Orlando's Weird Adventures
Interview with that man of mystery, the late Joe Orlando
Conducted by & © Jon B. Cooke
Book Artist #1
This interview was conducted via telephone on February 19, 1998.
It was copy-edited by Joe.
COMIC BOOK ARTIST: You started at DC as a freelance artist
JOE ORLANDO: I was drawing "The Inferior Five" and
I became friends with Carmine Infantino. He was sharing an office
with Jack Miller and I was delivering my work to Jack, who was editor
of Swing with Scooter and The Inferior Five.
CBA: You had primarily worked for EC beforehand?
Joe: Yes, I was working for Mad magazine as an artist and previously
I had been doing Science-fiction and Horror material for EC. I enjoyed
doing all types of material, though my favorite was Science-fiction.
CBA: How come you came over and did work for National? You
were doing less work for EC?
Joe: E. Nelson Bridwell was working as an assistant editor
at DC and was submitting material as a freelancer to Mad. I had illustrated
some of Nelson's material; he liked my art enough that when they were
looking for an artist to do "The Inferior Five"-Nelson's
creation-he suggested that I do it and I was happy to oblige.
CBA: Did you aspire to become an editor?
Joe: I had been freelancing for 16 years and although I was
successful, it was a tough way of making a living. I found myself
working seven days a week, 16 hours a day. When you're freelancing,
you don't want to turn anything down or you might lose a client. So
you keep on taking all the jobs offered. Juggling deadlines, stressing
out and never taking a vacation, I found that I was very happy to
take an editorial job at DC. In the early Jim Warren issues of Creepy,
I was the story editor and I liked it. So when Carmine asked if I'd
work at DC as an editor, I considered it. He asked me before it was
known that he was to become the Editorial Director, so I wasn't sure
if he was pulling my leg. Fortunately, he had confided in somebody
else about his promotion and I heard about it through a fellow artist.
When he asked me the second time, I was sure he was serious. Now I
knew this was a serious offer and I jumped at it.
CBA: When the initial offer came through, was it for you to
edit a specific number of books? Dick said the agreement was for eight
Joe: I think it was seven or eight books, but half of them
were reprints. So our workload wasn't as heavy as it looks. I proved
myself as an editor and they gave me more books and an assistant.
Then I was putting out 13 or 14 books.
CBA: Mark Hanerfeld was your first assistant?
Joe: Yes, I was sorry when he decided to leave, and then Paul
Levitz came along, who became my best assistant.
CBA: And Allen Asherman was your assistant, too?
Joe: Yes. Very dedicated.
CBA: Did Carmine express to you his philosophy about having
artists as editors?
Joe: We certainly discussed that aspect of editorial and in
looking back, many times we were asked to do impossible things by
writer/editors who had no sense of the visual-to do things that wouldn't
work and have to argue our way out of it. We just thought that as
artists, we would do a better job working with talent. We did meet
with a lot of resistance when we got up at DC.
CBA: From who? The writer/editors?
Joe: Yes, and some of the freelance writers. There was this
clique at DC. Every editor, for some reason, had acquired a clone,
the freelance writer who got most of the work out of that editor.
That writer acquired a lot of authority and could influence the editor
as to whether you worked or not, sometimes acting as editor. I think
it had become a very exclusive club, that after a time was not meeting
the market needs.
CBA: Were you aware of the writers' movement which demanded
health benefits from the company?
Joe: No, I had no knowledge of it, though later I became aware
of the movement. I believe I worked with anyone who had talent and
filled my needs.
One of the first books I got to edit was Stanley and His Monster
and in the beginning, I decided to change it into three short stories
instead of one issue-length story, after I read a few issues. I realized
that it took 24 pages to get one joke. So I made up my mind that it
was going to be three eight-pagers with good premises ending up with
a good payoff to a good joke. I wanted to use Arnold Drake because
I understood that Arnold made considerable contributions to the development
of that book and I felt I owed him-but I was told that he was in Europe.
