Continued After the Next Page #009: Conversation with John Workman – An Oral History of Comics

Last summer, as we were getting this site up and going, one of the first things that I did was reach out to legendary comic letterer and artist John Workman. I had met him at a couple of conventions in the past, and he had told me some interesting stories about how comics were made in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I felt that the stories were amazing insights into the world of comic making, and I wanted to get all the details so that we could share those incredible stories with all of you.

My intent for our initial interview was to clarify some details he had told me about making Thor in the 80’s with Walter Simonson. What ended up happening was an almost two-hour conversation and a truly life changing event for me. I clipped out a little bit of our conversation for a column last year called When Thor Road the Bus.

Before I get too far along, I must say that John Workman is one of the nicest people that I have ever met. He is thoughtful, considerate, inquisitive, and incredibly talented. Since our initial phone conversation, John and I have spoken a couple of more times over the phone, and my wife and I spent a lovely afternoon with John and his wife Cathy at their home last November. He has become a regular email pen pal of mine. I consider John a friend, and I am lucky for it.

The purpose of this article is to share with the world some of the amazing things that we spoke about. The topics range from the page counts for comics in the 70’s to his time at Heavy Metal. There are some funny stories about Harlan Ellison and Wally Wood. There is the tale of the “Lost Mignola Batman Story”, and much more. So hang on and I will try my best to navigate all this history and bring it into the world so that we can all share in its wonder.

Jeannette Kahn and Dollar Comics

I had mentioned to John that the title to my column on PCS would be called “Continued After the Next Page” as a throwback to comic days of yesteryear. He broke out into some pretty cool comics production history.

John Workman: I worked at DC from 1975 to 1977 before I went to work at Heavy Metal. During that time, as had been true since the early 1950s, there were thirty-six pages [thirty- two interior and four for the front and back covers] in a regular comic book. Of those pages, somewhere over 20 (27 in the ’60s) were devoted to actual comics material with the rest being made up of a combination of paid ads and “house ads” that let readers know about other DC publications. Shortly after I arrived at DC, the number of comics pages dropped to seventeen, and I remember two things that we had to do. We [the production department] had to white-out all the pages numbers down in the corner so people would be a little less aware that they were only getting seventeen pages of comics, and we had to go in a lot and put in “Continued After Next” or “Second Page” or whatever, because the seventeen pages of comic material was broken up by more ads. There were a lot of in-house ads to fill out the issue because seventeen pages was only one more than the total number of pages in a book.

I was shocked at this and felt the need to clarify

BH: So, I want to be clear, there was only seventeen pages of comic book content in a thirty-six page publication, and the rest were all ads?

JW: Well for the most part it was ads. They did have a letter column. I think they were still doing promotional things, like a single page blurb of what was up-and-coming within the next month at DC.

BH: This was across the board at DC?

JW: Yeah. There may have been a few books during that time that were still featuring more pages.. sixty-four interior pages, if I remember correctly. I know that both Marvel and DC went to 64 pages for a brief time. Marvel dropped after about two months. My memory may be off on this. They left DC holding the bag there and sales dropped a lot. I know that on Justice League they went down by 20,000 [copies per month] after they went from 15-cents to 25-cents. After a while they dropped down to the thirty-six-page format again but the 20-cents not the 15-cents the book had previously cost.

This was eye-opening for me because these type of business and publication decisions happened before I was reading comics and certainly before I was aware that making comics was actually supposed to be a money-making endeavor. Also, the shear numbers of comic units per title that were published and sold back then would make today’s publishers incredibly envious.

BH: When did they change to add more comic content?

JW: I think that happened pretty quickly. The powers that be recognized that the readers were on to them in regard to the seventeen pages, so they upped the page count of the comics material pretty quickly.

Something else happened during that time that was very strange. One of the higher ups at Warner Brothers decided to make DC a reprint company. The idea was to get rid of all the editors and the staff people with the exception of maybe one editor and a couple people to do production. They wouldn’t need freelancers anymore except maybe to do new covers. Whatever books they continued to print would be reprints.  Jeanette Kahn went all the way to Steve Ross, the head of the company, to talk him out of it. Otherwise the history of comic books be very different.

BH: Wow! Was Jeanette the publisher at that time?

