|Edited by Jon B. Cooke||Comic Book Artist, Eisner Award winner for "Best Comics-Related Magazine", celebrates the lives and works of great cartoonists, writers and editors from all eras through in-depth interviews, feature articles, and unpublished art.|
The cover to Anthro's first appearance in Showcase #74. ©1968 DC Comics.
Country Boy from the City
Howard Post spins yarns about comics and Anthro
Conducted by Jon B. CookeFrom Comic Book Artist #5
Hey, what did I know about Howard Post? Not much, that's for sure. I knew he wrote and drew a syndicated strip called The Dropouts for umpteen years, worked at New York City's School of Visual Arts (teaching on staff alongside Carmine Infantino, Sal Amendola, and the late Joe Orlando), and of course, he was the creator/writer/artist of the short-lived but eminently delightful 1968 DC comic book, Anthro. What I didn't know was that he is a charming, engaging conversationalist with a long career in American comics. Howard is a man just chockful of wonderful and hilarious tales of the comic book days of yore. This interview took place on April 27, 1999 by telephone and was copy-edited by the artist.)
Comic Book Artist: Let's start at the beginning. Are you originally from New York City?
Howard Post: I was born in 1926 on the island of Manhattan, and I don't know how much more central you can get than that. I grew up in Coney Island, Sheep's Head Bay area, and then for a long stretch in the Bronx.
CBA: What sort of childhood was it?
Howard: It was beautiful. It was Tom Sawyer. The Bronx was rural and I was just a couple of miles from the Bronx Zoo. I was in that park on a regular basis, fishing, rafting, swimming, and gathering a lot of nature stuff. I seem to have been very dedicated to nature real early in the game. I'd shake bats out of trees; I'd catch crayfish; I'd go fishing with bent pins; that kind of stuff. It was beautiful on that old Bronx River. We even had otters!
CBA: It seems a pretty atypical experience for kids growing up in New York City?
Howard: That's right. We had this park and I was in it all the time. After school, I'd grab my milk and cookies and race into the woods.
CBA: [laughs] When did you begin your affinity for art?
Howard: [chuckles] I think when I was born. I may have started rather early; just to entertain myself drawing these things. I could have been four or five. I used to draw on a piece of paper while lying on the floor, and my father would come home from work and he'd squat down next to me me and say, "The lion's jaw is broader than that, y'know?"
CBA: Did your father have an artistic background?
Howard: Yeah. I didn't know how great it was until one day after his passage I found a book of his full of dress designs he had made himself. He was in the fashion business, mostly in furs; he was a cutter. What he had drawn were his own designs for coats and dresses and they were just exquisite. He never ever let on that he could draw like that; we never knew he had that in him. He was busy making a living, as hard and fast as he could. We're talking about bringing up a family in Depression days.
CBA: Did you follow the funnies in the newspapers?
Howard: I did! It was a minor dedication, nothing obsessive. I remember Dick Tracy in the Daily News. The Journal-American had some stuff in it and we got that, too. I remember all the really attractive strips: Hal Foster and Krazy Kat, Nancy and Sluggo. It was nice. When I got older, I liked Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond, and guys like that.
CBA: Did you get into comic books at all?
Howard: Comics, I got into it in a backwards way: My dad got sick and he had to go to a tuberculosis hospital. Suddenly I was shackled with responsibilities of caring for a family of four. I was about 16 or 17 and I had gone to school of my own volition (which I was paying for) to study animation. I actually became a delivery boy and saved money, and I went to the (now-extinct) Hastings School of Animation in New York. It was after I had seen Fantasia when I had become so obsessed with animation. A friend of mine had gone to the school and he had left to go into the Army and I figured I should catch as much learning as I could before I got drafted. So I went into that school and then my father precipitously got ill and I got deferments, almost monthly. (They never gave you a broad deferment; you had to check in every month, they would review your situation, and they would defer you on a monthly basis.) Here I was supporting a family of four so they seemed to put me at the end of the line for a while. With my knowledge of animation that I acquired at the school, I volunteered to work for Paramount and they took me on there, paying me a big $24 a week. But that wasn't enough.
CBA: Paramount had an animation studio in New York?
Howard: Paramount had what was called Famous Studios, which was really Max Fleischer's Florida studio transported to New York. I got in there as an in-betweener but it wasn't a helluva lot of money and it wasn't enough. This was in the early 1940s. I couldn't make enough money and some of the guys talked about trying to sell comics to the comic book publishers, but they went out and tried but they bombed. They said, "Why don't you try it?" So I did. I went over to L.B. Cole who was running a place and I took my stuff to him (as discretely as I could because I didn't want to embarrass myself with Paramount). So I left it there during lunch and they rejected it. I got it back and took it across the street to Bernie Baily's outfit (which was on 43rd St.; Lenny Cole was on 42nd St.) and Bernie bought it. But the next month, my story came out in one of L.B. Cole's comic books as well as Bernie's! Someone had traced off my story when I left it up at Cole's over lunch! Would you believe it? [laughter] That was my introduction to comics.
CBA: [laughs] They swiped you when you weren't even a professional yet?
