Tag: Walter Simonson

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

With Further Ado #036: Watching the Detectives

With Further Ado #036: Watching the Detectives

Detective Comics just hit an amazing milestone. This series just published its 1,000th issue.  Pretty impressive?  There’s been a lot of buzz about it.  But  to me, there’s another thing going on: the celebration of oversized issues of Detective Comics.

For “fans of a certain age”, the old 80 Page Giants hold a special place in our hearts. Before old comics were regularly reprinted and repackaged into real books -like today- we thought this was the closest we were ever getting to bookshelf-worthy collections.   Each one had so many stories, and even though the price tag was hefty (“Hey, who has an extra quarter just lying around?”, we would think), every 80 Page Giant was worth it.

Technically, though, there was never an 80 Page Giant for Detective Comics back in the day. The Batman series had a few (and yes, several were annuals), but Detective Comics per se never did.

Then in the 70s 100 Page Super Spectaculars burst onto the scene. They started focusing on DC’s top characters, but soon became a format for certain titles, like Justice League of America, Batman and, you guessed it, Detective Comics.

The changeover for Detective Comics – bulking up to these glorious 100 pagers, came during a magical time for the series.  The Batman stories were top-notch, but there was this quirky new back-up series included. It was called Manhunter. 

Manhunter was a character name that DC had used in the past.  This was an innovative reboot by a fantastic writer, Archie Goodwin, and a young writer, Walter Simonson.

IDW’s Scott Dunbier has claimed the title of #1 Manhunter Fan, but I think I’m a close second. When this series started, it seared my eyeballs and exploded my brain. If there was a word that means “wow times a thousand”, I’d have used it to describe Manhunter.

Manhunter was an adventure strip, but as Walter Simonson recently described at his ITHACON panel, the idea was to create a counterbalance to Batman.  Manhunter was everything that Batman was not.  Batman focused on domestic adventures in Gotham City, Manhunter globetrotted to exotic locales. Batman was dark and moody, Manhunter embraced a bright and garish look. Batman, other than the occasional batarang, eschewed weapons, while Manhunter was a weapons master.

At ITHACON, Walter Simonson described how he worked hard in his early days not to be pigeonholed as a “science fiction artist”. When assigned a short period piece, a story about the Alamo, he eagerly accepted it. He then thoroughly researched each setting for every panel.  His hard word was noticed, so much so that when it came time to pick an artist for the international Manhunter strip, he was approached. Manhunter was a such an impressive success at the time that soon every editor knew his brilliant work.

Last Wednesday, DC released Detective Comics #1000;  jam-packed with the work of outstanding creators.  Reportedly, comic shop retailers did well with selling this milestone comic.

But over in the Wal*Mart, there was another Bat-Surprise waiting for Detective Comics fans.  As part of DC’s 100 Page Comic Giant series, Detective Comics finally got another chance to shine with the 100 Page treatment. More than that – ‘tec (as we used to call the title) even got its own cardboard display case!

Unlike most of the Wal*Mart DC comics, which usually reprint more recent stories, this one dug deep into Detective Comics’ rich history offering the first adventures of Batman, Robin and Batgirl. There are a few wonderful surprises, including two of my favorite Detective stories, both with gorgeous Dick Giordano art.  Trivia fans will note these adventures showcase the first appearances of two regular characters on the Gotham TV show – Leslie Thompson and Barbara Kean.

Happy 1,000th Birthday, Detective Comics! Thanks for all the fun.