harry recently reminded me that we were two of the four guys who helped lead the strike at Fleischer's! Luckily, by that time I knew that I did not want any part of animation. I was there a year. I was promoted from opaquing to inking in about two months. There were about a hundred employees there. I would have become an in-betweener, had I continued.
JA: Did you ever meet the Fleischer brothers?
FOX: Interesting that you should ask me that. During the strike, a group of three guys charged the picket line because we were too close to the entrance. They deliberately charged our line because they wanted to bring charges against anybody who got violent. Dave Fleischer was one of those three guys, and that's the closest I came to meeting them. Luckily, I didn't touch him and I didn't strike anybody. I had been on the wrestling team in high school and knew how to grab somebody. I did get arrested, but they let me go on disorderly conduct the next day. This was a deliberate attempt to demoralize us.
JA: What started the strike?
FOX: We were getting $17.50 a week, which was standard. We were trying for more money and better conditions. Harry Lampert thought that job was the greatest thing that ever happened. They got vacations and raises and everything else. I didn't like the job anyway and got out of it.
We were approached by a union. The gag cartoonists-the ones writing for The Saturday Evening Post, Judge, etc.-had a union behind them. That union was a little to the left. I took my future wife to a dance they ran, and there was the hammer and sickle crossed with the American flag. They took over and organized the strike. Harry and I and a couple other guys helped lead the strike.
I don't remember how long after that it was, but they closed the place down and moved to Florida. I was still out of work and I wrote them a letter down in Florida. One striker had been beaten by the police at least twice; they really worked him over. But he joined Fleischer's and went to Florida with them. I figured to do the same thing and I wrote them a letter. They never bothered to answer it. They had wind of who I was.
JA: Do you remember what cartoons you worked on at the studio?
FOX: Betty Boop and Popeye. They usually gave you a sequence of about 25 drawings and you inked them on celluloid, which was like inking on glass. You warmed up by using a rejected cell that had some space on it left. I have a cel here, not opaqued, with a three-quarter figure of Betty Boop, Popeye, and Bluto. They were wearing football uniforms in the background.
JA: Where did you sell your first [magazine] cartoon?
FOX: While I was at Fleischer's, one of the guys in the inking department was doing sports cartoons for a magazine called Sport Eye. It was a weekly tabloid with full-size, half-page, and quarter-page sports cartoons about sporting events from the previous week. I got them to okay a quarter-page from me, and it was my first sale. It paid about ten bucks. My future wife and I went to a newsstand to get a copy, but I wasn't in the issue.
III. DC Days
JA: Where did you go after you left the Fleischer studios?
FOX: Word was beginning to come in about a strange publication called comic books. One guy told me you could get paid $5 a page, and that was great money. I began to seek out the publishers. William Cook was one of the first ones [Comics Magazine Company, Inc.]. I wrote and drew a one-pager that ran on the inside back cover. I began to develop at that point and was hooked on the comic book. That was also my first professional writing.
Then I did movie pages for Major Nicholson [Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson] at National Comics. This was before [Harry] Donenfeld owned it.
JA: Did you deal with Nicholson himself?
FOX: Not at all. I dealt with Vin Sullivan and Whitney Ellsworth. They were cartoonists, and good editors. I did about 3-4 pages for them, though I was never paid for them. $5 apiece they owed me. They were movie personality pages and a page about a detective-a drawing of him, and some cartoons around it detailing what he did. Later, Busy Arnold told me that, if he had known what I had gone through, he could have gotten that money for me. But I never pressed it. I never burn bridges behind me.
Later, I remember [Sullivan and Ellsworth] talking about "Superman." They couldn't get over how Action Comics was selling, and they found out it was because of Superman. I was there when this happened.
But I really wanted to get a syndicated strip and to break into Johnstone and Cushing [an advertising service]. They were big, and their advertising strips were a big deal all over the country. Creig Flessel [important early DC artist] was already working for them. As a matter of fact, I had an incident that taught me a lesson for the rest of my life.
I thought that, if you freelanced for one person, that was all you were allowed to do. I don't know where I got this idea. One day I brought work in to DC. Flessel was working there and asked me if I'm doing any other work. I said something to the effect that I got a job at Johnstone and Cushing. I thought I was covered because I wasn't freelancing. He said, "Where are you sitting?" I said, "I'm sitting in the corner."
Flessel said, "That's strange. I haven't seen you. I work there." Well, I liked him, so I told him the truth. After that, I decided I wouldn't lie anymore. Creig's an awfully nice man and we are still friends to this day._
IV. What Did That "A" Stand for, Anyway?
FOX: I didn't stay at DC long and began to get work elsewhere. Harry "A" Chesler placed an ad in The New York Times or somewhere, looking for artists for his studio. I went over there and he said, "Do four samples." I went home and did them in a week or so and brought them in. He said, "These are fine. I can use them. How would you like a job?"
I asked how much and he said, "$20 a week." My nose started bleeding, no kidding-right there standing in front of his desk-I was so excited about what had happened! My father was a milkman and he got $35 a week, and I had a $20 job already. I worked for Chesler about a year. This was about 1937. You couldn't believe the people in that studio. Jack Cole was there. Winsor McCay's son Bob was there. Frank Frollo, who had a style like Alex Raymond's. Charlie Biro, Bob Wood, and Paul Gustavson were there, too. Chesler had about four different studios.
For that twenty, I had to do five pages a week. One each day. Pencils, inks, and letters. I wrote them, too. I remember working on coquille paper, the paper with a stipple. And I used to letter with a brush. I was a professional letterer for a while.
JA: Chesler had four different studios?
FOX: Maybe three, at one time or another. Different staffs at different times. It gets confusing. Incidentally, Chesler took the four pages I did as samples, used them, and never paid me. Later on, when he was packaging books for Quality, he came over and Arnold came out and said to me, "He's not supposed to be here. I'm busy. Get rid of him!" I went out and told Chesler this and he said, "You used to work for me." I said, "Yeah. You didn't pay me for those four pages!"
Once I ran into a woman with a couple of kids, and she was crying and told me he had about 20 or 40 pages of hers and never paid her! I felt so sorry for that woman.
JA: What do you remember about Chesler's personality?
FOX: He was likable. He'd come in wearing a hat on the back on his head with a watch chain in his vest. He reminded me of a fight promoter, and he smoked a cigar. He was about 35-40 years old. He had about ten guys in his studio.
Several people ran the studio for him. One was Ken Ernst [in 1940 the first artist of Mary Worth after it ceased being Apple Mary]; he was good and ran the studio for a couple of months. A quiet guy. Jack Binder was art director for a while, too. He never bothered us and sat up front doing his work.
JA: Did all the artists write what they drew?
FOX: Jack Cole did. Fred Schwab did. I wrote my own stuff. Most of the artists did. But there was a writer in there; I don't remember who he was. I had a syndicate strip idea, and Chesler got one of the straight illustrators to draw it. I was more of a semi-straight artist. This writer wrote it and they used it.
In those days you didn't have a writer and an artist. The same man did both jobs. If you had 25 cartoonists syndicated, you might have one or two that had a writer working with them. Comic books changed that whole thing.
I also created sports pages and Believe It or Not-type things for Chesler. One week, I wrote and drew a five-page detective strip. I really floundered on it. I was still developing and I really didn't know how to put a strip together. It was a tremendous experience.