Howard: Not only that: When the comic came out I found out who did it and the guy wanted me to work for him! He had just gotten a big deal to do a whole book based on my story. He gave me an advance of $800, more money than I'd ever seen in my life! [chuckles] I said I'd do it under one condition: That he just keep me in the clear. (Bernie had asked me, after seeing the story he bought in a rival comic book, "Are you selling this to everybody?" I said, "No, they traced it off on me!") I told him to verify what happened on paper-it may never come up but as long as I had his confession for protection... He said okay because he wanted me on that job. So he gave me that piece of paper, and when Lenny Cole's outfit found out about it-Cole's seemed some kind of criminal outfit, into black market paper, and I heard all kinds of stuff-I got a phone call from a lady one day who said, "Post, you'd better not make any trouble for us. If you speak up against us, you're going to be in deep trouble. We have ways of taking care of you." [laughter] I'm 17 years old, I just sold my first job, and this is what I wind up with! [riotous laughter] The actual tracer of my work gave me an advance of $800 (he had to get the book out in a hurry) and I cashed the check that day-that minute!-because I didn't believe it was valid. I went home and said, "I got something for you, Ma." She said, "What 'tis it?" (My mother had a thick Scottish accent) and I said, "It's money. Here it is." She said, "I will not take it if you dinna get this honestly! I will not accept it!" She had never seen this kind of money either! I said, "Well, Ma, I have to admit I didn't get it honestly; I got it for drawing cartoons!" [laughter] So she was kind of pleased and awed, and that helped us pull the family together-and it put my father at ease while he was in the hospital.
CBA: Your father had TB?
Howard: Yeah, and they had to take one lung from him. They collapsed one lung-that's the way they did it in those days-and he seemed to survive that for five, ten years. (We're talking about a guy who smoked three packs a day on his one lung after the operation.)
CBA: Do you recall the name of the comic you received the advance for?
Howard: All I do remember is that it was about a little Indian and some bears. The first thing I had done for Bernie Baily was a story about a little Indian on a bear hunt. It was a couple of pages. So this guy had presented my idea to a publisher to get out a whole book of it and I ended up with half of the money! But I really couldn't take on half the work because there was such a deadline and the guy-who, by the way, is legend in the industry by the name of Holly Chambers-did two-thirds of the work, saying, "Keep the money." He worked overnight to do it; he'd buy himself half a pound of marijuana, seal up the doors and windows, and work through the night. I came in the next morning to find a tremendous amount of work; he's slumped over the desk in this fog of smoke with finished drawings stacked up by his desk. It was fantastic.
So the work kept coming and I kept working up at that studio until one day Chambers got himself a gun. He said, "You gotta walk me to this hotel because I want to show you something." We go up to this hotel and he'd buy heroin and bring it back to the studio. When I saw that I said, "This ain't for me. This is a little too rich for my blood." There was a day when he didn't have a needle and he put the heroin into him by actually taking a razor blade, cutting his vein open, and putting the stuff on his open vein and he popped it from there. Imagine this naive kid watching this! I gotta tell ya, I was more naive than most guys my age-my idea of adventure was going into the woods and checking out the bats! Suddenly I'm precipitated into the city, with this stuff swirling around my head, I felt like Candide! [laughter] What an introduction! I told him that was it; I had to stay home and work there to be near my mother. (At the time, my mother had gotten sick and developed an anemia they thought was pernicious. It was costing me a fortune-$75 a week which was more salary than what most people made-just to keep her full of shots and alive. I made her go to another doctor who diagnosed her as a simple anemic so I think the other doctor was taking us because I was the "rich cartoonist"! Do you believe it? [laughs])
So the first comic book work I sold was to Bernie Baily, who was a wonderful, wonderful shoestring entrepreneur, and he was paying the going rate. It was $15 a page, pencil, inks, story-everything!
CBA: Bernie was packaging comics for other publishers?
Howard: He was packaging it but I think he was a publisher himself. I'm sure he had money partners who were involved with him, but it was a small house and he was scraping along. But he had wonderful people working for him. He was an artist himself who had appeared in syndication in P.M., a now-extinct newspaper, with a comic strip (whose name I can't remember). Bernie was a good artist, and he had such respect for art that when he heard that Charlie Voight was looking for work, Bernie hired him. Charlie was a historical cartoonist who had once done a syndicated strip-I think for the Journal-American-called Toofer A. Nickel, which had the most beautiful pen and brush work you'd ever seen in your life. Very few people know of him but he was a magnificent technician emerging from an era when technique was emphasized. We're talking about the Charles Dana Gibson era with all that penwork and that exquisite knowledge of movement, anatomy, and facial characteristics. Charlie wasn't Gibson but in his own genre, he was tops. Whenever I went up to Bernie's to deliver something, there was Charlie Voight working at a desk and you could hear him work, because that pen was going! Making greys, you'd hear one stroke after the other: Chit-chit-chit-cha! He was doing hatch and this beautiful grey would show up, and then he'd smack in some blacks-just watching Charlie Voight, I'd sit there for hours, enraptured with the brilliance of his technique. He was a wonderful, wonderful man. Unfortunately for him, the bottle had taken him down. But Bernie kept him going.
CBA: Did you know Gil Kane when he worked for Bernie?
Howard: I knew Gil and I still know him. We're not in communication but I bump into him on occasion at a party.
CBA: Gil told me some amusing stories about working with Bernie.
Howard: Bernie was a real Broadway character.
CBA: So did you hang out with other comics people?
Howard: I got a story you're going to love: I'm up at Bernie's outfit, right? I'm looking at the make-readies and, in comic books in those days in order to qualify for mailing, you had to have two or three pages of pure copy, text pages, and I'm looking over one of the books and I see a couple of tiny illustrations. Now, you have to understand that at this point I believe that I'm the best artist around and I can make stuff funnier than anybody, but I look at these tiny little illustrations in the text and I said, "My God! Who is this guy? He's a country mile ahead of me!" I thought I was the only one so I went to Bernie and asked, "Who the hell is doing this?" And Bernie said, "Frank Frazetta." "Who's that?" "A 13-year-old kid whose father brings him up here!" [laughs] Can you believe it? And that was little Frankie! They were humorous drawings done with his imagination-he's a brilliant technician; just a genius.