JW: Yes, that happened in ‘76. I was hired directly by Carmine [Infantino] in 1975. I took a leave of absence and went out to Washington for three months so I could get married. Well, Cathy and I got married, and then, we came back East, and I went back to work at DC. During the time I was gone, Carmine had gotten fired, and Jeanette took over. I liked Carmine. He was always one of my heroes artistically, but I didn’t always agree with the decisions that he made at DC as publisher. Jeanette, I liked immediately, and she recognized what was a major problem was with all comics at that time. They weren’t keeping up with other newsstand publications.

At one time you could go to walk into any store, newsstand or drug store and buy a copy of Time magazine for 10-cents or a copy of Superman for 10-cents. Then Life and Time and these other magazines went up in price. The paper quality got better while comics stayed on pulp paper, and the only thing they could do was drop from 64 interior pages to 48, then from 48 to 40 and then to 32. That was about as small as they could go. The price of a regular comic, of course, stayed at 10-cents until 1962.

There were attempts at a few things to save money like cutting back on color. They got rid of 25% yellow for a while in the early 50’s. Another attempt, not with DC, but with other companies tried the use of “self-covers”. The covers of the comics were the same pulp paper as in the interiors. All sort of things were being tried.

Jeanette came up with a wonderful idea to go back up in page count to 80 pages. They would play up the DC in the name of the company and call them “Dollar Comics”. The dollar comics were a good idea. The distributors and the retailers would get more for the comics and the buyers would get 80 pages instead of 36, and it was all new material. So that was a good deal for a time.

Though the reliance on the cover use of the term “Dollar Comics” didn’t anticipate the eventual time when the books would have to cut pages in order to stay at that one dollar price level, the dollar comics were still a good idea.

One thing that was [interesting] to me was that the best-selling “Dollar Comic” on the newsstand, not in the emerging comic shops, was Murray Boltinoff’s All Out War book. A general war book was out-selling the superhero stuff and House of Mystery. It was dropped because it wasn’t a fan-favorite, and they were trying to work the fan market and get away from the newsstand.  It is just something that stuck with me. I often think about things that might have been.

Superman vs. Muhammad Ali: The inside story.

John and I got to talking about how small decisions changed history and then he started to talk about the famous Muhammad Ali vs. Superman comic. He had seen that he was quoted in a magazine article about the comic.

JW: [T]he original artist was Joe Kubert. He had done an ad for it in sometime in 1975. That ad had appeared in most of the DC books back then as something that was coming along pretty soon, but Muhammad Ali’s people who were making decisions about the book didn’t like Joe’s art work. They thought it was too scratchy, and by the time we were ready to get the book going, Jeanette was headed up the company. She and Sol Harrison showed them samples of artwork by everyone they could get a hold of to do the book. Ali’s people chose Kurt Schaffenberger to draw Superman vs Muhammad Ali. Jeanette lobbied for Neal Adams, and she got them to agree to that.

When I spent some time with John at his home, he dropped this little piece of information that I am certain is not common knowledge. John did the Muhammad Ali logo for the cover of the book. He was given a rough of the Ali logo by DC vice president Sol Harrison and told to do the logo as a freelance project and to bring the finished version in the next morning. He took the rough home with him to Staten Island, and when he was looking at it, something didn’t look right. John called his brother Bill in Washington state, who was a much bigger sports fan than John, and John’s fears were confirmed. The rough had the spelling of the fighter’s name completely wrong. John’s brother gave him the correct spelling.

In the mid 70’s, there was no internet or even ESPN, and by the time John noticed what he believed to be an error, the libraries were closed. So, he called cross-country to determine that in fact there were no E’s or O’s in Muhammad Ali.  John has often wondered what might have happened the next morning if Sol Harrison had gone off to show Ali’s people the logo … with the mangled spelling.  Bill Workman’s knowledge of sports certainly kept the project on the right track.

The move to Heavy Metal

After working in the Production Department at DC for a few years, John left to become the Art Director at the fledgling Heavy Metal Magazine. He was Art Director there from 1977 to 1984. Actually, it had been Neal Adams who recommended John for the job to the publishers of the magazine.

BH: When you were leaving DC for Heavy Metal was that a nervous move?