I waited as my deadline got closer and closer and it led to my famous
fight up there with Arnold that kind of made my reputation as a character.
Arnold returned to the States-I had never met him-but when I did,
he came across as a pushy guy who acted like he owned the place. He
was friends with all the staff, and on a first name basis with the
publisher. I was really pissed by this time as I had only three weeks
to the deadline and I didn't have a script which I had to get to an
artist. I kept sending telegrams to Arnold, but I never got answers.
When I complained, I was told, "No, no. You have to wait for
Arnold." So when he walked into my office, I tried not to insult
him, but I did premise the idea of doing three short stories that
would speed up the creative process and give me the opportunity to
divide the scripts among three artists, so I would have my chance
to make my deadline. We argued and he pointed his finger at me and
said, "I say that it's going to be one 24-page story!" I
looked at him and said, "You're really saying that?" And
he said, "Absolutely!" I said, "You know that I am
the editor." And he said, "And I don't care who you are-
you don't know who I am." I said, "Okay. Arnold Drake, go
f*ck yourself because you're off the book." Arnold was taken
aback. "You're telling me I'm fired? You know, I'm going to the
Publisher! I've been here for twenty years!" So Arnold stormed
into the Publisher's office.
CBA: To Leibowitz's office?
Joe: No, Irwin Donenfeld's. (Carmine hired me, Leibowitz interviewed
me, and Irwin Donenfeld gave me a cover test-guess which cover sold
the most? Carmine told me that I did not impress Donenfeld, but that
he had told Donenfeld that he was sticking by me.)
CBA: What I'm really trying to get at is the concept of "Artist
as Editor." You and Dick Giordano in creative ways did some really
innovative and good books.
Joe: To Carmine's credit, he always gave me projects he knew
I could handle. He gave me complete freedom and then he pushed me
to the limit._
So, Arnold storms down to the Publisher's office and I was called
in. The Publisher is sitting there with his advisors who were the
print buyers, distribution reps, and the V.P. was there. All eyes
were upon me and I was on the spot. I knew that if I did not impress
Donenfeld this time, I was through. Arnold was sitting there with
his arms crossed and a smug smile across his face with his hat on.
He always wore his hat in the office (I think it was because he had
a bald spot). Donenfeld looked at me and said, "Joe, did you
tell Arnold to go f*ck himself?" I said that I did and he said,
"Well, I don't think that kind of language should be used in
an office. It's terrible, deplorable and you should apologize to Arnold."
I said, "Well, did Arnold tell you the reasons why I got so angry?"
I told them and when my explanation didn't go over too well, he said,
"You work that out with Arnold." And that told me right
away that I couldn't fire the guy. I said, "With all due respect,
I will apologize to Arnold if he takes his hat off." I went on
to say that because in a million years I would never walk into your
office with a hat on my head. I would have it in my hand. Some giggling
started and Arnold made a lame joke that he had the hat on because
he was Jewish, but then came the silence. Arnold looked at the Publisher
and said, "Irwin, do you want me to take my hat off?" Irwin
said, "Take your hat off." And I said, "I apologize
for telling you to go f*ck yourself, Arnold." I knew that I had
made a hit with Irwin because that night I had a date with a really
gorgeous lady. I was trying to impress her, and we were sitting in
this restaurant and the waiter comes over with a bottle of champagne
and says, "Mr. Orlando, we are honored to have a famous cartoonist
like yourself eat here. The champagne is compliments of the house."
Even I was impressed, then I looked across the way from where we were
sitting and there was Irwin in a booth. He winked and gave me the
high sign. The lady did not see this-she was very impressed.
CBA: Dick Giordano was Donenfeld's last hire and you were
Carmine's first hire. But Dick says that you were in the office a
couple of weeks before he was.
Joe: Well, I was freelance so I was able to come on board immediately.