CBA: How long did you work in comics during the 1940s?
Howard: I worked right through, along with working at Paramount who was in essential war work and U.S. intelligence. My next deal was with DC and I went up there and got myself $15 a page for just illustrating-pencil and ink-and I did this thing called Jiminy Crockett, about a little kid who imagined fairyland things. I used to do the covers and they were beautiful. I used to love doing these carved trees and at that time Walt Kelly was doing comic books for Dell. I used to be an admirer of his and I got some of my technical ideas from him. Somewhere along the line they saw me from over at Dell, and they called me up. Walt Kelly had just sold a syndicated strip, Albert and Pogo (which actually came out of a comic book), and he wasn't going to do the comic books any more, and Dell asked me if I would do it. I said, "Sure, I'd be glad to." They said, "Would you show us some samples of Kelly's style?" So I sat down and wrote, in rhyme, a three- or four-page story about The Wee People, and it was funny as hell and a labor of love. It was pretty and jumpin' all over the page and everything. So I presented it at this meeting with Dell publisher Oscar Lebeck, Walt Kelly, and me. Oscar said, "This is it! You're welcome to work for us." (While we sat there, I kept asking Walt things like, "How do you keep your line so fine and under such control?" And he told me, "When you're making a long line or filling a black, twirl your brush and it comes to a point. The next time you want a fine point, you got it!") I was so proud I said, "I'd love to work for you." I was figuring I'd be making $20-25 a page so I asked, "How much am I going to get?" Oscar said, "We'll give you $15 a page." I said, "$15 a page? I get that working for the Superman people just for drawing; I don't have to write anything for that kind of money." But he said, "This is an opportunity for you and we can give you a bonus at the end of the year." I said, "I get a bonus at the end of the year anyway!" I didn't work for him. I sold him that story and it stayed there. I think that Oscar, Walt and everybody were going to get a cut from my work and I couldn't afford that. I had as much responsibility as they had but they figured that I was a kid and that my daddy was taking care of me. But it wasn't so.
CBA: What kind of comic books did you primarily do?
Howard: I was working at DC on that fantasy thing, then I went over to Stan Lee and I'd do humor stuff. I did something called Nellie the Nurse and I packaged a whole series of comic books called Animal Antics for Timely. I was also working at DC at the same time doing westerns, Rodeo Rick, and (even though I was freelance) they'd say, "Why don't you come up here to work?" I didn't have a studio and I went up there and sat next to a guy named Jack Alderman (who was a brilliant cartoonist), who had a very nervous quality about him and he ultimately ended up in the booby hatch for a while. (Then he'd come back and he said, "If they ever send you to a place like that, get a room on the sunny side of the building!) [laughter] He was so terrific he introduced me to a whole new way of thinking when I was doing the westerns. He would paint his panels first in a non-photographic blue ink and then he would smack on the blacks and the stuff would jump! He was fantastic. And I used what I learned from him on Rodeo Rick.
CBA: Was Rodeo Rick a straight western strip?
Howard: Yes. And straight was so demanding. We called the straight guys "wrinkle artists," and I asked myself, "What the hell am I doing here taking twice as long to get the same check?" So as long as they were buying these cartoony, funny things, I would stay doing that.
CBA: You were obviously attracted to the natural, pastoral kind of humor strips?
Howard: I used to drive the editors crazy with gags because when I sent in the penciled pages (because they wanted to approve the pencils), I'd bring it up to the varied, uptight editors up at DC who were so dedicated and inflexible, and the pencils would have (for instance) a cow jumping over the moon and I'd stick a little sign on the moon just to irk 'em saying, "Cow Found with Udder Man," or something like that. I'd get this call, "Howard! What have you done in these pencils! If this ever gets by...!" [chuckles] I knew it would never get by, but I thought they'd get a laugh out of it.
I will say this for myself: I was my own censor when I wrote for comics and I was very, very stringent. I didn't want to write anything that would corrupt anybody. I_came from a very Puritanical background and I never did anything that could be vaguely interpreted as immoral, indecent or anything like that. I just wouldn't touch it with a fork. And I used to resent some of the stuff they gave me in script and I would edit the objectionable stuff out because they weren't watching close enough.
CBA: You did funny animal and western strips; did you also do adventure and super-hero material?
Howard: I never did much super-hero stuff; it didn't appeal to me. I was so busy and I wasn't going to change horses in mid-stream. It was so much easier to do the funny stuff. If you wanted to tell a funny story, you take a rabbit and a pig with a house in the background (which you learned to draw when you were five years old). For a terrain, if you wanted a hill, you drew a curved line. If you wanted it flat, you just drew a flat line. And that was it! It was fast and easy, with the idea to tell the story as simply as possible. In that simplification, you found a great many timesaving devices. Instead of sitting there all day drawing wrinkles with blacks, whites, shadows, painting and fancy lighting effects; that really wasn't called for in the humor stuff.
CBA: You said that when you got a chance to sit with Walt Kelly, you quizzed him. Were there any other artists that you admired and sought out?
Howard: There were guys I knew who were friends. Frank Frazetta showed me a lot of his private collection of drawings and they were wonderful! When the guy wasn't drawing commercially, he was drawing all the time. That, to me, is the mark of real genius which I never had; I had other entertainments. I used to like to go fishing, y'know? That was my thing. I had a much more European attitude in that I worked to live. There are some guys who live to work and that ain't my bag. Most of my friends were artists.
CBA: Were you content to remain in comics or did you view syndicated strips as a goal?
Howard: I didn't care. I was busy doing my thing and it was easy, non-taxing, and I didn't want to get involved in anything that would engender work! [laughs] I told my mother I was earning a dishonest living and I was! [laughter]
CBA: How many pages could you do in a week?
