Comic Book Artist 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and works of great cartoonists, writers and editors from all eras through in-depth interviews, feature articles, and unpublished art.

Old buddies Jim Mooney and Stan Lee, hanging out at Stan's Beverly Hills place in 1990. Courtesy of Jim Mooney.

Jim Mooney Over Marvel

From Terrytoons to Omega the Unknown, Jim talks Comics

Conducted by Chris Knowles
Transcribed by Jon B. Knutson

From Comic Book Artist #7

Though renowned for his work on DC's "Supergirl" and "Tommy Tomorrow," you may be surprised to learn Jim Mooney's work for Marvel Comics began as far back as the early '40s, where he first met lifelong friend Stan Lee. And it may also come as a shock that the veteran artist's favorite work was for Marvel during the '70s, particularly on Steve Gerber's books. Let's have Jim tell it. The artist was interview by phone on July 26, 1999, and he copy-edited the transcript.

COMIC BOOK ARTIST: When did you start working for Stan Lee and Timely?

JIM MOONEY: Stan and I worked together until he was drafted. Later we worked together when he was stationed in Duke University, North Carolina. I came down there to work with him on a Terrytoons project. We were on a tight deadline, so Stan found a place for me to work in a pathology lab. I was surrounded by jars of pickled eyeballs and various body parts. The incentive was for getting out of there fast. That speeded me up tremendously.

CBA: You and Stan had a friendship?

JIM: We were friends. I met Stan the first time when I was looking for work at Timely. Stan tells this story better than I do—I came in, being somewhat young and cocky at the time, and Stan asked me what I did. I said I penciled; he said, "What else?" I said I inked. He said, "What else?" I said color. "Do anything else?" I said, "Yeah, I letter, too." He said, "Do you print the damn books, too?" I guess he was about two or three years my junior at that point. I think I was about 21 or 22.

CBA: Then you did a lot of work for a lot of people, did you ever work exclusively for Timely/Atlas?

JIM: I never worked exclusively for anyone except for a very short period of time early on when I worked for Eisner and Iger in their shop. I freelanced except for a very brief period of time later on, and I worked for about seven or eight months in the Fiction House Bullpen.

CBA: When was the "crash," when everyone was suddenly out of work?

JIM: There were a couple of them in the industry. The one I remember well, I mentioned earlier on that I'd done funny animal strips, so-called "animated stuff" for Terrytoons, Stan and I worked on that. I'd say about '46 through there, the funny animal stuff was no longer in demand, and an awful lot of us were scurrying around looking for work, and I was one of those guys, and I heard on the grapevine that they were looking for an artist to do Batman. So I buzzed up there to DC, talked to them and showed them my stuff, and even though they weren't so sure because of my funny animal background, they gave me a shot at it. I brought the work in, and Whitney Ellsworth said, "Okay, you're on."

CBA: Drawing in Bob Kane's style?

JIM: This was actually, it was ghosting. Dick Sprang was one of their better production artists, and he'd taken off and wanted to do something else. So Dick took off for Arizona, and DC was looking for someone to fill in. So, that's where I fit in, and I stayed on Batman for quite a few years, and then I did "Robin, the Boy Wonder" in Star-Spangled Comics, and, let's see, I worked for some of their House of Secrets and House of Mystery, "Tommy Tomorrow," almost everything came along, and I handled it for DC. I was with DC on a freelance basis for almost 20 years.

CBA: What brought you from DC to Marvel in the late '60s? What precipitated that?

From Jim Mooney's letterhead. Some of Jim's most memorable characters. Courtesy of the artist. Superman, Batman, Supergirl, Tommy Tomorrow ©2000 DC Comics, Inc. Spider-Man ©2000 Marvel Characters, Inc.

JIM: At that time, I imagine you're pretty well aware that they were trying to establish more or less of a style, the Neal Adams type of approach, and a lot of us who were drawing in the earlier, more simplistic style, well, let's just say it was myself, George Papp, Wayne Boring, Al Plastino. Our style was pretty much what they wanted to be for Superman, and the Superman characters; but it wasn't the illustrative style that Neal Adams established, and that was the direction they decided to go. Carmine Infantino was in the driver's seat at that time, and he wanted us to work more illustratively. We tried, and I did do a few "Supergirl" strips at that time that were beginning to get a little bit more on the illustrative side, but finally, it came to my attention that I didn't think my services were going to be needed there very much longer, so I went over to Marvel. Of course, I'd known Stan—we knew each other socially before that and I would have liked to have worked for Marvel before '69, but their rates were too low at that time—they didn't come up to DC's rates—they weren't equal. So, I approached Marvel and I said, "Is there anything in the offering?" And Stan said, "You picked a good time: We'd like somebody to do a little finalized penciling with John Romita, and inking." And Stan asked me if I'd give it a shot, and that lasted for quite a while.