JA: According to Who's Who in American Comics Books, you're listed as doing "Gill Galen," "G-Man," "Gnaw and Nibble," "Voices in the Dark," "Strange but True"....
FOX: That's mostly misinformation. I didn't do any of those. Well, "Strange but True" could be one of those Believe It or Not-type pages.
JA: What were your early impressions of Jack Cole?
FOX: He was about 23 years old, and he was in the raw stages of artistic development. His stuff was funny and didn't look anything like the "Plastic Man" work he did later on. But you could see him developing right on the spot. Everybody liked Jack Cole. He was about six-foot- three and thin. Tall and narrow. And he had such an inventive mind. I knew him pretty well, but we didn't get that close. He came up to Stamford later on in the Quality days. But he wasn't an outgoing person. He had a very pleasant personality, but he wasn't a mixer, really.
Many years afterwards, Cole and Alex Kotzky did this True Crime comic book and it caused a lot of trouble. That's the book where Cole drew a man getting ready to put a needle in a woman's eye.
JA: How about Paul Gustavson?
FOX: Very pleasant guy, easy to get to know. He never became a genius as an artist, but he was very professional and could do three penciled-and-inked pages to your one any day. He wrote his own stuff there and for Quality.
Raphael Astarita used to sit in the corner. His work was so good you knew he had to have had some training. He sat down once and did a drawing me and said, "This is what you'll look like in twenty years." He drew me with a bull neck and no hair. He was wrong about that, because I still have a full head of hair.
JA: Who else do you remember from the studio?
FOX: Ken Fitch was a writer but was in another room. Fred Schwab was there and we became friends.
Bart Tumey was there. A great cartoonist. I remember he was overseas during the war, too. When guys like that work at the same place you do, they make you want to get better so you can keep up with them. He was easy to know and not too opinionated and also worked for Quality.
JA: What do you remember about Biro and Wood?
FOX: I remember when Charlie Biro and Bob Wood shared an apartment in Greenwich Village in New York. They used to brag about their escapades with women. And they told me that they painted a nude woman. I asked, "How the hell did you get her to undress?" Biro reaches under the bed and pulls out a canvas that's about one quarter finished, with no likeness or head. But the figure was nude. "This is what we use! We let her look at it, paint in a couple of strokes, and she thinks she's being painted."
Biro was an animator before he got into comics. He might have worked for Disney, but I'm not certain of that. At one point after I left Fleischer's, Charlie invited me to work for him. He wanted me to do in-betweening work. I said, "Charlie, I'm not an in-betweener." Biro gave me a scene and I told him I couldn't do it, but I sat down and did my impression of what in- betweening was. When they saw the rushes, they discovered I had the figure walking backwards. [laughs] I said, "I told you I couldn't do in-betweening!" But Biro was a close friend and kind of nuts.
One time, we're riding in Biro's car and he looks over at a parked car, sees a hubcap, and says, "Hey! That has a hubcap like mine! I'm missing a hubcap!" Then, he hands me a screwdriver and says, "Go get that hubcap!" He was crazy!
I remember once when Busy Arnold threw a cocktail party and Biro and Manly Wade Wellman were drinking. They got mad at each other and almost started to fight. Wellman was a big, blustery Southern gentleman! And we had to separate these two big men! I don't remember what they were mad about. Wellman also wrote for us at Quality.
JA: Alex Kotzky told me that Jack Cole told him about a date Cole and his wife and Bob Wood and his girlfriend had. They worked at Chesler's at the time. Cole gets out the cab and looks back to see Wood beating up his date.
FOX: Wood was strange with women. With men he had a very likable personality, but with women he was crazy. Particularly when he was drinking. He was raised in Boston in a rough neighborhood and had a lack of respect for women. You know what happened to Bob Wood.
Art Spiegelman [author/artist of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus] came up to interview me about Bob Wood. He said, "I'm writing a musical about him." I said, "What the hell? He killed a woman with a flat-iron! You going to do that according to the beat of the music?" But other guys have told me those kind of things are common.
JA: Wood started out as a comic book artist, right?
FOX: Yes, in the first Chesler studio. I met him there. When sober, he had a sense of humor. In 1938 we did a course in cartooning that Bob McCay financed. McCay had money he inherited from his father. I don't know what happened to that course. I completed my end of it and gave it back to them and never heard another word about it.
JA: Did Biro and Wood become friends at Chesler's?
FOX: Yes. Biro was six-foot-three and a big man. He looked like a famous actor whose name I can't recall. We'd stand outside the building at lunchtime, and he'd start walking in front of two attractive girls. I'd look at him and say, "Hey, that's 'What's-his-name'... the famous movie actor!" And the girls would go nuts. Biro had a good mind but he was a little nuts. He and Wood were a lot alike.
Wood was a strong man. I had been on the wrestling team. We were on a break from Chesler's and went into a men's room and started wrestling on the tile floor. I was surprised at how strong he was.
You wouldn't know there was anything wrong with Bob until he started drinking. Once, Cole had an argument with his wife and went to New York to stay over. Wood said, "The apartment next to me is empty. Take that room." Jack said he could hear Wood pounding on that woman all night long. That was the first indication that Wood was crazy.
Wood was a good humor cartoonist. He also wrote. Wood and Biro were partners at Lev Gleason. Once I had some trouble finding work and Biro gave me a straight story to draw, which I didn't like. I was a humor artist. I took it home and struggled with it. I asked my brother-in-law, who was a top Saturday Evening Post illustrator, to help out. He did a couple of things, but I had to change them. Illustrators are not comic book artists.
The last time I saw Bob Wood was at Dell Comics in the late 1950s. I was up there looking for work and in comes this guy, all pasty-faced, and I did a double take. This was three years after he had gotten sentenced for that murder. I said, "My God! Bob! What are you doing here?" He said, "I got time off for good behavior." He was looking for work, too. Later, he was drunk and got run over by a car in New York.
JA: Did you get to know Bob McCay?
FOX: I got to know him pretty well. As a matter of fact, I had three originals by his father and I've still got one left. If you know the history of Winsor McCay, you know they were in vaudeville together.
JA: A few years ago I interviewed John Belfi, and he said Bob McCay was an alcoholic and a bad artist and needed help to do his work.
FOX: I refuse to accept that Bob was an alcoholic. What had happened was, he was in the First World War and got gassed. Bob and his wife would come to my house, and he had no drinking problem that I knew of. I never saw McCay drink. It's true he wasn't a good artist. He imitated his father's work. The old man was beyond a genius; he was incredible. The son really stepped into some shoes there. Bob was a happy person and a very nice man.
JA: I wonder how Belfi got the notion that McCay drank. I wish he was still alive, so I could ask him.
FOX: John's passed away?
JA: Yes. Several years ago.
FOX: Jeez. If I live long enough, I'll be on Earth all by myself.
JA: Well, you and my socks will still be here. So what did McCay do at Chesler's?
FOX: He did some features, including this stupid imitation of his father's Little Nemo in Slumberland.
JA: I heard that he would cut up his father's originals and use them with his own drawings. Is it true that he sometimes gave originals of his father's Nemo strips to editors in order to get work for himself?
FOX: That's pressing it a little far. But he could have done it without saying anything. And they're worth a fortune now.
JA: We've talked a little about writing. I notice you didn't always write your own stuff.