I never quit Mad. I was still working for them and the only reason
I later stopped working for them was because I had gotten a divorce
around that time. My "ex" worked at Mad. Bill Gaines, bless
his soul, was so good to artists, but he was even more solicitous
of his staff. It seems that I annoyed my ex-wife when I delivered
my work so I was asked to deliver my work through the mail room. I
felt really stupid, and they would whistle me in when her door was
closed, and I would sneak into Feldstein's office. After a while I
just couldn't take that crap and I quit.
CBA: Did the freelance work include advertising?
Joe: Some advertising work: Storyboards, illustration. I worked
very hard-the divorce wiped me out financially.
CBA: You did a lot less drawing when you took the _position
Joe: Yes. I became involved in my job and Carmine and I became
very good friends, and we still are. In the course of our friendship
we discussed our philosophy of comics and what we thought about them,
how they should be done, and why DC was taking second place to Marvel.
It seems that the editors at DC were so institutionalized, coming
off all of these wonderful accomplishments-taking credit for the invention
of the super-hero and maintaining it, and acting like no one else
could do a super-hero as well as they did. DC had sued Fawcett over
Captain Marvel and won. They felt invincible. During the industry
criticism of EC for wrecking the business, they never bothered to
read EC, and reacted to what they read in the papers. They were getting
their asses kicked in by Marvel at the newsstands and they were not
reading the Marvel books-never analyzing or _trying to figure out
what the competition was doing. They treated their competitor with
total contempt. You would talk to these people and they wouldn't know
what was going on in the business except at DC Comics. The editors
had this great little gentleman's club: Every day a two-hour lunch,
they wore leather patches on the elbows of their tweed jackets, sucked
on empty pipes, and debated the liberal issues of that day. There
was this contempt for the artist by this exclusive club of writers
and editors; artists were replaceable.
CBA: You had a reputation as a practical joker.
Joe: When you come off of 16 years of freelancing, getting
paid for having ideas and being able to make them into reality -it
was like a vacation for me! I could take a day off to nurse a cold-you
don't do that when you're freelancing. It was a dream come true and
I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had all of these wonderful artists and
writers, willing to work with me, and was having a great time. Practical
jokes? Sure, it was part of the fun-my "Mad" sense of humor.
CBA: The books seemed to reflect that you were having a good
time-they were good.
Joe: Angel and the Ape! Carmine and I would work till 9 or
10 at night, after everybody at DC was gone, and we'd go over the
pencils, and we would rewrite the dialogue. Look at the first issue:
Bob Oksner's drawings are brilliant, the pacing is wonderful. We were
having fun writing the gibberish of the Ape that only made sense when
you read Angel's replies. We would think up a good line and laugh
our heads off.
CBA: With House of Mystery, was it your idea to do a take
on the old EC books?
Joe: Carmine gave me the book and I remember that I drew the
first cover from Carmine's layout and I only had ten new pages to
work with-the rest were old stories that I had to reprint. I had ten
pages to make it look like a new offering. I read the stories and
most of them were 1940s hokey. I had to use the old stuff because
of budget. I decided that I would use one page to present a new character
that would introduce the book, which is, of course, from my many discussions
with Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein. I knew that they had gotten their
idea for hosts from the old radio shows. For House of Mystery, I used
the host to make fun of the story. I'd say, "Wait until you get
to the ending of this piece of drek," referring to the reprint.
[laughs] You know that if you sit in the movies for an hour and a
half and the payoff turns out to be crap, you get angry. You're not
angry because you stayed an hour and a half because it was entertaining
up until that point; you're angry because the build-up was fine, but
the payoff was crap. Rather than get the readers angry after they
had read five pages of a story that turns out to be predictable crap,
I would make fun of the payoff so it made the reader feel as smart
as the host.
CBA: What do you think made the books sell?
Joe: The host character's attitude and the covers.
CBA: Did you seek out Neal Adams for the covers?