CBA: On Amazing Spider-Man, John Romita would do breakdowns, and you'd tighten up the pencils and ink them?

JIM: That's exactly it, yeah. Same thing with Buscema, too, on Amazing Spider-Man.

CBA: Spidey was pretty much your bread-and-butter for your first two years at Marvel?

JIM: I was also working later on with Sol Brodsky doing the coloring books, that type of thing, and I did a feature for the Electric Company magazine, a very simplistic Spider-Man type of thing, and I also did the same kind of tales for Spidey Super Stories. And in the early '70s, I did work for Goodman's men's magazines, a strip called "Pussycat." Stan wrote the first one I did, and then his brother Larry wrote the ones that came later.

When Jim Mooney came on board at Marvel in the late '60s to work on Amazing Spider-Man, Johnny Romita brought his fellow artist up to speed with illustrated instructions. Courtesy of Jim Mooney. Art ©2000 John Romita Sr. Gwen and Mary Jane ©2000 Marvel Characters, Inc.

CBA: Were you mostly working at home, or was there a bullpen you'd work at, or...?

JIM: No, I never was in a bullpen situation there. I used to visit the bullpen, you know. I had fun talking to the guys who were the bullpen regulars, but except for maybe doing a little touch-up or something like that, I never worked there.

CBA: Who was at the Marvel bullpen at that time? I know Jack Abel worked there for a long time—was he still there?

JIM: I don't recall Jack Abel being there at the time... not talking to him, at any rate. Herb Trimpe was there, and of course Larry Lieber, and John Romita; those are the three that stand out in my mind, as the guys that I usually talked to when I did come in to the bullpen.

CBA: So you'd come and drop off work, and socialize. Were you still seeing Stan on a social basis at this point in time? Would you guys go out for drinks after work?

JIM: Stan was not a drinking guy. I enjoyed a draught now and then, but Stan was more of a malted milk person. Yeah, we'd go out to lunch together, of course at that time, a little bit later on the early '70s, just a little bit later, my wife had an antiques business, and I worked in the business, and Stan's wife, Joan, had the same thing in Long Island, so we used to get together and exchange views on what to buy, and what not to buy—this was a bore to Stan. We did get together quite a bit.

CBA: You then went from mostly doing Spider-Man to doing a number of strips. Of course, Man-Thing, you worked with Steve Gerber on that...

JIM: That was one of my favorite strips, by the way. In fact, my all-time favorite.

CBA: Okay, let's talk a little about that. You penciled and inked that strip, and took over for Mike Ploog, who originally did it?

JIM: I think Ploog had done it early on, and then John Buscema, and I took over after John's last issue.

CBA: I think that John did it on a fill-in basis, just a few issues.

JIM: He didn't do too many of them.

CBA: And then you took that book over, and were working with Steve Gerber. Now, would you guys have a phone conversation?

JIM: Yeah, we almost always worked on the phone. I had never met Steve in the early days, when we were working on it. We'd talk on the phone, and the opportunity I had to meet him was way, way later at the San Diego con, and that was about two years ago.

CBA: So, you'd never met him face-to-face?

JIM: So typical of the business. I mean, so many of the guys, like John Buscema, Sal Buscema, any of the guys who were prominent at Marvel at that time, we were just not in the office at the same time. Maybe they were trying to avoid me, I don't know... I'm kidding... really!

CBA: Well, it seems it's the nature of the beast that most of these guys would work at home, presumably have their own social circles, there'd be very little chance for interaction aside from chance encounters outside of the office.

JIM: Well, that's quite in contrast to early on, because in the early days at Timely, when we were working, we'd all get together when we had a deadline, and we'd work all through the night in the offices in the old McGraw-Hill building. We all knew each other, and we socialized to a great extent, with [editor] Don Rico, and quite a few of the others who were working at the time.

CBA: Let's backtrack to the '70s: You were doing work on a number of books, and all this time, there were some things going on in the business. There was a whole new generation of artists, there was a period—probably the early to the late '60s, where there was no new talent really coming into the business outside of Neal. Suddenly there was a whole new generation of artists—Jim Starlin, Bernie Wrightson, Walt Simonson, and people like that. Now, as an older cartoonist—a more experienced and seasoned veteran—how did you feel about this invasion of young new blood?