FOX: Infrequently, I did a strip that someone else wrote. That reminds me: Working in the comic books in my mid-career, I would try to avoid getting a whole book. The deadlines were grueling and the pay was lousy. I would do a five-page filler, but I didn't want to get any further than five pages. Some guys didn't mind doing a whole book. But it's hard to enjoy drawing at the deadline level of the comic book.
JA: I notice that some of the artists at Chesler's later worked for you at Quality. Your doing?
FOX: No, Busy Arnold's. He was an educated person. He was a Brown University graduate and the publisher at Quality. A very fair, honest man. Despite the fact that he was not an artist, with no art background, he picked all those great talents. Like Jack Cole. And he went out of his way to get Lou Fine. I have to give him the credit.
JA: Why did you leave the Chesler shop?
FOX: He closed that particular shop down. I don't remember exactly why; and from what I understand, he had at least two more after that. Or maybe he had one before the one I was in and maybe we were the middle studio.
V. In the Centaur Ring
JA: What do you remember about Centaur Publications? Did you work there through the Chesler shop?
FOX: I got that work on my own. I think that was before I went to Chesler's. Lloyd Jacquet was the editor. I worked there only briefly, because I had words with him. I don't remember if it was because of pay or something else. I never got temperamental when I had a problem with an editor, but something happened there. Jacquet had one of the early comic book shops, too.
The office was like a big loft. I didn't meet any artists there. But I remember Martin Filchock was there doing big-foot cartooning.
Jacquet gave me a cover to do. It was straight drawing, not cartoony. I have a proof of it here, but I'm so ashamed of it, I'd hate to show it to anyone. It's terrible. It's a guy diving downstairs and someone's shooting at him.
JA: Well, you know we want to publish it. Telling me it's terrible is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. It'd also give us an idea of how your work was developing.
FOX: It's funny you say that, because in the last couple of months I've been looking at my late sister's work. She was a famous illustrator. I've decided that's what I was supposed to be: an illustrator. In fact, I'm even working on some clip service stuff. It's washes, but it looks like airbrush. I'm doing illustrative figures. My brother-in-law was an illustrator, and my sister Lorraine put a lot of work into it. The effort is beyond belief. Models, costumes, etc.
Lorraine is the first woman in the Illustrators Hall of Fame. She died in 1976 and was elected to the Hall in 1979. She was six years younger than me, and I tricked her into the business. She was going to high school, and by that time I'd learned you could make a living in this business. I said to her, "I'll do the penciling and you do the inking, so you can do a panel for the school newspaper. In a couple of months, they'll get to depend on you." She did five of them. So now I said, "You're going to do the whole thing!" And she went nuts. She had no confidence. But I knew she could do it and she did. Then about three months later I came home from Connecticut and my mother said, "Go down in the cellar. You won't believe what you see."
I went down there. In those days we had no money. She had taken ten brown paper bags, slit them, and glued them together. It was about two feet high and ten feet long. It was like a arsonist starting a fire. I couldn't believe the dormant talent I had awakened. Because I was working and earning a living, my mother got a job cleaning houses so we could send my sister to Pratt Institute. Boy, was she good!
JA: That's amazing, having two famous artists in the same family.
FOX: There's a wild story that goes with it. I was living on Long Island, freelancing in comic books, and my sister was doing these highly sophisticated magazine illustrations. I said to her, "Gee, there's a great story here. This crummy burlesque stuff that I do and the sophisticated stuff you do, and we're brother and sister!" So I called the local paper and they came over and took photos of us. I'm sitting there looking at a comic book and she's looking at Glamour. And my eyes are popping out.
There's a story in the family that my grandfather came from Naples. While my sister was going to Pratt, my mother told us about a famous artist in the family, so Lorraine told her to get the artist's name from Grandpa. Now, Grandpa had no education or sense of humor. After my mother got back, Lorraine handed me a piece of paper from him. It said, "Botticelli." So all through that newspaper article we called him "the revolving Botticelli," because we figured he had to be turning over in his grave, to be related to these commercial artists!
There was a great art bookstore in Westport, so I went to check out Botticelli's work, and I saw a huge self-portrait of Botticelli in a book. Well, I'm a child of the Depression and I watch my money, but I immediately bought this coffee-table book and took it home to show my wife. I opened it up and she said, "It's you-except for the long hair!"
JA: Going from fine art to your comics career: What did you do after you left Chesler? Did you try Eisner and Iger?
FOX: I went to them before Chesler, too. I was totally raw, really bad. Either Eisner or Iger looked at the stuff and rejected me. I realized the stuff was so bad that it was amazing. Development is important. I'm still developing as an artist.
VI. Quality Time
JA: So you went from Chesler to Quality Comics?
FOX: Yes. This was the latter part of 1938. I was on a bus at Lexington Avenue in New York, and I had read something about Busy Arnold. I had his building number in my mind. So we passed it and I rang the bell and got off the bus a block away. I had some samples with me. I don't know what they were or why I had them with me. I might have been going to Lloyd Jacquet for work.
I went upstairs and showed my samples to Ed Cronin, the editor. He said, "Would you like to do something for us?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Do you have anything in mind?" I said I had an idea for a Chinese detective; there were a lot of Chinese and Japanese detectives in the movies. His name was Wun Cloo. I did a two-page sample. They were paying $8 a page-it was a lot of money. You had about ten panels on one of those pages, so it was a lot of work, too.
I brought it in and Cronin said, "We'll use it." And he wanted me to do another one so they'd get ahead. I did and they loved it! I had a ball doing it. I was beginning to get professional at that point. I did three of those, and then I was told that Quality was going to leave New York and move to Connecticut. And Cronin said, "I'm going to need an assistant. Would you be interested?"
I asked, "For how much?" He said, "$25 a week." I said, "Great! I could get married!" So I took the job and moved to Stamford, Connecticut, on November 13, 1939. I was now an assistant editor, and Cronin began to teach me all the things I needed to know. He was drawing the covers. He was a lousy straight artist, but somebody had to draw the covers.
He asked if I wanted to ink his work. I did one and said, "Do you mind it I tighten up your pencils a little?" What I was doing was changing his drawing. Cronin didn't mind. He left me alone. I began to develop as a straight artist working on that.
JA: Do you remember what that early work was?
FOX: In those days, we were reprinting a lot of newspaper big-foot stuff, like Lala Palooza. The first cover I did completely on my own was of Doll Man [in Feature Comics #54]. Doll Man was holding open a pair of scissors. I took artistic license because that would've cut his hands. Al Bryant had done a lot of "Doll Man" interiors, and so had Reed Crandall. Eisner started that feature. We found out very early that "Doll Man" was popular, so he became the cover feature. We also had "The Clock," which was done by George Brenner.
JA: Brenner had done that character for William Cook, your first comic book employer. When Centaur took over, Brenner continued the feature. Chesler also printed it when he published. Did Brenner own "The Clock"?
FOX: I vaguely remember Arnold telling me Brenner owned the feature. There was a chance that a syndicate wanted it, so Brenner copyrighted it. Ownership was unusual in those days. Brenner graduated from Villanova. He had been a football player. A likable Irish guy with a good sense of humor. I didn't drink at the time, but Arnold liked the occasional cocktail. He and Arnold had a lot in common and would go out and have drinks. Brenner had a beautiful personality. He could tell a story and had some popularity, but he was a better writer than artist.