JW: A little bit. I liked everyone at DC, but I had already gone beyond the point where I was bored by it. Once you have done the art corrections and the lettering and all that on a comic, you have done everything [in the Production department]. There was kind of a challenge to try to match art style, lettering style, and the people were wonderful. I can tell you incredible stories about everyone up there. I had an amazing respect for them too. There wasn’t a single person who didn’t have multiple abilities up there [at DC]. Julie Schwartz, used to insist that he didn’t know anything about art, but, really, he knew who was good.  Sol Harrison had done some coloring and inking at different times at DC. Jack Adler did tons of coloring for them, and he really knew his stuff. He, also, came up with ways to reproduce stuff from the printed page, and still make it look good. So, I learned a lot from everyone up there, and they knew what they were doing. They were great fun to work with.

BH: At the same time, you were excited to work at Heavy Metal?

JW: Yeah. I remember that I actually picked up the first issue of Heavy Metal downstairs at a newsstand in the lobby of the Warner building. I was already aware of Moebius and many of the other people whose work was appearing in HM. It was interesting to see all those things. The funny thing was that I was trying to get freelance work with [National] Lampoon. I really liked the strip called “Idyl”… not sure how to pronounce it … but Jeff Jones was doing it for Lampoon. It was a full-page strip, and it was beautiful. He and Matty Simmons, who headed up Lampoon, had a falling out, and Jeff Jones’s strip wasn’t in there anymore. So, I came up with this idea of a one-page strip to show to Peter Kleinman at Lampoon.

I showed my page to Joe Orlando, who had done a lot of work for Lampoon. Joe really loved it and gave me some stuff to ink at DC, as a result of that. One day, I got a call from Peter Kleinman. I thought that he was finally answering me back, but the call wasn’t about the strip. It was about me being Art Director at Heavy Metal. Neal [Adams] had recommended me. So, I went over there to talk to them, and I took the job.

I had to go and tell Jack Adler, then, that I was leaving DC, and it was kind of a sad thing. As I said, I liked them all, but I felt that I had done all that I could do. Several people told me about how Mort Drucker had worked in Production Department years earlier, and they practically had to force him out of there because of how good he was. People knew he could make it as an artist, and there he was making art corrections on other people’s work and doing lettering. So, I felt a little like Mort Drucker [when I was leaving]. I’m not in the same category at all, but there is some similarity there.

BH: When you did leave Heavy Metal? Is that when you went into freelancing and lettering, is that how that worked?

JW: No, I had been doing lettering at Heavy Metal, and also writing and artwork, and a little of everything. It was not my intent to leave Heavy Metal at that time. I still can’t understand all that culminated in my leaving. I remember this friend telling me, “I can’t believe you were there for 7 years.” But it was the most enjoyable time I’ve had in comics. There was a small staff, that it seemed like we were family. If we had an idea, we could just say, “Let’s do this!” and get either a Yes or a No. It wasn’t that sort of creation by committee that had come to the fore at DC and other places. I really enjoyed it at Heavy Metal.

Creativity in Comics

BH: You have said before about working at Heavy Metal and National Lampoon that there was so much more flexibility and “seat of the pants creativity”. Do you think that is true? I don’t think that exists anywhere today.

JW: You are probably right. I think that it existed for a while at Archie, to some degree. When I started working for them, I was amazed at their offices because there was this element of fun that had been replaced at other places. I guess those two things are always kind of fighting each other. The business aspect and the creative part of it.

I do remember this one occurrence concerning this woman at Warner. Joe Orlando had talked me into coming back on staff at there in the late 80’s. I knew it was a mistake going in, but I still thought that maybe I could do something. By that time, DC had become so corporate, and there were so many redundant people there that you had to go through all sorts of gyrations just to do  … nothing, really. It was very difficult for me. There was this woman who was part of Warner. I remember her asking me, “Tell us! What are you going to be doing here?” I remember, during our talk, that she seemed to just hold her nose in regard to Andy Helfer. Andy was the Bill Gaines, physically, of DC. Someone once said that Bill Gaines looked like an unmade bed. Andy had that feeling about him, but he really loved comics and really enjoyed what he was doing, and he came up with incredibly competent ideas. I remember thinking about Andy as opposed to this statue of Clark Kent that sat in the entrance to the DC offices. Ol’ Clark looked good in his blue suit, and I’m sure that the Warner woman would have preferred that piece of statuary to Andy, but which one would have been more creative? I didn’t say this to the woman, but I certainly thought it. I think Andy, at the time, represented a lot of the things that the money people, the business people, really hated.