Howard: I really forget; it depends. It was so unroutinized with me. Once I started working steady, I considered myself semi-retired from the minute I got into the business. So if I'd stick my nose out the window and smell trout 100 miles away (I swear to you, I could really smell 'em!), I'd say, "Well, it's fishing time." And I'd get in the car and drive 100 or 150 miles up to the Catskills and the Beaverkill River or the east branch of the Delaware and I'd have myself a day of fishing that I'd never swap for an extra couple hundred bucks. It wouldn't matter. That was the idea behind doing the kind of productive work where you could make a living and keep some time for yourself. So I used to work three or four days a week and cool it the rest; other times I used to love to look at fine art. I'd go down to the Met or the galleries on Madison and just park my car and ramble through the showings. I just wasn't that dedicated to making money just to pay the bills. A lot of guys would ask, "What the hell are you doing? You're looking at pictures when you could be making all this dough!" I had all the assignments I could handle, y'know? I said, "Man, that's what I'm working for! I'm working to live!" It was a different attitude from the get-go but I saw a lot of guys who took it very seriously. Frank Giacoia was a guy who had a studio a half a block from me and we used to have lunch together. Frank was wonderful. He was a magnificent artist for DC and he used to do his stuff up on an easel. I'd love his work! But he would say, "No, I don't particularly like this," and he'd erase the whole damned thing! That's how seriously he took it. He was a perfectionist and he thought he'd be judged by every line (and I guess we are) but he was being too harsh a judge upon himself. His stuff was radiant; that's how good it was. You get that wonderful shiver that goes up your spine when you see a great work of art, like with Frazetta; I look at Frank Giacoia's work and I'd say, "God, isn't he good!"
CBA: As the '50s progressed, you continued working on humor comics?
Howard: Yeah, I was doing all that stuff and (I don't know how I timed it out) I was doing all kinds of work for DC and other publishers including Stan Lee.
CBA: Did you deal with Sheldon Mayer at DC?
Howard: Shelly was one of the best artists at DC! I remember Shelly well! He did some of the most beautiful and humorous stuff. Scribbly was just marvelous and, in fact, Joe Orlando, Carmine Infantino and I honored Sheldon Mayer on what we considered his retirement by giving him a big party at DC and everyone made a drawing for him. It was wonderful. I also knew Bob Oskner and we were pretty close because, subsequently, I moved to Jersey just a couple of miles from him. I used to go visit him and we'd get together. He was a terrific guy and a very sweet man.
CBA: Just like his drawings.
Howard: Yeah, just like his drawings. At DC, I did Binky after he did. And I did the Bob Hope book and the Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis book; I did a whole lot of stuff for DC. In fact, Whit Ellsworth was there when they just joined the Comics Code and there was a big convention at DC. Whit (who was the boss editor) had me do the posters for the convention and it was fun! I had to draw gorillas running off with nude women and stuff like that. It was a takeoff on what we were going to get rid of! We never printed the lewd stuff but he had me make all these lewd posters. There were guys with bullet holes in them; 3-D bullet holes like Fearless Fosdick. [chuckles] We had a helluva lot of fun in those days.
CBA: Were you working in DC's offices?
Howard: I would sometimes go in there and work. But then I got my own studio and I'd work there. I had a little studio in the village with the most beautiful marble fireplace but it was tiny. It was just one and a half rooms. I was there with a friend of mine and it was freezing and snowing really heavy; it was the coldest night of the year. My buddy, Jack Mendelsohn, was one of the guys I had met up at Paramount and we were very, very close. He looked out the window and said, "Geesh, I can't go all the way home to Brooklyn in this!" It was late. I said, "Why don't you stay over?" He said, "But there's only one bed." I said, "We'll sleep foot-to-head. Don't worry about it!" It got so cold in the place that I_took all my comic books and burned them in the fireplace! [laughter]
CBA: That's one expensive fire!
Howard: That was one big heavy fire, but I'll tell ya, it was bright! Every different color on those covers gave off a different colored flare. It was fantastic! It was like watching fireworks; we'd sit there looking at it and they'd be exploding in different colors! Very expensive fireworks! I must have burned 50 issues to keep it going. That was funny. Next a.m., the woman who ran the place came in (as was her custom in the morning to put tea on my table), and saw Jack's big, bushy head of hair and she thought it was a woman and she told me I had to find other quarters because I wasn't supposed to bring women in there! (Of course, she didn't know when I did!) But I was kicked out for bringing my buddy there! [laughter] Oh man, I had to be in the center of the maelstrom at all times.
CBA: Were you concerned when the Kefauver Hearings against comics took place?