JA: What was Ed Cronin like?
FOX: He had been an assistant to Ham Fisher on Joe Palooka. He was about thirty. He died young of cancer. Easy to work with. A very detail-oriented guy. You had to learn proofreading, and that was one of the things I did a lot of. He quit after a year or so and became the editor at Hillman when they started up.
JA: Is that when you became Busy Arnold's editor at Quality?
FOX: Yes. I was at Eisner's Tudor City studio in New York. He was in a jam, and Arnold sent me there to help. I'm doing backgrounds on The Spirit dailies and the phone rings. Eisner talks on the phone and when he gets off, he says, "Jeez, one minute you're working for me and now I'm working for you!" He told me Busy Arnold was going to make me the editor.
Busy took me to lunch at a very nice hotel and said, "Ed's quitting. He's going over to another company. Would you like to be the editor? I'll pay you $75 a week." We're still talking the Depression. I couldn't believe it. I went home and my whole family couldn't believe it, either. And I was still doing two pages a week, so I was making over a hundred bucks a week. Arnold had confidence in me.
Arnold never gave me credit, but I could tell what he thought of me by the assignments he gave me. When he called me to help out on The Spirit, I knew he thought a lot of my writing. In fact, he came in one day and said, "Eisner's got a lot to do right now. He's just finished a set of Spirit dailies. Can you write five weeks of an Ebony sequence? We want a humorous break after the serious stuff." Eisner liked it so much that he wrote three more weeks of that sequence after I'd finished.
Recently, I was with Will Eisner at a cartoonists' gathering and he said to me, "Busy Arnold really thought a lot of you and your work." As I said, Arnold never told me that himself. He was a real Yankee, and Yankees never tell you that sort of thing. They let you stand up or fall down on your own.
JA: How was Quality run when you started freelancing there?
FOX: Beautifully. It was small and efficiently run by Ed Cronin. Arnold knew what the hell he was doing. Incidentally, Arnold got his money from selling large printing presses. You know, the kind that take up half a city block. And I think his family had money.
JA: Did they have an in-house staff then?
FOX: They had practically no staff. Busy Arnold had his office and his secretary had an outer office. Ed and I worked in a great big room where the artists came in and laid their art out on big flat tables. The only art done in there was lettering and correcting. The books were mostly reprints, but that began to change when I got there. We were in the process of changing to all new material. Ed taught me how to cut up syndicate proofs of the newspaper strip reprints and rescale their size so they'd fit on a comic book page. I think I was there about three months before Eisner started to package books for Arnold.
JA: Then Eisner was still partners with Jerry Iger?
FOX: Yes. [laughs] I laughed because I remember an incident with Jerry Iger. I was athletic, and Iger was a little guy. There was something that I didn't like in one of his packaged art jobs that came in, so I said to him on the telephone, "Don't do this anymore." And he said he'd punch me in the nose! This was long-distance, and I thought this guy was crazy! He wouldn't have said that to me in person. Arnold and I got a big laugh out of that. Iger was not liked by too many people.
Eisner was liked well enough-as a person. The problem was that Eisner and Iger paid you $5 a page, then ran across the street and sold it for more. And the word got out, so this is why people got mad at them. But Eisner was always very pleasant. And he was always a genius. Eisner left Iger and began to package books for us. And his books were always brought in ready to print.
JA: Wasn't Eisner already supplying work for Quality?
FOX: Yes. He created "Doll Man" and "Espionage," among others. He had done "Hawks of the Seas" for someone else, but it wasn't as good as his other stuff. "Espionage" was one of the first things Eisner did for us. Eisner did some humor stuff and was good at that, too.
JA: Who dealt with the artists-you or Cronin?
FOX: Neither one of us. Busy Arnold did that. Cronin might have given them page rates, but I never did that while I was an editor. Arnold always handled that. He was a very hands-on publisher, and he should get credit for all that he did.
I remember the first time Arnold invited my wife and me to dinner. He had a big house in Greenwich because he had money. I came from a poor family, and my whole view of life changed when I went to that dinner. Arnold had a tremendous effect on the rest of my life. I really liked him. He was an honest and decent man. A very fair man. And he had a good sense of humor.
JA: Now, let's say Al Bryant brings in a "Doll Man" story. Does he hand it to you or Ed Cronin?
FOX: He'd bring it into me. Arnold would look at it and they'd go the secretary to write a check. Arnold was great. He'd pay immediately. Arnold didn't handle much of the physical side of putting the books together, but he picked all the artists that worked for him. Writers, too. Neither Cronin nor I picked them.
JA: Who was your assistant editor?
FOX: I had no assistant.
JA: Why did Cronin have an assistant, and not you when you took his place?
FOX: No one said this to me, but Arnold and Cronin knew they were going to rapidly expand the company. So they needed someone to help out.
JA: But why would Cronin need an assistant...
FOX: ...and not me? Well, I pulled in Tony Di Preta to letter, and Zully Szenics, too. They began to help me. Zully would help check art and proofread scripts, but he mostly lettered. His wife became a letterer, too. They were married because of me. Both were Hungarian. He was living with his mother and father and I'd go up there to visit. Once, we were sitting in his room and I saw a girl passing the doorway. I said, "Who's that?" Zully said, "That's a girl who came from Hungary to help my mother." I asked, "Did you ever look at her? She's beautiful!" Well, a year later they were married. Her name was Terry, and the four of us used to vacation together.
Zully came back from WWII and went to art school for nine years on the G.I. Bill. I had met him at Fleischer's in the inking department, and he was funny as hell. He also inked for us, but he couldn't create. Zully would set an alarm clock and letter a page before that clock went off. It used to break us up!
JA: When did Eisner begin packaging books for you at Quality?
FOX: Right after we moved to Stamford, Connecticut. I don't know quite what their deal was. Eisner did have a partnership with Arnold regarding The Spirit, but he talks about opening up a studio with his group on the same floor with Arnold. I don't recall that and never saw that. He did open a studio in Tudor City, and Arnold would send me down and I'd help Eisner on backgrounds. There'd be people in the studio working with him.
JA: Who created "Blackhawk"?
FOX: That came from the Eisner studio, and he had something to do with it. Chuck Cuidera was part of the studio, and he had a lot to do with the creation of that series. I can remember the first pages when they came in from the studio. Eisner was also responsible for "Uncle Sam."
JA: Did Eisner give up all his other features to concentrate on The Spirit?
FOX: I think so. I don't know how the hell he could keep that up. The Spirit in itself was a lot of work. Eisner would just have the work sent in when it was done. There were no story conferences. On occasion, when they thought it was important enough, Eisner would give Arnold a story synopsis. I know that happened several times, but I didn't get involved in that.
JA: I find it odd that they'd bypass you, the editor, on that.
FOX: That was how Arnold kept control of things. But it worked.
JA: Do you remember who created "The Ray" or "Black Condor"?
FOX: I can't answer that. We had writers at that time, and they could have created those characters for us. Lou Fine drew both features at the beginning and did the famous splash with the drooling rat and The Ray holding the rat's mouth open. But it could be that, at some point, Fine could have helped create some of the characters he worked on.
JA: Did Lou Fine ever do any writing?
FOX: No. Like Stan Drake, Lou was in such demand as an artist that he didn't have time to write. But he was highly intelligent and totally capable of writing.