We started talking about how comic creativity has hit a point where they publishers seem to be taking bigger risks in storytelling and my question was not eloquent at all, but John came up with this response

JW: This was my thinking for thirty or forty years now. The Beatles are excellent to look to for mistakes and successes, both business-wise and creativity-wise. Maybe, it’s true, that you can hold on to something truly wonderful for only about five years or so, and then, it starts to come apart at the seams. I always go back to Julie Schwartz. He and the other editors had an on-going competition involving who could do the neatest stuff, and who could sell the most books. That’s lost in so many ways. Maybe not in regard to doing the neatest stuff, but certainly as far as what will actually sell. Most contemporary editors have no idea about the actual sales of their stuff. And it is so hard to tell what will sell because the sales are so tiny compared to what they once were.

Some of Julie Schwartz’s favorite books, when he was editing them, were Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. Their sales were never that great, I think they peaked at 150,000 copies, maybe a little bit more early on, but toward the end of his time on those two books, before he moved on to Batman, I think they were selling 140,000 to 150,000. That was the low end of DC, and now 150,000 would be miraculous.

Harlan Ellison

When John and I spoke, it was shortly after Harlan Ellison’s passing. John told a story about his work with Harlan on the Heroes for Hope anthology for Marvel in the mid 80’s. That is included in the Thor Rode the Bus column. We came back to another story that John remembered about the writer.

JW: He was quite a guy. … I had a near run-in with Harlan one time. He would pop up at Heavy Metal, and I have always admired his work. I actually did him kind of a favor. I loved “Santa Claus vs. S.P.I.D.E.R.”, which was a story he had written, kind of James Bond satire if James Bond had been Santa Claus. I loved the “tongue in cheek” humor of it, and we got it re-printed in Heavy Metal, and Harlan got some money for that. Julie Simmons [The editor of Heavy Metal beginning in 1980] got Gahan Wilson to do the illustration for the short story, and I was so happy about it.

When John Lennon was killed [in 1980], we felt we should do something in Heavy Metal to commemorate his passing. Julie and I talked about it with publisher Len Mogel, and we decided to get Harlan to write something. We thought he would be perfect for it. He agreed, but we had no idea what he was going to write. I really wanted to do the artwork for whatever Harlan wrote, and I started coming up with ideas and roughing out things. Each one was so hokey and dumb that John Lennon would have hated it. Then, I thought I would wait to see Harlan’s actual article, and maybe that would give me a hint of what I should do as far as an illustration. Well, the days went by, and no article showed up. It got to the point where I thought, “I’m not going to get any type of decent illustration done for this in the time remaining.” I remember going to Julie [Simmons] and asking her to call Harlan to get the piece. Well, it finally showed up, and I had about a day to do something [before going to print]. I read the article, and it was really tough and angry and well-written, but I thought, “Ok, what am I going to do?”

I pasted the article down, running the type across the bottom half of a double page spread. I put it on the floor, and I put some paper over the type so it wouldn’t be affected. Then, I took a dropper and dropped ink on the top part of the page. Then, I had the separators do the ink drops in blood red. It was really effective, but it was an act of desperation.

When we got the printed copies, I was in Julie Simmons’s office, and the phone rang. She picked it up, and it was Harlan. Now, the way she was talking to him, I got the idea that Harlan … who has just received his own copies of the issue …was not happy at all. She kind of covered the phone and said, “Harlan wants to talk to you.” She handed me the phone. In the time it took for me to get the phone, I became angry. I was ready to metaphorically reach inside the phone and grab Harlan by his throat. But I was totally wrong. He really liked what I had done, and he said that it was simple and direct and straight-forward. I told him that it was an act of desperation. He replied that so was the end of “Casablanca,” and Oh Man! He couldn’t have said anything better than that. I liked him even more after that. We all have our short-comings, but I got along well with him.