JIM: It didn't bother me too much. I was very much impressed by Mike Ploog, for example, whom I thought was excellent. Of course, Bernie Wrightson was great. I really didn't feel terribly threatened, because I'd always been able to make a living in cartooning, and I just accepted the fact that new blood was probably necessary—our blood was getting a little old. No, I'm kidding on that, but no, it didn't bother me at all. I mean, I really didn't know any of these guys, it was just...

CBA: You just saw their work.

JIM: Yeah, I just knew their work, that's all.

CBA: At the same time, there was a great deal of editorial chaos at Marvel. There was a revolving editorship—Roy Thomas, then Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, and Gerry Conway—with people just coming and going. Did that affect your job all?

JIM: It didn't really. I got to know Roy probably better than most, because I worked with him more. I got to know Len, I didn't get to talk much to Gerry Conway; but no, it really didn't. Not that I felt overly secure, it's just I thought the work was there. About this time, say about 1975, I decided that I wanted to move to Florida. So I approached the management to see what could be done, and I suggested a contract, which they went along with. I moved to Florida in 1975 with a contract, and that lasted from 1975 to 1985, about 10 years, that was just like working in the office—it was a good deal. The money wasn't too great, but I was paid every couple of weeks, I had insurance, and I had a lot of security that most freelancers never had.

CBA: So you were basically a contractor.

JIM: The only problem with it was I had to take pretty much whatever came down the pike. Some of it I didn't care too much for, but being under contract, I accepted whatever was sent to me. Some of the stuff I would've preferred not to have done; there are other things I would've liked to have handled, but I just felt that I was obligated under contract.

CBA: So at this point, you moved to Florida, and you're on a contractual basis with Marvel. Was the only contact with the comic book world just the work you were doing at the time? Did you go to any conventions in Florida?

JIM: I went to only one, a Miami convention. Later on, I went to a few: A cartoonists' convention in Orlando, and a couple of conventions in Tampa/St. Petersburg; but I wasn't really very active in the convention circles at all. In fact, the first real contact I had with conventions outside of this area was Mike Whorley invited me to the Kansas City convention, and that was fun and different. It opened my eyes to an area I was not familiar with to that extent. Then I got my first invite to the San Diego Con, about three years ago.

CBA: Oh, that recent?

JIM: Then I started doing a few more, and it was quite enlightening to me. I didn't realize all this stuff was going on, and I didn't realize there was that much of a market for my original pages, etc. That was kind of a revelation.

CBA: Was the attitude of guys in your generation that this was just a job that you were doing?

JIM: I don't know, I can only speak for myself and some of the other guys I did know. I think most of us accepted it as a way to make a buck, it was something we could do pretty well. We had the experience, but I would say except for a few strips that I did, I was never terribly enthusiastic about it. Certainly I wasn't terribly enthusiastic about the nine years I spent on "Supergirl."

CBA: That wasn't your favorite assignment.

JIM: It wasn't for many reasons. First of all, it was a strip that wasn't terribly challenging. After a while, you were pretty much doing the same thing over and over. The other thing I didn't like about it was, before that I was doing some stuff for DC, House of Mystery and so on, in a much more sophisticated style. When I started on "Supergirl," Mort Weisinger insisted it had to be what he considered the "house style." It had to look the way he wanted it, which was much simpler than the way I'd been drawing previously. So, I was pretty much fenced in by that particular requirement that Mort had. If I changed my style at all, he'd call me into his office and say, "What are you trying to do, make a million bucks? Do you have somebody ghosting for you?" I said, "No, I was just trying something a little different." He said, "Well, don't! Draw it the way you were drawing it before."

CBA: So by contrast, Marvel was much more "hands-off."

JIM: Oh, yeah, Marvel was a joy. I always liked working with Stan anyway, but there was a nice feeling of freedom and cooperation; people were nice and DC—my God, you felt like you were entering a penal institution sometimes! I'm speaking of those old days.

CBA: Very button-down?

JIM: Yeah.

CBA: And this would be when Jack Liebowitz and Harry Donenfeld were still in charge, before they sold out to Kinney?

JIM: Yeah.

CBA: Did it change? You weren't there too long for the Carmine days, but did it change at all? Did he ask you to change, or was it still very conservative?

JIM: It was not just necessarily conservative, it was just very uncomfortable. I'll give you an incident, as an example. I had been doing "Supergirl" for a long, long while, and I used to come in and bring my work to Mort (this would be about '65, '66, through there), and I walked into the office—the door was open—and Mort was busy with a writer, and he waved me out, like "I'm busy." So I walked out to the bullpen, and I was talking to Jack Schiff whom I'd also worked with, and I think George Kashdan, Boltinoff, and so on, and shoot the breeze, and Mort came storming in, absolutely storming in, and said, "You're supposed to bring that 'Supergirl' to me first!" His voice was cracking with anger; and I was flabbergasted, and everybody was shocked in the writers' bullpen; and he kept at it, saying, "You know, you keep at this, and you won't be drawing 'Supergirl'", and I said, "I've got news for you, Mort, I'm not going to be drawing 'Supergirl' anymore."