Howard: Fred Wertham was worse than the Kefauver Committee. That man was stupid. He blamed everything on comics because it was facile and easy to do. I knew a guy who had some kind of pull with radio. He was just a radio promoter and he provided guests for late night talk shows. Do you remember Barry Gray? Barry was an eminent talk show host at night. We were in the car with some girls and we had the radio on and Barry Gray was on knocking all comic books. He loved to jump on trends as did a lot of hosts. I said, "If I could get my hands on that guy, I'll bust his chops." My buddy said, "Would you like to get on his show and contest him?" I said, "I sure would." So he said, "C'mon, let's go." We went down to Chandler's Restaurant where Barry was holding court, we got in, and someone went up and said to him, "We have a comic book artist here," and I went up to him. He started asking me, "How do you feel about corrupting children?" I said, "Wait a minute! I do fantasy stuff. The Three Blind Mice is dirtier and meaner than anything I ever wrote or illustrated. [I started to do a monologue] Do you think Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin are corrupt and evil?" He said, "Absolutely not!" (Because he was one of their big champions, y'know?) I said, "That's one of the comic books I'm doing, so why do you want to take bread out of my mouth? That's what you're doing by making hasty judgements." He was kind of embarrassed. I was intimidated by him because the man has a head two feet long [chuckles], and he's sitting in that booth with the light on him with everyone staring. He's this great big handsome man with a gigantic head but I managed to hold my own pretty good because when I got down from there and started walking down the aisle, everybody was applauding and wanted to buy me a drink! [laughter] Barry Gray hustled me off, saying, "Thank you, Mr. Post. Perhaps another time." [laughs] I really put him down that night even though I was gentle about it. I was defensive because he was taking bread from my mouth and I wanted him to know the truth; that comic books weren't nearly as corrupting as a lot of other influences around. I was a hero to every drunk in that place! [chuckles] A lot of people knew the guy was kind of snide and for him to come off second-best in a verbal competition was very pleasant for some of those people around there.
CBA: Did you enjoy the nightlife?
Howard: No, I wasn't a nightclubber. Night life was just getting close to a woman. And that was it. I never went for dope or any of that stuff. I told the guys, "I can find the best intoxicant in a good looking woman." That's as pleasant a time as I could spend in my youth. What else do you want to do? Go fishin' and involve yourself in an occasional romance.
CBA: Are you a bachelor?
Howard: No, I'm a widower. I lost my wife about 20 years ago. For a couple of years I had to bring up both my daughters by myself. It was tough; bringing up females is a terrible ordeal for a man. I guess males, too; if you're bringing up a son, you're always afraid that he's going to kill himself in a car or something like that. You bring up a daughter and you're afraid she's going to kill you! [laughter]
CBA: When did you get married?
Howard: 1960 or somewhere around there. I don't remember dates and, forgive me, Seymour, but I_also don't remember names well either. [laughter]
CBA: So, through the Wertham crisis, you worked steady for DC?
Howard: Well, I started doing storyboards for Paramount because they were doing a series of shows for King Features: Barney Google, Snuffy Smith, Krazy Kat, Beetle Baily. So I was writing and drawing the storyboards for them. Apparently I did them good enough so that when Paramount's director Seymour Kneitel died, the studio invited me to make a presentation for the directorship. And I did, and they hired me. I became the director of Paramount Cartoon Studios, a place where I worked as a lackey 20 years before.
CBA: Was this before or after you got married?
Howard: Maybe just after.
CBA: So you obviously left DC and comic books behind.
Howard: Yes. By the way, I was also in with Harvey Comics. I was doing Hot Stuf' and Spooky. Warren Kremer was doing Casper at the time. I did The Ghostly Trio. On occasion, I'd write the fillers, the one-page gags. Sid Jacobson, who was the editor at the time, would say, "Howard, I need gags for page 9 and page 12, so give me one 'Spooky' and one 'Hot Stuf'.'" I'd sit down and pencil the gags right on paper, they'd be okayed and then I'd ink them up.
CBA: Do you remember the page rate?
Howard: I really can't. It wasn't top money but it was regular money, y'know? Harvey actually paid for my house and kids and every other damn thing!
CBA: So you did a lot of pages!
Howard: A tremendous amount. I worked for Harvey on a steady basis, along with Warren Kremer and Ernie Colón.
CBA: What was Ernie like?
Howard: As a person? Oh, I love Ernie. He's terrific. We used to be drinking pals-only to the degree that I was a married and driving man. I would sober up considerably before I got back in the car to go home. We had a good time, were good friends, and we enjoyed each other. All the cartoonists were good buddies. At that point, I had met Leonard Starr who was a fellow Music & Arter-I went to the High School of Music & Art in New York. He invited me to share his studio which he ran with John Prentice. They became really fast friends of mine. John is the most gentlemanly man I have ever met in my life. He changed my life. When I got into that studio, I saw how a man is supposed to behave. He is a gigantic man and he is state-of-the-art with Rib Kirby; nobody could come near him. He followed Alex Raymond without a beat. When real giants like John have a flaw, it's obtrusive because you expect perfection. That man taught me how to be a man.
CBA: How so?
Howard: He was exemplary in most of his behavior. Maritally, he wasn't very successful, though Stan Drake was worse! I think Stan had four or five wives which he was supporting night and day. He was sleeping on the floor! When I visited Stan and John's studios in Connecticut (which were in the same building), I would drop up and see Stan first and he would be there fast asleep on the floor in a cloud of smoke. He'd be working night and day to pay his alimony and support that he actually signed on to take. He'd marry a woman, adopt the children, and wind up supporting them. He got himself into some bad things. (At this edit, I'm sorry to say my best friend, John Prentice, just died by cancer of the lung contracted from asbestos while on Navy duty in the boiler room during WWII.)
Most of my friends today are artists and cartoonists. Maybe we ain't so bad collectively. [laughter] I shared a studio with himself, Joe Kubert, and Alex Toth. There were the three of us up there. Alex was okay; he was just fine. Joe was a little rough because he was like a weightlifter; he'd come behind you and pick you up, swirling you around a couple of times! [chuckles] He was terrific and he's a sweet, sweet man. We all shared a studio in a photographer's apartment on Park Avenue; the photographer was Brad Smith, an old friend of mine. I got so fed up that year I said, "I have to go back to the earth." Brad's father was a farmer and I volunteered to work on the farm. So I went up there to get away from the drawing board before I was married, and I started working on that farm. Now, Joe Kubert gave me two weeks; Brad Smith was convinced I would stay there for the whole Summer. Two weeks after I arrived, Joe and Brad came up in Kubert's big open convertible Chrysler station wagon (with the wood paneling on the sides)-a gorgeous car-and honked the horn. I looked out the window and Joe said, "Howie, Brad and I got a bet on how long you're going to stay. Brad says you'll stay all Summer and I say you'll last two weeks." I said, "Brad, give Joe the money!" [laughter] I said, "Stay there, Joe." I packed my duffel bag and threw it out the window into the wagon. Brad's father was one of those Yankees who really exploited my ass. I was shucking corn, picking up bales that weighed more than I did (mainly because I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of the farm boys), and I learned how to do it. Farm work is the hardest work you can do. I could sleep on a rock.