This is the scanned copy of the issue that I had John sign for me last year. Originally printed in Heavy Metal Magazine. Words by Harlan Ellison and Art by John Workman.

Lost Mignola Batman Story

During our conversation, I mentioned to John how I had been reading a recent Invincible collection and there was word-art in it that reminded me of his style. There was a massive “Krakooom” that made me think of John’s work with Walt Simonson on Thor. As you can see, things like that bring up a memory followed by a fantastic story.

JW: Well, I have another funny story. This happened years ago. One day, I came around from the studio to the house, and there was a package left by Federal [Express]. I took it on in and sat it on the kitchen table to open it. Inside, there were a bunch of Batman issues from DC. Batman Villains: Secret Files, I think it was. I wondered why they were sending me these, because they had stopped sending me copies of their books by that time, with the exception of things that I had worked on. I was skimming through one if the copies of the book when I came to this Batman / Clayface story, and I stopped flipping pages.

The story had Mike Mignola artwork on it, and I love his stuff. He’s just a master of shapes. He is so good at doing a simple shape and making it work. Alex Toth could do that, too. But I started looking at the lettering, and I thought, “Jeez, this is good. Who is the guy?” I kept going through it.

“Wow, I could learn from this guy!”
“Wow, this is amazing!”
“Who did this?”

Then, I went back to the first page, and it was me! All the while, when I was looking at it, I was wondering why Mike Mignola was doing the art on a short Batman story. He was doing Hellboy and making a fortune with all the movies. Well, what had happened was … I had lettered this thing years earlier, and then forgotten about it. Just a little story about Clayface and Batman and Robin, and I lettered it and sent it off to whoever the inker was. I think it was Kevin Nowlan, and he sent it DC. I was told that they had lost it. Years went by, until someone moved a desk or something and they found the story. So, they printed it in this Secret Files, and in the meantime, I had forgotten all about this.

BH: Wow that is fantastic. Did you get paid for it originally?

JW: Oh yeah. But when I saw it in print, I had no memory of it because it had been so long. Finding out that I had done it felt good because usually I see my stuff, and I groan. I am very self-critical, and it takes me years sometimes to look at stuff and think, “Hmm, that’s not too bad” or “I did that, and it was clever.” With this one, it was just hilarious that I didn’t recognize my own lettering.

This story was really funny. Subsequent to my talk with John, I picked up a copy of the book he was talking about. It turns out that Kevin Nowlan had done the inks, and when I ran into Kevin to get him to sign the book, he filled me in on the rest of the story.

Apparently, there was a bit of a legend to this particular little Batman-Clayface story. When it was penciled and lettered, the editor of the Batman books at the time, Denny O’Neil, hated this story. He thought it was too silly, and the story never saw print. The original pages were put aside, and Kevin never even inked the pages as he was supposed to.

Eventually, DC sent the original pages out to a young inker in Canada to practice on. Of course, they had Xerox copies of the story around the offices, and the legend of this abandoned Mignola story had grown. When they came around to doing this Batman Villains Secret Files book, they decided that it would be great to finally print this story. They searched for the originals and had to get them back from Canada. Thankfully they had never actually been inked.

The editors reached out to Mike Mignola to let him know their plans. Here is where it gets even funnier. Mike talked to Kevin, and even though Kevin was supposed to ink the original story, Mike thought it would be cool to ink it himself. Kevin agreed, of course, to Mike’s request. However, when Mignola actually saw the pages, he told Kevin that he did not even know who the guy was who penciled them, because he had changed so much in the time since he drew the story. Therefore, Kevin Nowlan ended up inking the pages as originally planned and the world finally saw the “Lost Mignola Batman Story.”

On John’s Accolades and Influences

John and I spoke about his nominations in 2018 for both Eisner and Ringo awards as Best Letterer, and I asked him how he felt about being recognized in that category.

Comic Books are the only place where having a Workman-like craftsmanship is a plus.

JW: In my early days, when I realized I wanted to make my name is comics, I saw myself doing everything. I had met Basil Wolverton back in 1969, and that was the advice that he gave me. To learn to do everything. I’ve written. I’ve drawn, and I think it’s a shame that most people know me as a guy who letters. There is nothing wrong with lettering. I mean it’s an important part of the whole thing, and I have worked with some wonderful people over the years. Really, it is my fault that I haven’t done more of the other things, but it is nice to be acknowledged for the lettering. I would hope that people realize that I have done other things, too.