CBA: And what was the reaction?

JIM: He looked at me, totally stunned, and he stormed out of the office. Then, of course, there was a buzz in there, Jack and Murray saying, "Don't worry, Jim, we'll get you some work; it's okay." And I said, "It's okay, you can only take so much of this." And I came in two weeks later to see Jack, and Mort comes down the hall with a script, and says, "Here's your 'Supergirl' script." Like nothing had ever happened! And I thought for a minute, "Well, don't be a damned fool; it is an income," and although I realized it would be as difficult as it ever was to work with the guy, I thought. "I'll try it for a little while longer."

CBA: From what I gather, in contrast to Marvel, which seemed much more creator-friendly, everything I've read is that the brass at DC just had utter contempt for the creators.

JIM: They did. I got some pages, "Supergirl" pages, back from a guy by the name of Sal Amendola. Sal was a heck of a nice guy, and he said, "Jim, I felt bad about this. These are your pages." When I was working at DC, they were using "Supergirl" pages to back-up reprints, and they'd just throw them away! Well, I knew they were shredding them, throwing them away, and I knew they didn't care much about it. In fact, there was a story he told me that when they had a troop of Boy Scouts come into the office, they'd give them souvenirs, and they decided that a Curt Swan page would be ideal, but they didn't want to part with an entire page, so they cut out panels from it to give to each boy! And Sal was just incensed at this kind of desecration. (I recall this type of thing was typical of Sol Harrison.)

CBA: Were you worried about getting your originals back at that point in time?

JIM: I just thought, I had the same attitude, this is ephemeral stuff, it's just a throwaway type of thing, so don't worry about it. Once in a while, I'd ask for something to give to somebody that wanted it. I said, "This stuff is just going down to the cellar," and I assumed it was going to the shredder (although I didn't say that), and I_said, "Is it okay if I take a couple of 'Supergirl' pages here, because I've got somebody that wants them." That was about it.

Jim's favorite comic assignment was drawing Steve Gerber's Man-Thing. Here's a panel detail. ©2000 Marvel Characters, Inc.

CBA: Wow. So, let's get back to Marvel, then. You were working at Marvel in '75, you were freelancing, working with Sal Buscema a lot on The Defenders.

JIM: I really liked working with Sal as an inker—he was great. I don't think he drew as well as John did, but it was all there, very pleasant to ink, very concise, and very well done.

CBA: And you returned intermittently to Amazing Spider-Man, particularly towards the late '70s, and basically did whatever they threw at you. You were still penciling as well?

JIM: Yeah, I referred to it as trying to make my deadlines, and fulfill the terms of my contract. I gravitated more and more to finalizing other peoples' work and inking, because I could do it faster, and I could fulfill the terms of my contract that way. I did like to pencil, and I did do a little bit of it, but I didn't do that much during those later years.

CBA: Yeah, it seemed as the '70s wore on, you did less and less penciling. The books that really stand out in my mind that you had penciled were Man-Thing and Omega the Unknown. You did a Ms. Marvel and a number of issues of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man as well.

JIM: Yes, I did.

CBA: Then it became more and more finished art. Stan Lee, as the '70s wore on, was almost completely out of the picture?

JIM: Yes. I went out to Hollywood in the late '70s or very early '80s.

CBA: Marvel Productions days?

JIM: Yes, when he was there, and I spent a little time with Stan. I had to go out there to visit my father, who was in a rest home, and that was about the only contact I had with Stan except for a phone call every now and then at that period of time.

CBA: Let's forward to the '80s. The comics industry changed quite a bit, you saw fewer and fewer comics on the newsstand, and you saw the explosion of the direct market, and you also saw changes in tastes; more stylized cartoonists are coming to the fore. People like Sal Buscema were tailoring their drawing styles to fit this better. Did you feel the pressure in those days?

JIM: I was aware of that, but of course, most of the stuff I was doing at that time was primarily inking. I was inking John Romita, Jr. at that time, and it was finalized, true, but John also had the talent his father had; if he did give you a sketch, it wasn't too difficult to finish it in preparation for inking.

CBA: Do you remember what books you would be working on in the early '80s before your contract was up?