CBA: How long did you last at Paramount?
Howard: About a year and a half as director-producer. I had a schedule of movies I had to make and it was tough. I started to create a few movies that were okay. I did a Honey Halfwitch movie which you may still occasionally see on Nick at Night. I hired Shari Lewis to be the voice. I wrote the music and the theme song. Shari and I became fast friends when I moved to California. Shari was the most alive woman I knew. When she died, it broke me up.
CBA: What prompted the move to California?
Howard: I had become so involved in movies and storyboarding, before I went out there and was offered a choice in New York: Write The Beatles' Yellow Submarine or take the job at Paramount. (I had been doing the Beatles animated series for television and they wanted me to do the feature.) Paramount was exactly what I wanted to do: Create, do music, and whatever I wanted. I recommended my friend, Jack Mendelsohn (a brilliantly funny man), for Yellow Submarine and he got the deal. That proved to be carte blanche to everything out in Hollywood and he's been writing sitcoms out there for years. Once you get a credit like that, you're in.
CBA: Yellow Submarine was in the late '60s. How did DC fit into the chronology?
Howard: I kept going back and forth, drifting around. Joe Orlando and Carmine Infantino were together at DC and I wanted to become syndicated about that time. All my buddies had a syndicated strip, and I figured it was time for me because I felt like the outside man in my crowd. I started submitting sample strips and one of the presentations was Anthro.
Just as a pleasant pastime, I used to reconstruct heads and faces around Neanderthal skulls. And that's where Anthro came into the picture, believe it or not. I tried to submit Anthro (as you read it) to the newspaper syndicates and everybody said, "Man, don't bother with this stuff. This is adventure." I said, "But it's funny!" They said, "Nah, it's adventure and no papers will buy it. The editors are not buying adventure." So I told this to John Prentice and he said, "Why don't you try Carmine? You don't want to waste this." I said okay and called Carmine up, and he said, [gruffly] "Do it!" That's the way he said it! [laughter] (I just saw him at Tex Blaisdell's memorial service and he's still the same and I'm still the same, only much older!)
(Cartoonists are a great bunch and I really appreciate them. Too bad their wives don't! [laughter] It's because most of the guys worked at home... and they got divorced for it! [laughter] I knew Bob Ludlum in this here town and suddenly he sold his first novel for a marvelous amount of money. So he started working at home. So I said to his wife, "Mary, how does it feel to be the wife of a successful novelist?" She said, "Listen, I married him for better or worse, but not for lunch!" [laughter])
CBA: What was your thinking behind Anthro?
Howard: Passion. It was just passion. Having been involved in nature-trees, fishing, and all that stuff-was to me the vestiges of what we were when we first were formed on this Earth. When we were first evolving as Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals (whatever the heck we were), just out of the pre-hominoid stages and into the early toolmaking period, that's what you feel when you're in the woods; when you're integrating with nature. So it came very, very easily to me that this was just a thing of survival with humor. When you look at the premise of a Neanderthal kidnapping a Cro-Magnon woman and, because it was the custom when there was no one to take care of her mother, they kicked the old lady out and the Neanderthals had an instant mother-in-law! [laughter] So you had the business of survival along with the humor. If they went out to hunt mammoth, and he came back with a huge salmon, the mother-in-law would have some complaint about it: [sarcastically] "Ahh, look at the 'brave hunter'! Send 'im for a mammoth and he brings back a fish! Well, that's to be expected with the men of his tribe!" [laughter] Jean Auel (who wrote Clan of the Cave Bear) had to have read me thoroughly, but before she got to the publisher, I went to Warner and said, "Guys, this has to be turned into a novel." And they just looked at me. And maybe because I wasn't putting out for any of them, they didn't give a damn. "Aww, that's a comic book," they must have thought. And that was it.
CBA: Was it your thinking to bring modern day problems in a prehistoric context? I recall the cover blurb on his first Showcase appearance was "This Could Be You!"
Howard: That was Joe Orlando's idea. I had arguments because I was doing a real thing. One of the Museum of Natural History curators lives in my town, and I had gone to the museum and seen the head of a huge canid (a dog-like animal) and the skull was a yard long. I said to the curator, "Doctor, I'm writing a story and I want to put my characters around with this canid." He laughed and said, "It's impossible. Man is only 175,000 years old and this animal is 200,000 years old." That's the way these guys think. So I went ahead and wrote a huge editorial about how man is not just 175,000 years old; he is probably 2,000,000 years old. (As we all later found out, I hit it right on the money. But I know they're going to find another pre-hominid predating the latest find, I know it!) The paleontological establishment only determine history with the latest discovery; they're not thinking. They need cartoonists to do the thinking. [laughter]
CBA: So you must have done a lot of research.