JA: Who was Harry Stein?
FOX: He was one of our writers, and a good one. He was very intelligent, clean-cut, and always wore a tie. A nice man. He was one of the key Quality writers, outside of Eisner. He was a little younger than me. I'll tell you a story about Harry Stein, and I go head to head with Will Eisner on this one. I was sitting there, and even though Arnold was the man who picked our talent, I could give ideas. One day, right before the Second World War started, I said to Harry, "What about doing a story about a wooden battleship like the U.S.S. Constitution defeating a modern battleship? How you do that is your problem."
What he did was incredible. It was an "Uncle Sam" story drawn by Lou Fine [in National Comics #18]. Stein had these wooden battleships at night circling an anchored fleet of modern battleships. They dropped a bunch of oil around those ships and lit it, defeating the modern ships. That was how Harry worked it. He did his research. What he did was name Pearl Harbor, and this book is being worked on a few months before Dec. 7, 1941, and comes out on the stands a month before the Japanese attacked us. Arnold told me that the FBI questioned him about it. But the way things were going with Roosevelt, it was almost predictable.
I remember telling my wife right before the attack that if Roosevelt doesn't shut his mouth, the Japanese are going to jump on our back! Then this story comes out. Stein didn't name the Japanese, but he described the attacking planes as Oriental.
Eisner claims this was something he researched and suggested. But that's not the way it was.
VII. King Cole
JA: How did "Plastic Man" get started?
FOX: I remember when Jack brought in the first "Plastic Man" and we were all elated. It was something with a totally different look and thinking. Arnold recognized fairly quickly that he had a hit here. I think Jack Cole told me... I know Arnold didn't tell me this... when "Plastic Man" started selling real well, he gave Jack a $2,500 bonus one month. Arnold did that on his own. So Jack began to make some good money. And Arnold periodically gave Jack other bonuses, too.
But Jack Cole had already been working for us. He began by doing filler pages and would even do one of my characters over if I got too busy. But I was very happy because he was so talented. He did "Death Patrol" [in Military Comics] before "Plastic Man."
JA: Did Cole create "Death Patrol"?
FOX: Yes. It's his kind of thinking. But he didn't stay with it too long. He went from "Death Patrol" to "Plastic Man" [in Police Comics]. They started out killing a character in every "Death Patrol" story, but Arnold got annoyed and decided to cut that out. I don't think he liked that strip. I followed Cole and Dave Berg on that strip and wrote it, too. And what a pair of artists to keep up with! That's pressure.
JA: What were Cole's working methods like?
FOX: He wasn't fast and he wasn't slow. Since he inked his own stuff, he didn't detail all his pencils. It was quite obvious that he had an incredible mind. He brought in his stories completely done. Years later, I remember him drawing pictures of pretty girls on the backs of his pages. That's how he developed that gorgeous, loose style for Playboy. At one point, while Jack lived in Connecticut, he started selling cartoons to magazines.
Jack must have been making a lot of money. He told me once, "I don't want to go to Chicago. Hefner's after me to move, but I don't want to go." Finally, he said he was going and said, "Hefner's offered me so much money I couldn't refuse."
JA: Hefner must really have liked Cole.
FOX: Yes. That reminds me of a story. In 1955 Playboy started doing well. We really knew it was going to be big. I sent in an idea for a feature called "The Haunted House of Ill Repute." Hefner okayed four full color roughs. And you can't believe the letters he wrote me. You could open an art school with those letters!
I did the roughs in dyes, but Hefner wanted me to do them in oil. I had the thing sold but I couldn't take the time to do it. I had about eight accounts and I couldn't break in on those deadlines. And I would have had to rearrange my studio.
I also had two kids, and every time they came in, I'd have to hide the material. I figured if I hit with this, my kids would find out. I didn't want that to ever happen, so I let it go.
JA: Did Cole ever talk politics? Or drink?
FOX: No. He was not political. Lou Fine was. We had some interesting discussions. He would take a drink, but he wasn't really a drinker.
JA: You remember any of his practical jokes?
FOX: I've told this one before. We had a hot day in Connecticut, and worked in a big room, with two or three big windows in it. A giant horsefly came in a window. Something catches my eye and I looked up and the horsefly was flying around with a long tail of toilet paper attached to it. It had something funny lettered on it, like "Drink Pepsi Cola."
JA: Was Cole talkative in the studio?
FOX: No. He was quiet, but had a tremendous sense of humor. Totally different in his thinking. He was softspoken. A group of us used to go bowling. My wife Helen and I (we were married in June 1940). Jack and his wife, Dorothy. Lou Fine and Mary. John Belfi, sometimes. Tony DiPreta. Zully and Terry. Alex Kotzky. We'd go to dinner and then go bowling, and possibly go back to the house. In small groups, Jack was the life of the party. That was the most pleasant time of my life.
At one point, I had a pretty big apartment and the whole group was there. We decided to make a movie. Jack had a camera and the movie was about a young cartoonist. I played the lead and it took about two hours. Jack lost it years later after a big flood.
About eight years ago, I was up near where he had lived. He had a big 14-room Victorian house and closed off seven of the rooms so he didn't have to heat them. He moved up there because he liked being by himself. Anyway, I had walked into a barber shop and was sitting in the chair and saw a cartoon original on the wall behind me. I asked, "Who drew that?" The guy says, "Jack Cole." Jack had done this caricature of himself and gave it the guy's father.
JA: What was Cole's relationship with his wife like?
FOX: They were married when they were 18. It was an intense romance and a very close marriage. They were very happy. And they had no children.
Hefner gave a party when he opened the Playboy Club in New York. This was about a year after Jack died. I waited for an opportunity and went over and told him who I was and that I had been a very close friend of Jack Cole's. I asked him, "What the hell happened to Jack? You got any idea?" Hefner said, "Yes. He left a note that his wife would not give to the police." It's my opinion that she had an affair and that did it for Jack.
JA: I heard she remarried very quickly and left town.
FOX: I've heard that from other sources and I believe it.
JA: Gil Kane suggested to me that Cole was a manic-depressive.
FOX: I wouldn't say that. He was pretty normal. Jack never had an angry side that I ever noticed. I still can't believe he killed himself. There was never an indication that he'd ever do something like that.
JA: Did you like Cole's wife?
FOX: Yeah. She was harder to know than Jack was. My wife knew her pretty well, but you couldn't get to know her as well as you might have wanted. She was a quiet person.
JA: In Cole's suicide note to Hefner, he said he couldn't go on hurting himself and others. Do you think Cole might have neglected his wife because he was doing so much work?
FOX: I've seen the notes, and they tie in with the idea that she had another romance. He was very busy and that could well have been part of the problem. Jack was in great demand. However, if you read the notes Cole left that The New Yorker printed, you can see Cole was still crazy about his wife.
JA: In one note, Cole says, "Please forgive me, hon." Doesn't sound like a man who's fallen out of love with his wife. You think Cole loved his wife so much that he decided she'd be happier if he was out of the way?
FOX: Yes. That's what he was like. He must have discovered the affair, according to those notes. And a .22 is a hell of a small gun to use. He was alive when they found him, and he must have really suffered. He just wasn't thinking. You know, to live through doing comic books and those deadlines, it begins to take its toll on you. There have been a lot of people with problems in this business.