Joe: Yes, I sought Neal. Bill Gaines told me a long time ago
that the best-selling covers he had published were ones that depicted
boys in danger. He got the idea from an illustration in Mark Twain's
Tom Sawyer where Tom was in a graveyard and witness to a murder. That
concept, in many different ways, worked over and over again. Neal
did the best covers for House of Mystery. Many times he would walk
in with a sketch that he had thought up himself and I would often
get a story written for the sketch. It was a fun way to work-to have
that kind of rapport with artists, writers, and creative director.
CBA: Did you guys collaborate on the covers?
Joe: It depended. Sometimes I would come in with the idea and
other times the artist would. Once we were working together, I couldn't
tell you now who did what. Some covers I remember-like the one with
the boy under the bed with water around was all-Neal. The guy running
who looks like half-man, half-bat was all-Bernie Wrightson. At this
point, it was a bunch of guys who understood each other and I was
the point man. They knew that I would be receptive and since my sales
were good, I could go to Carmine and get almost anything by that was
CBA: For a while there, you got Gothic in your covers, with
women fleeing the castle. You went totally Gothic-you even started
Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love, Gothics in novel-length comic form.
Joe: That's because at that time, the Gothics in the paperback
market were doing so well. I studied the covers on the paperbacks
and they always had the woman in the foreground, a sinister guy pursuing
them, and a house or castle in the background with always one window
lit. So that was a formula I used.
CBA: So that formula took off?
Joe: Not as well as they should have because they were supposed
to replace Romance comics before they were dropped. I edited Heart
Throbs and Young Romance. After you read a Romance comic, you realized
that the number one thing was that the male was always the answer
to a girl's happiness. It was the farm girl coming to the city for
a nice job and meeting a successful executive or an artist or a musician,
and they live happily ever after. I started to play around with these
basic concepts. Mike Sekowsky, who was a very good Romance artist,
wouldn't work on one of my Romance scripts because the premise was
too political. I had a romance going on between a liberal young teacher
with a '60s counter-culture attitude and a hard-nosed right wing street
cop. I started to create new kinds of characters for the Romance books
playing with class and educational differences. I would define the
characters, premise the story without coming up with an ending, and
hand this to a writer. I started to address ethnic differences in
Romance comics and was thinking about trying to do an interracial
romance. I was also working on getting eroticism in the Romance comics
besides just the big kiss payoff. Touchy-feely scenarios like our
now-more-assertive '60s heroine running her foot up a guy's leg, under
the table, while her boyfriend is sitting there at the table with
them-the scene caused the artist to return the script.
I remember having a somewhat vulgar conversation, I can't remember
with whom, but it was about editorial. The gist was that this was
the '60s and what the hell can be _written about romance? You think
these girls believe that bells ring when true love happens? They're
f*cking in _grammar school, so how can we sell them Romance stories?
The Binky books became the "girl's" books. At the time,
Archie comics were really selling, and Carmine came to me and said,
"Joe, do you want to take them on? We've got to do something!
You used to do Binky." And you know the Binky style-I drew Binky
in the old style-which was semi-realistic and not the Archie-style
of drawing. Having grown up reading about the pulps and that it was
a business where one publisher would get a good idea and everyone
else jumps on the trend, I studied the Archie books and noticed that
they weren't any different than the Binky books except for being drawn
differently. So I said, "We'll do Binky Archie books!" I
hired Stan Goldberg and we shared the same writers as Archie comics.
Our characters weren't as strong as Archie because I really didn't
spend the time thinking about them the way I should have, but as far
as I was concerned, this was a quick in-and-out operation to make
fast money. I analyzed the colors they used in their masthead, the
lettering style and the art style and I duplicated them for Binky.
Binky jumped on the Archie bandwagon and sold like crazy! 80-90 per
cent sales on a print run. It got to the point where the publisher
of Archie called up Leibowitz and started yelling, "You tell
Orlando to stop using our red and blue in the Binky logo!" [laughs]
I laughed when Carmine told me about that call, thinking what a great
Supreme Court case it would make: "Archie Comics sues DC Comics
over the use of the colors red and blue."
CBA: Did something bad happen to the Binky books when they
went to 15¢?