Howard: Not a lot. No, just some reading for fun on paleoanthropology. I just created the face of the Neanderthal father. The Cro-Magnons look pretty much like what we look like today. Anthro had a brother named Lart who was maimed. Again, that custom, if you can't produce for yourself in those days, you were unwanted in the tribe. When the kid was wounded by the giant dog and limps off to die in the snow, Anthro searches for him and finally finds the kid, builds him a crutch. When the kid hobbles home, Anthro, behind him, hollers, "Now, wait for me! Now that I've made you that device, you're trying to humiliate your brother!" It was touching stuff, man, and it just came off the pen. These characters were so defined that the damn thing wrote itself! I tell you, I was chasing the plot! [laughter] I mean it! They were doing these things and I was following them as fast as I could. I suddenly realized that was what writers mean when they talk about the little miracles they get when they're writing. When your characters are defined, they do things before you do them for 'em! So I wound up working at Hanna-Barbera, working for Joe Barbera who was probably the best animation writer/director of the bunch. I used to write pretty good and bring my stuff into him, and for every five gags I wrote, he topped them with a secondary gag off of each one, so there were ten gags instead of five when I walked out of his office. That's how good he was. I was in good company there. I was with Lars Borne and Alex Lowey, two of the greatest writers and storyboard men in animation. We used to have lunch every Friday with Mike Maltese, who was the boss writer at Warner Brothers, and we'd spend that lunch just telling each other gags until we fell down. It was a really, really exciting time.
CBA: On the very first cover of Anthro (in Showcase) you had your name pretty prominently displayed as "by Howie Post." Did you have a reputation at the time?
Howard: It was a come-back reputation at DC because I had done a lot of stuff for them previously. But I never had the kind of name that super-hero artists get. They get enormous names, but super-heroes just wasn't my bent-I didn't care about them. I didn't want to draw or write that way. Anthro was a completely different illustrative style. The stories were predicated in reality. Joe Orlando used to tell me we were getting subscriptions from anthropology professors.
CBA: That stuff was fun!
Howard: Well, the kids ain't crazy about that; they want guys with muscles and 25-pound handguns.
CBA: There was an issue where Wally Wood inked the story.
Howard: There was that one issue where Joe felt maybe that kind of inking would be better. It didn't make a difference. I'll tell you one thing that was gratifying about that: I had to make a phone call in a candy store in downtown New York. Right in my purview from the phone booth was a comic book rack. I'm talking on the phone and looking at the rack. I see Anthro and I see a beautiful woman in her 30s come in wearing a gorgeous gold-colored tweed suit. She came in and stopped at the magazine rack and thumbed her way through all the comics, stopped at Anthro, picked it up and walked out with it. That was redemption, right there! What's a 35-year-old woman buying Anthro for? I'll tell you what she's buying Anthro for: Anthro was full of romance. They had a lot of clinches in there and a lot of good-looking men and women... and buff! When I started out that first story, I had the woman diving into the water naked on that splash page when I drew it. It wasn't obscenely naked; she was just diving into the water. But they made me put clothes on her. [chuckles]
CBA: Was the book cancelled or were you getting too busy?
Howard: I forget how many issues it ran but it was about a 12-month period and it was cancelled. I said, "What the hell is going on?" And Joe said, "We don't know. You sell out in L.A., you sell out in Chicago, you sell marvelously in New York. But you don't sell any place else." Joe came back while I was doing something else months later, and he said, "We found out what it was: It was distribution. They were just dumping." It was very small comfort to me because that was the best thing I've probably ever done.
CBA: It was just wonderful.
Howard: If you enjoyed it, Jon, you gotta know that I was enjoying it. You were seeing it happen but I got to see it happen before anybody else!
CBA: You didn't even stop to catch your breath: When Anthro was cancelled, you began the syndicated strip, The Dropouts.
Howard: Immediately. It just hit right. I did it for United Features Syndicate, though everybody was saying [whispering], "Don't go with them." I said, "What do you mean?" I got the hottest start of any strip they had up there because I handled the promotion. I put conk shells in every letter to every editor; I got tan-colored stock and had them burn the edges so it looked like something you got out of a bottle; I wrote some fancy copy and all the editors bought it. It got off to a great start. I walked into the bullpen and one of the cartoonists asked me, "Why are you with this syndicate?" I said, "Well, they're the Peanuts people." He said, "Peanuts sells itself. Once you plateau with this outfit, you ain't going to make another paper. These guys take orders; they don't know how to sell." And he was right. Once it plateaued, it never snowballed into anything bigger than that.
CBA: What was the premise of the strip?
Howard: It was about two guys on a desert island. I wrote it in anger one day. When they shot down Anthro at the Daily News, they said, "We're only buying funny stuff," and I said, "Well, I'm a funny man! What the hell am I trying to do selling straight stuff?!" I put a piece of paper down on the passenger seat in my car-right next to me-and I had six gags by the time I got home. I thought to myself, "What's a strip that no one has ever done and yet is always in cartooning? Two guys on a desert island!" So that's what I did. That night I had 10 more gags, the next day another 10, and after a while I had enough for a presentation. I must have done 50 gags and I only submitted those gags that made me laugh out loud. By the time I got them all submitted all over the place, I had four offers. And I picked the one that didn't do me that much good. But you never know.
CBA: But it lasted 16 years?
Howard: Yeah. 16 years is a pretty good run. Again, it helped my semi-retirement because I used to do a week's worth of strips in about three days. The toughest part was the writing; to write something funny every day is a tough gig.
CBA: Did you do all of your own writing?
Howard: Well, I wanted to get ahead and ease up on myself, so I figured I'd hire a writer. I hired a writer who was a spot cartoonist for the slick magazines, and I gave him $100 a day and all he had to do was bring me some rough gags. I would go to his house and we'd work them out there. So I was driving 40 miles to get out to this guy and his ideas weren't gags, even though he was a funny man. He was supposed to write five gags and he couldn't. It wasn't working and it was costing me a fortune. I used to have to go home and salvage one or two out of his five gags. So I was actually working harder and I was getting less money for it, so I had to give up on it. We tried it for a month. I liked the guy and he became a good friend.