I had lost contact with Jack after I left Quality. I resumed it when Will Eisner took us to a club of his in the mid-1950s. We were in a cab together and Jack was just starting with Hefner. That's when he told me about the offers Hefner was making. I think he was working for Hefner when he walked into the newspaper syndicate with his strip, Betsy and Me. Everyone raved about it. Syndicate editors told me that strip was going to get big. But when I read it, I was disappointed with the strip.
When Jack killed himself, he had everything a cartoonist could want. He was the Peter Arno of Playboy and had to be making $1000 a page. You know, Cole is better recognized today than he was back then.
JA: Sometimes Cole signed the filler pages "Ralph Johns." Any idea why?
FOX: Ralph was his middle name. Maybe it was a matter of pride, and he didn't consider those features important. He probably wanted to be associated with the bigger features. And no one questioned you when you did that.
JA: Why didn't Cole go into the service?
FOX: Medical reasons. I remember when he was examined and he was classified 4-F.
VIII. A Few Men of Quality
JA: I noticed in Crack Comics that Lou Fine signed his feature "Kenneth Lewis." I know Kenneth was his middle name. But at some time he starts signing it "Lou Fine." Any idea why?
FOX: Lou probably heard the feature was becoming popular and decided it was to his benefit to have his name on it.
JA: Why did he sign the "Ray" strip "E. Lectron"? Were people instructed to use house names?
FOX: No. You know, none of these guys had any ego. So signing their work wasn't that big a deal most of the time.
JA: I've heard the covers were drawn smaller than the interior art.
FOX: The covers were only about 10-15% over the reproduction size. We had a lot of shields and titles, so it was different than the interior pages. They were made smaller for speed. That made them easier to color, which we did by codes.
There were some covers that we did full-size. Lou Fine did some big ones. I did, too. The artists got a higher page rate for doing covers. Close to rate and a half as compared to interior art.
By the way, proofing cover art was how I discovered that Busy Arnold was color blind. He was standing next to me once and he asked me, "Is this background blue or green?" Sometimes the colors got kind of harsh and this was one reason why.
JA: How did trafficking of the features work? You're doing all anthology books and the comics are 64 pages long.
FOX: It was no problem. It all seemed to work out, and I'm a highly disorganized person. But Ed Cronin trained me well and I did the whole job. All the guys brought in their jobs and we went through them. It all went quietly.
JA: "Firebrand" was supposed to be the star of Police Comics. You even had Reed Crandall doing the series, but it didn't work out too well. Did Crandall write the feature?
FOX: I don't think so. It could be that a writer created the series and then Crandall was selected to be the artist. They'd put a key writer with a key artist.
JA: So you're starting up a new book with new features. Did Arnold suggest any of the characters?
FOX: No. I don't remember Arnold ever creating a feature and giving it to a writer.
JA: Could it be that Jack Cole might have been asked by Arnold to create a new feature for Police Comics, and then he went home and created "Plastic Man"?
FOX: I think you're coming close to it there. Arnold selected all the features we published.
JA: I notice you did the early covers on most of the comics you edited. Why was that?
FOX: We had that system before I got there. The editors did the covers in-house. I'd do a rough and submit it to Arnold for approval. Arnold always approved the covers.
JA: So that's why Jack Cole didn't do the early Plastic Man covers, even though he created the character.
FOX: Yes. Jack had his hands full writing and drawing. He lived close to the center of town. You could walk to it. Arnold told me that Cole had missed his deadline, which was bad because he was doing the lead feature. Arnold asked me to go to Cole's house and see what the problem was.
I walked up the wooden steps, onto the porch, and rang the doorbell. There was a bay window on my right. I kept ringing the bell and nobody answered. I knocked and nobody answered. And as I turned away, I sensed someone was in that bay window watching me. I'm sure it was Jack. We were social friends and all, but he avoided me. I went back to the office and we got him on the phone and settled the deadline. He was strange that way, so he wasn't about to do the covers. So I did those early ones. In fact, I have a thing going on with DC right now. They reprinted nine of my covers and paid me $75.
JA: How did you find out that "Plastic Man" was selling Police Comics, and not "Firebrand"?
FOX: Arnold had contacts and could find that stuff out.
JA: Fred Guardineer did "The Mouthpiece" in Police. Any memories of him?
FOX: He was almost like a military man. A very precise person. Nice-looking guy. Even at Chesler's, his work was far advanced. I believe he had a formal education, and he wrote his own stuff at Chesler's and for me.
JA: Johnny Devlin did humor fillers for Police and other comics. And he was the first editor Arnold had.
FOX: He was a very professional cartoonist. A total pro. He had a big syndicate feature before comics and was an older man. Devlin was good friends with Arnold. I went to his funeral.
JA: Who created "The Barker"?
FOX: Klaus Nordling. He did the whole thing. I did the character later, covers and interiors. Nordling was a little guy. Good-looking. And involved in local theatre. He had a very vivid imagination and was a good writer. In later years I'd send some work in his direction. But if you did something for him, he'd think you wanted something back. We got to know each other socially, but he still mistrusted people. Even me. But I admired his cartooning. And he was a great guy to sit and talk to.
JA: What's the story behind the "Midnight" character Jack Cole originated?
FOX: Since Eisner was going into the service, they needed a Spirit-type feature in case something happened to Eisner. That was Arnold's idea, according to Eisner. It was for protection.
JA: Why did Reed Crandall take over "The Ray"?
FOX: Lou was probably getting too busy. I don't remember how Crandall came to the company, but it was the same as Lou Fine: You were shocked the first time you'd see his work, it was so good. Crandall was pleasant and easy to talk to.
JA: You had a feature called "Madame Fatal"-about a guy who disguises himself as an old lady to fight crime. Did anyone ever make a comment about having a cross-dressing hero in those not-so-politically-correct times?
FOX: Art Panajian did that one. I don't remember anyone saying anything about it. Panajian freelanced at home and mailed it in, so I never got to know him.
JA: I notice that the policy of the editor doing all the covers changed.
FOX: We started expanding and I got too busy.
JA: What was it like doing covers while Lou Fine was doing the interiors of the same character?
FOX: I never thought about it, and I would have frightened myself into total paralysis if I had. I'd have been thinking about Lou looking at that stuff. [laughs] I'm amazed that I got so far into straight stuff, because I liked doing humor more. I was doing those covers because it would have taken away the time Lou needed to do the interiors. And I think I was coming up with good covers to help sell the magazines.
IX. Fine Tuning
JA: Then Lou Fine started doing covers. Your idea?
FOX: That would have been Arnold's idea. It was a smart idea.
JA: Did anyone art-direct the costume designs of the characters?
FOX: The artists usually did that, but Arnold may have made suggestions.
JA: When did Lou Fine leave Eisner and work for Quality directly?
FOX: Arnold went to the New York studio, and Fine was working for Eisner. He had Fine spotted. Arnold told Eisner to give him a raise. Two weeks later, Arnold asked Lou if he had gotten a raise. Lou said, "No." Arnold said, "Come see me in Stamford." He gave him good money and that's when the change happened. Fine took an apartment and I got to know him socially. Kotzky was in that studio, and so was Belfi.
JA: Fine continued to work on The Spirit, even in Connecticut. Could he have been doing that for Arnold since Eisner was in the service?
FOX: That sounds about right.