Joe: I don't think it was the price-we were getting 80 percent
sales and then one day they came in at 30. The next month it was 20.
This was strange and nobody in the office knew why. At first we all
sat around thinking the figures were a mistake but they weren't. I
still can't figure why all in one month thousands of readers decided
not to buy Binky anymore. The bottom just fell out of the Binky books,
sales just stopped, and they were dropped. The Mystery books kept
on selling, so it must have been the subject matter.
CBA: Did you get Howie Post over to work on Anthro?
Joe: I loved working with Howie. He went up to see Carmine
with his idea, and Carmine said, "I have the right editor for
you." I was always the lucky guy because I was the one chosen
to do the new projects and work with new people. He came up with this
wonderful idea that I loved, Anthro. The premise was the fight between
a prehistoric father and son. I had been reading an author by the
name of Vardis Fisher who wrote a history of mankind in fictionalized
form, and I loved those stories and I jumped at the chance to edit
Anthro. The Anthro stories had a great sense of humor and a lot of
prehistoric reality. DC should reprint that book. It's timeless.
CBA: Another book that demands reprinting is Bat Lash. Was
that created by committee?
Joe: It ended up that way. The first story was written by Shelly
Mayer and Carmine didn't like it. Carmine's idea was a tough Western
gunfighter with a gentleman's soul who liked good food, flowers and
women. So we both rewrote the premise and then I turned it over to
Dennis O'Neil for the final rewrite. After that I used Sergio Aragonés
to lay out the plots and Denny would dialogue it over Nick Cardy's
CBA: Was it your idea to do it more realistic than how it
came out? Your house ads had a grim "Spaghetti Western"
look to them.
Joe: Carmine came up with that ad-before we knew _what the
book would look like. A lot of gimmicks came from my favorite Italian
movie, Big Deal on Madonna Street, where the characters spend hours
busting through a wall in a weekend robbery and breaking through into
a kitchen where, being Italian, the thieves check the refrigerator
and sit down and taste the pasta and beans, like it, and eat instead
of rob. In another scene, Marcello Mastrioni steals a camera using
a fake broken arm cast hanging from his neck, using his real arm to
steal the camera. This gave me the idea for a Bat Lash opening splash:
Bat Lash's enemies are outside a saloon where Bat is trapped. He has
two broken arms wrapped in casts; he cannot defend himself, so they
think. But he comes out and blasts them because he had two sawed-off
shotguns in his casts strapped to his arms! The Code made me take
that out because they ruled that I was showing young people how to
commit a robbery.
CBA: Did you have a lot of trouble with the Code?
Joe: We would have negotiations over my books all of the time;
one of the pleasures I derived from editing was to test the Code's
rules. I would come up with story ideas that, to give you one example,
would depict this man totally beaten to a pulp, pieces of flesh falling
off, and then it would turn out to be a robot. I could then argue
with the Code, "It's a machine!"
CBA: You said in an old interview that you weren't particularly
happy with the humor in Bat Lash. Still feel that way?
Joe: It was beautifully drawn by Nick Cardy but he pushed it
more to the humor than to the straight. He tipped it a bit too much
for my taste. He would focus too much on the humorous side of characters
and stray from the main storyline.
CBA: You had Sergio Aragonés work on the book. Did
you get him over from Mad?
Joe: Sergio and I were friends from back in the Mad days and
if you look in those old Mad issues, we were second-stringers in a
way, getting one-pagers and only once in a while one of us would get
a feature. We both felt that we were getting passed by and not getting
the kind of material that we knew we could do. So we were buddies
in misery. When I got the job at DC it was Sergio who came visiting
me saying, "Well, Joe, how about some work?" So I thought
about how I could use Sergio. Maybe he came up with the idea that
he could plot Romance stories for me. He did and I would have a writer
dialogue them. He went on from there to Mystery stories, Bat Lash,
and of course, Plop!