JIM: I think I was primarily working on Spider-Man.

CBA: Spectacular Spider-Man, mostly? There was Web of Spider-Man that came along.

JIM: Web of Spider-Man, yes, I did a lot of that. I did Web #10 with my full pencils.

CBA: There were probably scattered assignments here and there.

JIM: I think it was a little later on, it may have been even after my contract was up, that I worked with Mike Carlin on Thundercats.

CBA: That's something I do remember you working on.

JIM: That was into my retirement years. I was doing that in '88, '89, through there, and then right after that, I thought I was going to totally retire, and the Superboy TV series came my way. That was 1990, and I was five years into retirement by then!

CBA: Busy retirement!

JIM: It was, it still is! I'm still working!

CBA: I've read you were working for Claypool Comics?

JIM: I'm inking Soulsearchers & Co., penciling and inking Elvira.

CBA: Wow. You seem to be the most active of your generation at this point.

JIM: I'm hungry most of the time. I've got to keep feeding myself, my family, and my eight cats.

CBA: Are there any anecdotes, anything interesting with different personalities you'd like to go into?

JIM: Well, I think I mentioned earlier on it was such a pleasure to go into that. I used to dread going into the offices at DC, but I looked forward to going into Marvel, and I think one of the real nice pleasant things, and a lot of the guys who have great memories say the same thing. You'd come in, and Flo Steinberg would be there, and she would say (in her marvelous enthusiastic voice), "Stan, Jim Mooney's here," and that would just make me feel great, as if I were very important. Then I realized everybody else got that same treatment, which was darn nice. I'd occasionally hang out in the bullpen and shoot the breeze, but I don't have too many bullpen anecdotes, because I really wasn't there all that much. The one thing I really liked, and I haven't had that experience before with Stan when we collaborated on the funny animal stuff, we'd get together for a story conference in the early '70s, and Stan would act these things out, and I'd think, "This is amazing, I've known this guy for years, I've never seen anything like this!" He'd jump up on the desk, and go through the motions, the actions that he expected either from the Green Goblin or whatever the heck it was we were doing, and he was having such a great time with it, it was contagious. I'd begin to think, "Hey, this is kind of fun, I'm enjoying this."

CBA: When Stan became Editor-in-Chief/Publisher, your contacts with him outside of the social arrangements you'd mentioned before would be pretty minimal?

JIM: Yeah, I'd just say "Hi!" when I came in to the office, or maybe we'd chat a little bit in the hall, or maybe go out to lunch occasionally, but the contact wasn't as often as the early days when he was scripting The Amazing Spider-Man.

CBA: You enjoyed being able to draw however you wanted for Marvel, and there was never any pressure to draw in the "house style," the way Mort Weisinger wanted you to...

JIM: I wouldn't say there'd be a "house style" so much, but at that point I was working with John Romita. I learned a great deal working with him, and I think it certainly improved my drawing of girls, particularly; but John had a very nice way about him. If something wasn't right, he'd tell you, and he'd just say, "Hey, maybe you can do it a little bit more this way," or "You notice with Gwen you draw her face a little more like this, maybe this angle is better, try to keep the head up if you can." All very pertinent, and very acceptable criticisms. I never took offense in any way; there was no reason to. I wouldn't even call that "house style," it was because I was trying to do something that I could make look as much like John's work as possible.

CBA: Did you get the feeling when you were working for Marvel you were part of something that was new in comics, and exciting, and something that was much different than what had come before, did you get the feeling that there was just a whole different sense of mission with the books?

Jim Mooney pencils and inks from Marvel Spotlight #27, featuring Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. ©2000 Marvel Characters, Inc.

JIM: Oh, yeah. I actually became quite enthusiastic about a lot of things I was doing there, and that had never occurred when I was working at DC. I kind of enjoyed getting a good House of Mystery script or something like that, and some of the "Tommy Tomorrow" scripts were pleasant to do, but I always had the feeling like "This is a job, accept it as a job, do the best you can, get your paycheck, and go home." At Marvel, I had a feeling of being involved, and being a part of it, particularly when I was penciling and worked with the outline script Stan provided and some of the others, because you did contribute something. You broke it down the way you wanted to. You could use any number of panels per page, as long as you still told the story.

CBA: I wonder if there'd be comics today if it wasn't for Stan.

JIM: I would be embarrassed to say that in front of him, but I feel the guy certainly provided movement for the whole industry—we all know that—that's no revelation. Stan and I, through the years we've always had a good relationship, and I've enjoyed that. We've had fun together, and I still consider Stan a very good friend. I'm sometimes in awe of how much he's accomplished.

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