JA: You mentioned that Lou Fine was very political-minded....
FOX: Oh, yes. And so am I. I'm very conservative in my politics, and Lou was very liberal. I had so much respect and love for Lou. He was a wonderful human being, so I didn't get too deep into political discussion with him, because Lou could get heated up. Lou was normally a very quiet guy.
JA: In those days, if you were very liberal, you were considered to be a Communist.
FOX: Well, there was that problem. But Lou had a lot of common sense. I would say he was more a socialist.
JA: How did you meet him?
FOX: I saw the first pages he sent in to us. I was completely bowled over by his ability. I told myself I had to meet him. I remember when Lou and his wife Mary came up to look for an apartment in Stamford. And my wife Helen immediately liked Mary. Mary said, "We've got this big apartment, and there's so much to clean!" Helen went to the Fines' new apartment and washed the walls for Mary. After that, Mary was crazy about Helen. We became close social friends. Mary had a heart condition and later died from it.
I remember when Lou met his second wife. He liked her and I said, "Get a little more serious, then." They got married and both already had teenage children [by previous marriages]. Lou was making good money and they had a nice, big house. The children didn't get along, so what did Lou do? He bought a house just like his and she moved in there. Lou lived with his kids and she lived with hers and they were very happy together. He solved the problem!
Lou had polio as a child and one leg was shorter than the other. He walked with a limp and wore a built-up shoe on the game leg. But Lou worked out and had a big top [torso]. I think it was to compensate for that leg. That leg had a lot to do with his ability. Lou told me that he couldn't go out and play with the other kids, so he sat in the house and read books and learned how to draw.
JA: Was Fine a good parent?
FOX: Oh, yeah. His son Elliot went to school in London. He took care of his son.
JA: You mentioned that Fine was a quiet person. If you had a problem, how did you handle it?
FOX: Professionally? He'd talk up. He never had a problem with Arnold. Arnold was a very fair man.
JA: Was Fine using the Japanese brushes when you met him?
FOX: He was. Eisner started that, but Lou eventually switched over to a regular brush. His pencils were loose with a lot of construction lines. When he inked, he'd pick out the right line and detail with the brush. He didn't do thumbnails. Now, Cole's pencils were a little tighter. My pencils were extremely tight.
JA: When Fine drew The Spirit, he drew the goofiest hat on him.
FOX: We used to laugh at that. I don't know why, he couldn't draw that hat right. We never said anything to Lou about it, but Eisner knew.
JA: Kotzky and Belfi said that when they worked for Fine, he'd never criticize them for their immature work, even when they deserved it.
FOX: I believe that. Lou was such a wonderful man. I get all choked up when I think about him.
JA: Fine seemed more interested in drawing than storytelling.
FOX: It's true. Eisner used to look over his shoulder and make comments about it. Lou was still developing as a storyteller. As time went on, he really sharpened that skill.
When I was doing humor illustrations for the Hearst supplement, The American Weekly, I walked in one day and saw all this black-&-white art all over the place. Big name artists, too. I asked the editor, "Can you use another black-&-white illustrator?" He said he could, and in went Lou.
In the first twelve weeks he did eleven illustrations. So now Lou was doing illustrations. And I was amazed at how conscious he was about texture. When he drew leather, by God, that was leather!
JA: It's amazing that Fine had that lyrical drawing style with sweeping brush lines, yet he was able to completely change from that style. He became a different artist.
FOX: "Lyrical" fits that work. But by simple osmosis and progression, he moved into a better, more contemporary style. Fine was influenced by Leyendecker, Al Dorne, John R. Neill, and Henrich Kley. One day, we were sitting in Lou's living home, and he showed me a book of Andrew Wyeth's watercolors, then showed me his paintings. I saw ten of them and they were superior to anything you'd see around.
Later, Lou worked for Johnstone and Cushing and became their top artist. Around 1950 Lou hooked up with a fast-talking artist whose name we won't mention. They made an arrangement for a partnership.
I was playing badminton in Garden City and I ran into a radio soap opera writer. He told me he knew about an artist who had a partner. And his guy was doing very well. I asked, "How well?" And he told me this guy had a big house and two Cadillacs. I went back to Lou and asked him what his split was with his partner. Lou said, "50-50." I asked, "How much did you make last year?" Lou said, "Twenty thousand." I told him to check that out, because if Mary knew about it, she'd have killed his partner. Lou's partner was making $100,000. So the partnership didn't last. I had to tell him the truth. Lou never got angry. He'd let Mary do that for him.
Lou would get that sad smile on his face and not say anything. There was a time when Mary was not happy with Will Eisner. She said something to him once, too.
JA: How long did Fine stay at Johnstone and Cushing?
FOX: Two years at the most. Lou was getting their key accounts. After Fine broke up with that partner, he freelanced. I got him a job at American Bankers. The art director, Don Cronin, ran an ad in the paper looking for an artist so I went to see him. We discovered we had been in the same division together during the war. I couldn't handle all the work and I looked around and asked, "Can you use a good straight man?" He said, "Sure." And so I got Lou in. Cronin loved Lou and they became good friends. And, because we had been in the service together, Don loved me.
Lou and his new wife went to the American Legion club with my wife and me. They staged a play and Don comes out in this new bathing suit singing "Coney Island Baby." Lou was looking at him, then me, and started laughing. He really enjoyed that. Lou got a lot of work from Cronin. He also had many side accounts and was probably making about thirty grand a year, which was good money back then.
Lou also did a couple newspaper strips: Peter Scratch, which was written by Elliot Caplin, Al Capp's brother, and Adam Ames. Caplin knew nothing about art. He was writing soap opera strips and I asked him if he wanted the best artist in the country. "Who is he?" I said, "Stan Drake." I called Stan and gave him Elliot's phone number. Elliot was impressed and asked if he wanted to work with his brother Al. Stan said, "I don't want to be an assistant. I want a strip." Elliot showed Stan's work to Al, and Al said, "Don't let this guy get away." The next time Stan saw him, Elliot's attitude was different and they worked up a strip. They sold it in two weeks. The strip was The Heart of Juliet Jones.
JA: What did Lou Fine die of?
FOX: A heart attack. The family found heart drugs in the cabinet. They didn't know he had that problem. None of us did.
X. Still More Men of Quality
JA: Let's talk about some of the people you knew at Quality. Like Al Bryant.
FOX: He was a nice, quiet guy. He looked like Gregory Peck. He was good on deadlines. We were quite shocked when he had a nervous breakdown. We were based in New York then. He was gone for a couple of months and Arnold talked him into coming back to work in the studio, which was good for Al. He seemed sad but we never asked him about it. We figured that he'd be okay, but he wasn't. Al killed himself by driving into an abutment on the Grand Central Parkway after the war.
JA: Martin DeMuth.
FOX: He was an older man. He lettered without ruling. It astounded me! The only guy who topped him was Ben Oda, who didn't work for me.
I remember one time stopping over to see Alex Kotzky. He worked in the attic and I went up to see him. Kotzky was like a radio. He talked while he worked. About one a.m., there's a knock on the attic door and in comes Ben Oda. I said, "What the hell you doing here this late?" Kotzky said, "Tell Gill what you do." Oda said, "I work around the clock. When I stop, I go to sleep." Oda's family helped him letter and he did a lot of work.
JA: Tony Di Preta.