It was the foresight of a man like Carmine who, number one, hired
me-which allowed me to hire Sergio. Do you think that the old DC publishers
would have hired Sergio Aragonés to draw? Maybe now because
he's a proven winner, but not when I hired him! Would anybody have
hired Sergio Aragonés as a writer? They would look at me like
I was crazy and say, "What, are you crazy?" Did I get that
attitude from Carmine? Absolutely not. Carmine loved Sergio and recognized
his sense of humor and obviously recognized my talents, Dick Giordano's
abilities, Kirby's abilities.
CBA: I received the original sketch of Abel. What made you
base the character on Mark Hanerfeld?
Joe: I started out basing it on the biblical Cain and Abel
but then I turned to the people that were around me. It's just a writer's
trick to take people's personalities and inject them into your characters.
Mark stuttered when he got nervous. He was short and heavy so Abel
was short and heavy. Abel was a good counterpoint to Cain who was
tall and thin.
CBA: How did you get on Brother Power the Geek?
Joe: Carmine called me into his office and told me I was Joe
Simon's editor. Joe had Brother Power the Geek's first issue written
and drawn so I just did the paperwork. I didn't think that it was
my kind of book but it was Joe Simon! Can I give him corrections?!
Not me! Am I going to stand in the way of the man who originated Romance
comics? So Brother Power the Geek did not become the Newsboy Legion
but it was fun working with Joe.
CBA: Was it your idea to revive The Phantom Stranger?
Joe: That I had fun with. Carmine was always looking for things
that had a supernatural premise to give me because in his mind I became
the guy who could make supernatural things work. For a while, the
Mystery books were the best-selling books at DC, better than the super-heroes.
With Neal Adams working on The Phantom Stranger, I could not go wrong.
CBA: What was Mike Sekowsky like?
Joe: Like Jekyll and Hyde; he could be very nice or very mean.
I was very friendly with Mike. When he suggested that he would like
to be an editor, I said, "That sounds like a good idea."
He was intelligent. I went to Carmine and suggested that he think
about Sekowsky as the Wonder Woman editor. I assumed Mike would give
up the penciling when he became Editor. That was not the case. Now
as editor he approved his layouts as finished pencils and handed them
to Giordano to ink. It was too bad, because Mike was a terrific penciler
when he put his mind to it. He was his own worst enemy.
CBA: At one point, you had 17 books. How the heck did you
find time to read anything?
Joe: I gave every story the attention it deserved because I
worked many hours. When you're having fun, hours don't exist. I was
getting weekends off and that was enough for me! I was going in the
office at around 9:30 and staying until 10 or 11:00. Go out to dinner
and go back. Carmine would always be there after I left. Those late
nights were when we would take some stories apart. I would concentrate
intensely on books like Bat Lash, Anthro, and Swamp Thing. The Mystery
books had a big inventory. I would call in a writer (and I was working
with three or four writers at the time and I knew all the cliches).
Jack Oleck would come in with 20 ideas and he would go home with 20
stories to write. I found out that the most important piece of work
an editor can do is not line-edit but idea-edit. At that point, you
have either a good story or a lousy story. We would work through a
full day, bring lunch in, and not stop until I examined every premise
and every character. I would always put a twist on them so if his
character was an 50-year-old man, I'd change it to a woman. If it
was a present-day story, I'd make it 18th century. He would sometimes
scream at me for creating these problems for him but I was making
sure they would be our stories. We'd do this once a month and have
an inventory of 20 stories, just from Jack alone. I worked differently
with each writer, depending on their needs and temperament.
With Mike Fleischer on "The Spectre" sometimes all I did
was come up with the Horror premise; then it was up to Mike to create
the crime that set the premise off. We would come up with the idea
of a guy being turned into a log and then being put into a sawmill
and screams would come from the log as it was being buzz-sawed.
CBA: You've mentioned that you had a real-life incident that
led to those gruesome stories?
Joe: I was living up on the West Side and my wife was eight
months pregnant. We got held up in the daytime. We were pushed up
against the wall of a church and they were kids, about 14. My wife
started to cry and shake and she opened her pocketbook and I gave
them all the money I had in my pocket. Then they walked away so arrogantly,
so slowly that I got incensed that I couldn't do anything about it.