I was talking to someone the other day about how, at Heavy Metal, when I would write and draw stories for them, they were always little things … a half-page strip,  a single page, or maybe a three-page story. At its height, HM sold around 260,000 copies per month, and we had a real high rate of people passing on the magazine to others, so we had a little over a million people actually reading each issue. It was years and years ago now of course, but I hope that people have some good memories of Heavy Metal, and maybe of some of the things that I’d done. Well, I guess now I’m a letterer.

BH: I do understand that. You are fantastic at what you do regardless of what it is you do. So, if you could take some solace in knowing that you do it so well that’s been recognized. I understand you wanting to be known for more. From my perspective, there is more to you, and you have done good work and it is being rewarded and recognized.

In doing some research, I came across a quote about you on your Wikipedia page that goes

“Comic Books are the only place where having a Workman-like craftsmanship is a plus.”

JW: [Chuckles] Oh yeah, I don’t know if someone had done that as a little bit of humorous theater or what.

BH: Have you ever heard that?

JW: Only from Julie Schwartz. There were only a handful of them, but Julie printed every comic letter to the editor that I sent it. It was amazing. He found my name humorous. He would do puns around the name “Workman,” and when we finally met face-to-face, the first words out of his mouth were something about my stuff being “workman-like”. It was humorous. I really liked him. He was a great guy.

BH: So, I personally know that there are writers and artists who grew up admiring your work, and how does that make you feel when people recognize that?

JW: Well, it is wonderful to be a part of something bigger than you. Paul Levitz and I, and some other people, were talking one time about how we’re here, and then we’re gone. What we leave behind is going to represent us. And this is true of every person in the world. Something solid to be left behind for other people to discover. If we are lucky, that takes our individual existence on into the future. There is a book that Fantagraphics just brought out just recently. It is a two-volume set of Wally Wood. A lot of it is reprinted from something that was done years ago that Bhob Stewart put together. Of course, Bhob was co-editor with Mike Catron on this two-volume set, but I talked in it about how Wally Wood, Harlan Ellison, Julie Schwartz, and whoever you can name, that they live on by way of what they created.

The saddest thing in the world is probably when there is some natural or man-made event that destroys a piece of art … paintings or statuary of films or comics or books or recordings or whatever because that takes away from the ongoing life of the people who created these things. It’s almost like killing a person. I watched Monuments Men recently. It’s a wonderful movie. I didn’t know that it would affect me so much. I got physically ill at the site of the Nazis burning paintings. I hope that when I am done with it, my life will have contributed to comics being seen as something important and worthwhile, and that In 100 years or 200 or whatever, people will still be looking at them.

BH: So, I know you’ve talked about Moebius, and you’ve talked about Todd Klein. Is there someone else, you admire in terms of lettering, someone working today, or you have learned from, that really sticks out?

JW: Oh, I’ve learned from everybody, I think. There’s Alex Toth’s stuff. I did a thing called Roma years ago for Dark Horse. I wrote it, drew it, and lettered it, and was trying to BE Alex Toth with the lettering and, to a degree, with the art. I love his lettering, and the things he did for DC in the 60’s. There are distinct eras of Toth, where his stuff takes on a different look. I really liked his early 60’s stuff. I loved his later stuff too. He did a Hot Wheels comic that he wrote and drew and lettered that is one of the best comic stories ever. So beautifully done, everything about it was great. There’s an interesting thing about that story: It was about an old car, a mystery story about this 1937 Cord. I have an issue of Four-Color Comics, a comics version of the 77 Sunset Strip TV show from around ’60 or ’61 that Toth drew the lead story in, and it’s about a 1937 Cord. I always thought he reworked the old story for Hot Wheels. I don’t know who wrote the original [Eric Freiwald and Robert Schaefer], but whatever happened, Toth made it better when he wrote and drew and lettered the later version. [The Hot Wheels story] is one of the great stories in comics form. And I really loved his lettering.