FOX: Tony came into the Quality studio when he was eighteen. He was very good, so we put him to work. He took the lettering off my shoulders, and he got good enough at drawing that we put him on features. Years later, I recommended him for the Rex Morgan newspaper strip, which he got.
JA: Robin King.
FOX: He was the son of a TV personality. Robin was one of our good inkers.
JA: Elmer Wexler.
FOX: A very good straight artist from Bridgeport. He also worked for Johnstone and Cushing. Very meticulous artist. A Marine officer who was very tough. He could knock you out. He's a house designer who can build houses.
JA: Alden McWilliams.
FOX: He was very responsible and never missed his deadlines. He did a lot of beautiful work for us, pencils and inks. A very tight penciler. We always gave him war stories. He could draw ships and seas like no one else. You could almost hear the "ping" on a submarine when he drew them. He was a descendant of John Alden. A very quiet man who was a top kick in Intelligence during World War II. A week before the Americans moved into Paris, the French maquis took them underground. They went into the city that way and Alden told me, "I stood underground in the middle in Paris, and four feet over my head I saw the jackboots of the German sentries."
His ability stopped below the top and was influenced by Alex Raymond. He did the Twin Earths newspaper strip.
JA: Alex Kotzky.
FOX: A wonderful guy. The strongest character and best person I ever knew. Kotzky was the hardest worker I ever saw. A terrific artist. He worked seven days and nights a week. He was Ukrainian but was born here. He was living with his aunt and had a problem with her so he packed up and left. He never went back. He was a very good friend all my life.
JA: Did he have a problem with his parents?
FOX: I don't know what happened. He was bitter about how the Communists had treated his parents when they lived in the Ukraine. It was very apparent that he had talent, even at a young age. Kotzky had an art background. He shared a studio with Lou Fine and started out assisting him. He developed very quickly and was soon doing features like "Manhunter." He was doing covers. Kotzky also did "Plastic Man." He later worked for Eisner, did ad work, and then Apartment 3G. He also ghosted Steve Canyon for Milt Caniff.
Kotzky was a slow worker. His wife told me, "For 35 years, he hasn't left that attic." He was an outgoing personality with a great sense of humor.
JA: Al Stahl did "Flatfoot Burns" for you, among other humor features.
FOX: [laughs] Now there's a character! Every time I mention Al, I have to smile. I met him at Fleischer's. A maneuverer. World War II started, and because he was classified 1-A, Al knew he was going to get called into service. He didn't want to go. I was still editor at this point, and six months after he left, Al walked into the office. I said, "I thought you were still in the service."
He said, "I was, but I got out. I figured it out. Because of my background, they put me in the Signal Corps. You have to climb poles. So I got to the top of the pole and yelled out, "I can't move! I'm afraid! I can't move! I can't come down!" They had to go up and take him down.
"It worked!" It was typical Al. He was a helluva cartoonist. And he's still working! He's kind of nuts and a lot of fun. A great cartoonist who knows how to make a buck. Anything he does is good. And he wrote his own stuff.
JA: Andre LeBlanc.
FOX: Now, there you got an artist. When Kotzky became ill, he jumped in and did Apartment 3G. He also did Intellectual Amos. When you met him, you couldn't help but like him.
JA: When did he help Kotzky? Was this near the end of his life?
FOX: No. This was the first time Kotzky had problems. He was on dialysis because he had a kidney problem. He was on the machine for about a year and a half. One day the doctor walked in and said, "I've never seen anything like this. You've completely recovered." Kotzky and Andre were both very religious men, and Andre covered for him on 3G. I don't remember what Andre did for us, but whatever it was, it was good. He even illustrated the Bible!
JA: Bob Powell.
FOX: I knew him fairly well. He lived on Long Island and ran a studio. They turned out a tremendous amount of work. Powell could take command. Powell and his wife introduced me to competitive badminton. I was heavily into it for 28 years and was the state champion for my age group.
He had an outgoing personality, always laughing and smiling. He did one strange thing. When Powell found out he had cancer and was dying, he called up everybody and said goodbye.
JA: Chuck Cuidera.
FOX: A great guy. Outgoing as hell. He was the major creator of "Blackhawk." His work had more warmth to it than Crandall's. He wasn't too happy with Eisner, but they made up before Chuck passed away.
JA: Tex Blaisdell.
FOX: A good artist. He did great backgrounds. In fact, I remember Stan Drake showing me the first Juliet Jones strips, and Blaisdell did a beautiful job on the backgrounds. He was a drinker and an easy-going guy.
JA: William A. Smith.
FOX: He was a husky guy. Very serious person. His stuff was beautiful and his research was incredible. He went beyond all of the other artists. Smith went into illustration and became a name.
JA: Bill Ward.
FOX: I didn't know him too well, but I took over his "Torchy" feature. He did some "Blackhawk" work. It amazed me he could shift from straight stuff to humor. The one thing that puzzled me was that he started doing the girly stuff for cheap men's magazines and quit developing as an artist.
Ward created, wrote, and drew "Torchy." I took over because he was busy on other stuff. I did a lot of "Torchy," pencils and inks. I had tried to avoid doing a whole book, but Arnold nailed me on that. Gwen Hansen wrote it for me. She was a college graduate with good bearing. Very pretty. She surprised me with all the double meanings she put into the strip.
JA: Bob Fujitani.
FOX: A helluvan artist. A good-looking guy. Arnold found him. Arnold was scouting football players for Brown University, saw Bob's brother there, recruited him for the school, and got to know Bob, too. Bob worked on "Uncle Sam," "Doll Man," and other features for Quality. He started out working for Will Eisner's shop but soon branched out on his own for us and other companies. Bob also did Flash Gordon for Dan Barry for a long time.
JA: You haven't spoken much about Reed Crandall. You didn't get to know him very well, did you?
FOX: No, I didn't. He didn't spend much time at the offices, though Arnold sure thought a lot of him. Crandall, of course, was one of our top artists, but he kept to himself as far as I could see. I heard he liked to drink, but I never saw any indication of that in the few times I actually saw him at the Quality offices. His work was just terrific, and he helped make Blackhawk one of our best books.
JA: When did Quality move back to New York?
FOX: I was drafted while in Stamford and helped set the New York office up before I left. I commuted from Stamford. I started doing a two-page filler called "Poison Ivy." It began to get hot. I remember Henry Martin [an associate of Busy Arnold] leaning on a doorjamb and saying to me, "Can you do some dailies so we can syndicate it?" It was a dream! But then I was classified 1-A for military service and had to give it up. We'd even talked about it being a comic book. The breaks in this business are very strange.
Because comics weren't considered an "essential" job, like some others were, I knew I was going to go when a national "Work or Fight" order was announced. I didn't want to go. I quit being editor in the middle of 1943 and started working on farms in Connecticut. I did that for about six months and got in great shape. But it didn't make any difference. I went into the Army anyway.
JA: When you worked on the farm, did you continue to work for Quality?
FOX: I was tired at the end of the day, but I continued to do features for Arnold. George Brenner became editor when I left. That was my suggestion, because he was tough and could handle it. He wouldn't take any crap off anybody. John Beardsley had already started doing some editing for us but George was the main guy. Beardsley didn't stay too long after that.
(You've only read part of the Gill Fox interview. For the full story, be sure to order ALTER EGO #12)
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