I ran around looking for a cop and I suddenly realized the loneliness
of being a victim. All that anger came out and it clicked with Fleischer's
needs and so we created some nifty Horror stories. Jim Aparo's art
was the greatest for this series.
CBA: With the Code changes, you could use the word "Weird,"
and boy, you used it everywhere!
Joe: I started using the word and Carmine decided that "Weird"
sold anything. Weird War, Weird Western, Weird Worlds, Weird Mystery.
We were pals and would share ideas.
The day that Carmine came in and told me that they had to put ads
in Plop! for the magazine to survive was the day that Plop! died.
It was never understood by the marketing department or the distribution
salesman (who would come around saying, "Joe, what kind of name
is 'Plop! '? That's a terrible name! It sounds like crap!" I'd
say, "That's the idea!").
CBA: Did "The Poster Plague" start the idea for
Joe: No, I bought Steve Skeates' story for one of my Mystery
books. I had the idea to do Plop! I was looking for material at the
time. I remember Carmine, Sergio, and me sitting in Friar Tuck's,
a bar across the street from DC offices, and we were trying to think
of a title for a Humor magazine. We were sitting around drinking and
Sergio suggested the title. Just think of it, there has to be two
other insane people agreeing with him that Plop! is a good title for
a Humor magazine!
Nobody gives Carmine credit for having a sense of humor but he really
does laugh a lot. Carmine always loved the early Mad comic book. All
of us agreed that there was an opening for a satirical comic book.
Carmine negotiated with Bill Gaines (who was our corporate advisor)
that I could try to create a satirical comic book. I had Sergio Aragonés
illustrate "The Poster Plague" in his style, ran it in House
of Mystery, and it was a success. Now I had a direction for Plop!
CBA: What's the idea behind Gaines as a consultant?
Joe: The idea that since he was the publisher of Mad-a fabulous
moneymaker-he was to spread his magic around and help DC create some
CBA: One of the biggest criticisms of Carmine's tenure is
the tendency to cancel books after only six or so issues.
Joe: Do you think he made those decisions by himself? He would
be sitting around with these people who were supposedly advising him
in matters of distribution and business. Carmine was primarily an
artist and he had all these business people telling him what to do.
I think that he was more at ease with artists like me than with businessmen.
CBA: Was Jonah Hex the anti-Bat Lash?
Joe: That was John Albano's concept. He came in with the story
and I contributed to the character as it went on. It's an old idea-Jekyll
and Hyde, Two-Face, a very tried-and-true concept. John and I had
rules about Jonah Hex. You were only supposed to see his face when
he was terrorizing somebody. Ordinarily he would look like a handsome
normal cowboy but people took it over who did not understand that
premise and Hex went around looking like the Phantom of the Opera
all the time. Remember the first story "Welcome to Paradise"?
That was influenced by Shane and you couldn't get across that love
story with the ugly side of his face-it's always in shadow in that
story. It's a visual representation of Cain and Abel; of what we are.
We have our good side and our bad side.
CBA: Suddenly you had all these Filipino artists working for
Joe: I brought them in. I had a really good artist working
for me, Tony DeZuniga. Another reason why I became a good editor is
because I would pay attention to people who couldn't speak English
too well but who could draw. When they showed me their portfolio,
I never told myself that it was going to be too hard to work with
this guy because he's not English-speaking-but I heard that over and
over again from others. That argument, that it's just too much work
and I gotta get home by 5:00 p.m., would not have allowed us to have
Jose Garcia-Lopez. I went down and wrote letters, vouching for him,
had to find a place for him to live. It takes time away from my own
life-but this guy will now do anything for you, will not leave DC
because I'm there, and will not go to Marvel no matter how much they
will pay him-he had a lot of offers-but that's how you get that loyalty
and that's how you get people knocking themselves out for you on books.