CBA: An awful lot of cartoonists have told me that a syndicated strip was the Holy Grail, but those who did get a strip, found it to be so gruelling that it was just physically devastating.
Howard: The writing was difficult but drawing funny stuff was the boon of the whole thing, because I had done them by rote for so long. After the first couple of months, you could draw it in your sleep. Writing the gags was tough and, if you're a harsh judge of your material, it was tougher. And I was a harsh judge. Unfortunately I did not know that to have a boffo laugh is not that important, believe it or not. It's always great to have a good laugh but identification is more important. Charlie Schulz taught me that; I met him in the hallway of my syndicate and I said, "Oh, Mr. Schultz, it's so good to see you." He said, "Call me Sparky." [chuckles] He said, "Did you see my television show the other day? I made practically all those extreme poses." He had this childish enthusiasm and this childish need for recognition, and that's what drives him. There's something beautifully childlike about Charlie Schulz and he's one of the geniuses of all time. I'd like to make the kind of money where you can build your own skating rink, your own church, build your own city! [laughs] Y'know, create your own fantasy and live in it!
So 16 years wasn't a bad run. I wound up going back to my old editor Sid Jacobson when he was at Marvel [Star Comics] doing the humor books. But humor was an uphill struggle. I did things like Madballs, Police Academy, and anything that was humorous. We'd jump on trends and I'd illustrate it but we'd jump on it just as it was starting to curve down. So we'd get a four or five month run out of it and then it would be over, and go on to the next one. It was that kind of thing.
CBA: So Star Comics was the last time you worked in comics?
Howard: I think. I did a lot of writing for Joe Orlando on the Warner Brothers stuff, and it was up there where Joe suggested to me (and I didn't need the work) a teaching position. I asked him, "Where are you going, Joe?" He said, "I'm going to teach at the School of Visual Arts." I said, "Do you like it?" He said, "I love it! You oughta do that. I'm going to recommend you; why don't you call them up?" So I said, "That would be interesting." So that's how I mitigated working at the School. I'm teaching two classes there now: Cartooning and Storyboarding for Film. I'm kept pretty busy and I do give private instruction to one student.
CBA: Do you see a lot of talent coming through?
Howard: [Pauses] I have some artists in the class who start with an enormous amount of talent but they're just not getting past the indulgence. It's a self-indulgent thing; they're just drawing super-heroes, making the same mistakes which some of the artists they emulate have already made: Making bow-legged characters who look like they've been riding a barrel for years. It reminds me: Milton Caniff was our deity (and, by the way, I knew the man and I never knew a finer gentleman-he was one of some very rare people-plus he was the most elegant man I ever knew, immaculately dressed) and I remember when they opened the Palm Cafe out on the West Coast. Milt and I were there with Mel Lazarus (of Momma and Miss Peach strip fame), and the three of us were eating lobster and steak (because we had decorated the walls with our cartoons) and we were living it up. He was a hemophiliac all his life.
A whole generation of cartoonists admired and emulated Milton Caniff's work; his black-&-white values, his characters, his storytelling, his atmospheric backgrounds. You could glide into the Yangtse River right through his panels. But Milt wasn't all that good at drawing hands. Fingers looked like carrots. Well, that generation of his emulators wound up doing beautiful black-&-white atmospheric panels and interesting characters with lots of fat black wrinkles on their sleeves. But a gang of them wound up doing hands like batches of carrots. That's admiration!
CBA: How do you recall Joe Orlando?
Howard: I was very close to Joe. He was an exemplary man in every way. We used to have mano y manos with him cooking something at home for lunch and bringing it to Warners (or I would cook something) and we'd chomp away at the desk, saying, "That's not bad but it needs more oregano"-that kind of thing. [laughs] We had a lot of fun. I remember five years ago we buried his father-who was something like 95 years of age-and I said, "Joe, look at your father: he lived alone and he was a heavy guy. How do you attribute this ancient age to this guy?" He said, "My father had a dietary philosophy: First of all, you eat dandelions all day long with everything. If you're healthy, eat a lot of olive oil. If you're sick, eat castor oil." [laughs] Four years later, I'm burying Joe. I couldn't believe it. It was terrible. I loved Joe Orlando. He was a good, good man. And he was brilliant. He was a brilliant artist, writer and editor; and he was a brilliant leader. He could elicit the best from you every time. We were robbed. When I think about Joe, I realize the good do die young.
I once practically attended my own funeral: I was at a party at Mort Walker's and a woman came up to me and said, "All of the cartoonists are not represented here." I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "Well, you know Howard Post passed away." I said, "Ohh, when was that?" She said, "A few years back. Didn't you hear about it?" I said, "No, no." And I quoted Mark Twain and said, "The rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated!" She said, "What do you mean?" I said, "I'm Howard Post." She was so embarrassed but it was something. She was thinking of a late friend of mine, Warren King, editorial cartoonist of the Daily News.
CBA: What was the highpoint working in comics?
Howard: I think it was the people. Mostly it was the cartoonists; I'm still friendly with guys I worked with 45 years ago! I was on the phone yesterday with Warren Kremer. I see these guys all the time. These people are part of your heritage and they become part of your family.
To make subscription and back issue orders easier for our readers (especially those overseas), we now accept VISA and MASTERCARD on our secure web store! (Phone, fax, mail and e-mail accepted, too!)
Sign up here to receive periodic updates about what's going on in the world of TwoMorrows Publishing.
Click here to download our new Fall-Winter catalog (2mb PDF file)