I studied Jim Aparo’s lettering. He lettered most of his own stuff, and I even got the same sort of pen he used. I found out I could get kind of an “Aparo” look about it. Ben Oda was great. Gaspar Saladino, Todd and I both think that Gaspar Saladino is the best. He was incredible in what he did. I love John Costanza’s stuff. Irving Watanabe, Sam Rosen, and Artie Simek were great.

While John was searching his mental databanks for the names of these great letterers, I mentioned an X-Men collection that I have where Werner Roth had done the art and Artie Simek had done the lettering.

JW: I met Werner Roth’s son years later. He came up to Heavy Metal, and we had a nice talk. I never got to meet his father. There are people who I regret that I didn’t get to meet. Bill Finger, I would have liked to have talked to him. He died just a year before I got to New York. My favorite author is Edgar Pangborn. He did a wonderful book called Davy. He was an incredible writer. He could compose sentences that were just so beautiful, and he could relay information to you that was like he told you something and then there was kind of a beat then you got what he was saying. It was a hit in the gut. He was just incredible. He died the summer I came back here. He lived in Massachusetts, and I was going to call him up, but never got the chance.

BH: You have been credited under multiple names over the years. Did you have any say over the John E Workman vs. John Workman?

JW: Those were funny things. I would play games with credits at times. I would be watching a movie, and I would use the name of a character as part of my credit line of whatever was lettering at the time. There was a kid show host on CBS’s Seattle affiliate for decades named J.P. Patches. I loved his stuff. When I was a kid, he had a Soupy Sales kind of humorous TV program, and it incorporated episodes of George Reeves’s “Superman” and the “Mickey Mouse Club” and tons of Warner Bros cartoons as part of his show, which ran for several hours each day. So, one time as a salute to J.P., I put my credit down as J.P. Patches. I have noticed there are listings of letterers, and ol’ J.P. is among them. There are a handful of things that I did that are attributed to as J.P. Patches.

BH: That’s fantastic. [If you search the Comicbookdb.com, you will find that John Workman is also credited as J.P Patches, W.H. Pratt, John-Boy Waltonman, and John E. Workman Jr.]

JW: Well people thought John E. Workman or John Workman or John Workman Jr, were different people, and the John Workman Jr. thing was because I wanted people to know that there was a John Workman Sr. They thought there were two of us, but it was all me.

I started to do that at Archie, and they actually believed that I had brought in someone else in to letter stuff for me. After that, they insisted that I use only my actual name, so I kind of stopped doing the humorous name bit after a while.

Before they allowed letterers to be credited at DC, John Costanza …if he was lettering a longer story … would do the page number 13 at the corner of the thirteenth page using white-on-black,numbers. It was his way of saying, “I did this.” I remember Dave Hunt, when he started to do lettering and some backgrounds on Spider- Man before he began inking full time, would work his name into the billboards or cityscapes in Spider-Man.

Wally Wood Legendary Story

Thank you, gentle readers, for making your way through this oral history with us. I will leave you with this story. I was talking to John about the controversy in X-Men Gold #1 related to an artist slipping something past editorial. John then laid this story on me.

JW: One time, Wally Wood and Harry Harrison …well before Harrison wrote what became Soylent Green … were doing art work for EC. They had this romance story that they were both bored to tears with. There was a splash panel where this girl was standing at a railing at a horse race. The horse was going by with a jockey on it, and Wood and Harrison drew this gigantic penis on the horse. Wood drew a bandage stuck to it with crabs all over it. Bill Gaines saw it and laughed the rest of the day and then forgot about it. The page then went in for the shots for the coloring, after which it would go out to the people who do the separations and the film work prior to being sent on to the printers. Mr. Lee, who was their money guy, was looking at this pile of artwork, and he picked up the Harrison/Wood horse splash page and went into Bill Gaines’ office and said, “Mr. Gaines, does this horse look a little funny to you?” Well, Gaines practically grabbed his heart and keeled over when he saw how far this joke had gone with no one whiting it out or fixing it up. So, things like that, things that were intended to be a humorous in-house joke, do happen.

 

If you are looking for other conversations stay tuned to this site, we just might have some more of John’s secret history of near misses in comics in the future. Also, i recommend that you check out Todd Klein’s blog for a transcription of a panel that John and Todd did at Baltimore Comic Con a couple of years ago.