I think that Alex Niño was a genius.
CBA: Where did Arthur Suydam come from?
Joe: He's a kid from Jersey. I gave him a script out of my
inventory that he kept for an entire year. He delivered three pages
after one year. They weren't bad but they weren't spectacular. Any
other editor would have thrown him out of the office. I just went
along with it, saying, "Nice to see you," like I'd seen
him just last week. "Are you ready for another script?"
CBA: How seriously did you consider Suydam to take over Swamp
Joe: Very seriously. But it's a whole book and, well, he did
take a year for three pages though he was still in high school. Those
were the chances that I took. To me, I was in the great position of
being able to say, "Well, so I'll write the three pages off."
So I could take those chances.
CBA: You turned Adventure Comics into an anthology book. In
#426, you reached Nirvana.
Joe: I got a lot of criticism for the series "Captain
Fear" because I got dates wrong or something. I was interested
in the Caribbean and Haiti and I wanted to create an Indian hero,
because you know that the Caribe Indians in the Dominican Republic
were decimated through slavery. They tried to get them to work in
the sugar fields and they couldn't. That's when they started bringing
in the Blacks from Africa. The Indians just died off, not only from
disease but also from imprisonment. Using that as a premise, I wanted
to create an Indian hero and it didn't work out too well. The script
didn't work but the art was beautiful.
CBA: You had some great artists working in that run. Alex
Toth, Gil Kane...
Joe: Did you see that story Gil Kane drew where he made fun
of Carmine and me? He put us in the story as evil editors and we thought
that it was funny. We had a good time with that and they were some
very funny drawings.
CBA: Did you give up drawing pretty much when you started
Joe: I would draw once in a while, doing a one-pager in the
Mystery books. And I had a heavy hand with the young artists. I would
tutor them but did nothing with the older artists because they were
already great. I have this strong gift of analyzing work and being
able to tell what is working and what is not. That's why I'm teaching
at the School of Visual Arts.
Everybody, including myself, needs an editor when you deliver your
work because you're just so close to it that you sometimes miss the
obvious. You need an editor who is aware of art as well as writing.
I think that I'm a strong plotter and I have an ear for strong phrases.
I could find things wrong in the scripts and in the art and could
CBA: Did you enjoy your time at DC?
Joe: I loved it.
CBA: What was your greatest joy?
Joe: To see talent bloom. Absolutely. To see a little scared
kid turn into an accomplished artist-to see Bernie Wrightson become
a renowned artist-was something I loved. I also liked getting awards
for my work. I enjoyed that.
The physical layout of DC was encouraging to a lot of ideas and a
lot of interaction with writers and artists was because we had a room
they called the Coffee Shop. We have to give Carmine credit for creating
that one. In it was a coffee machine and a little sandwich machine.
Anytime you wanted to take a break from your office, you went there
and inevitably you would find three or four writers and artists sitting
around a table arguing about a given character or looking for work
or badgering you into making a decision to create something new so
they can work-or giving you an idea. I thought that was wonderful.
It doesn't exist anymore because space is such a premium, but it was
a laboratory for ideas.
CBA: Is the story true that Carmine was out in an afternoon-BOOM-outta
Joe: That's true. He was in the middle of an editorial meeting
with us and I remember him saying that he was going to fire all of
us if we didn't get our books out on time-his usual threat-and he
was called upstairs in the middle of the meeting. Then he came down
and said, "I've been fired." We laughed-a Carmine joke-but
it was true. He took his coat, and left. They said that they would
send his things after him. And he has never set foot on the premises
CBA: Is that being treated fairly?
Joe: At the time I said, "My God, they used a goddamned
meat axe on him."
CBA: You seemed to move into the new regime and continued
to be an important part of the _company.
Joe: I was lucky all the way. I was there at the right time
in the right place. I look back and begin to doubt how much talent
it took. [laughs]
CBA: Did you look on that era as special years?
Joe: Absolutely. It was a true high. I didn't do drugs so doing
those books was like a high for me.
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