Back Issue #24 preview
(WoW JUL 07)
TwoMorrows' BACK ISSUE magazine #24-its "Magic" issue-spotlights mystical characters and series, particularly Dr. Strange. Presented here is an excerpt from an interview with an artist whose rendition of Dr. Strange -as well as the Micronauts, Batman, Man-Bat, The 'Nam , and others-still resonates with readers, decades later: Michael Golden!
Interview by Michael Eury
Three decades ago, Michael Golden rode into town. On a motorcycle, no less, packing little more than a pencil.
The nomadic artist has since perfected a habit of popping up all over the place: You might find him fluttering the Gotham rooftops, hopping through the cosmos in The Righteous Indignation, hiding out in the Microverse, or slogging toward Saigon. In whichever universe you first discovered Michael Golden, that universe undoubtedly took on a life of its own.
At the 2007 Emerald City ComiCon in Seattle, Washington, Michael Golden kindly interrupted his sketching to pull up a chair with me and look, up close and personal, at a handful of his earliest comics.
MICHAEL EURY: Let's start with The Micronauts. I understand that you weren't the first choice as artist on the book, that George Pérez was supposed to be the Micronauts artist. Do you know anything about this?
MICHAEL GOLDEN: No, that's the first I've ever heard of that, but George is a great artist.
EURY: So you never saw any Pérez Micronauts art floating around?
GOLDEN: No. Bob Hall's is the only artwork I ever saw.
EURY: Bob Hall had done some art for Micronauts?
GOLDEN: Right. It was just presentation art that he had done-big splashes of the characters running around, and explosions, and that sort of thing.
EURY: So he did this art as a presentation for Marvel to get the Micronauts license from Mego, not necessarily as a tryout to become the artist for the title.
GOLDEN: I don't think he was ever in line for the art, because ultimately he was the editor for the first couple of issues.
EURY: I've uncovered some photocopies of your Micronauts pencils, and I'd like to get your reaction to them. [gesturing toward art photocopies]. These pages are from issue #8.
GOLDEN: Yeah, this is eight. Seven was my Man-Thing issue, I think. So with eight, I finally just gave up and shifted over to making my work look even more like the Kirby stuff for that run.
EURY: Was that under editorial direction? Were they not happy with your art?
GOLDEN: The directive I got at that time when working for them, was, "Do it like Kirby." Now, that's a quote. They wanted the Kirby feel. Then it was from issue five to issue eight when I just gave up [chuckles] and just basically started doing a Kirby riff. They were pleased as punch with this. I got no more complaints, no more grief, although I would have liked to have given it a different look myself, although, of course, I do respect Kirby.
EURY: We look at your '70s art now-you and a few other artists who started around the same time, like Marshall Rogers-and you were doing things a little differently. From the readers' and the fans' perspective, that was very cool, very exciting. But I'll bet the corporate side of Marvel and DC was much slower to come around to that kind of thinking, to accept a different style.
GOLDEN: Yeah, definitely. At that point in time, when you went to DC, it was, "Do it like Neal Adams." And like I said, at Marvel, it was, "Do it like Kirby." [chuckles]
Now, the problem was that they were hiring guys like me and Marshall Rogers, and Walt Simonson and Frank Miller ... well, Bill Sienkiewicz was doing Neal at that time ... and they were hiring guys whose portfolios already had a unique flavor and feel to it, and they were trying to bend us to their molds of these other artists. And I don't know about any of the other guys, but what I ended up finding out is that I could use some elements from these various artists with my own vision of things and still keep the unique flavor that I felt my work had at the time. That may have just been some sort of like rationalization in my mind, but ultimately, everybody was happy with the artwork.
But I also had to use that material. I mean, I'm not a draftsman anywhere near the par of Neal Adams, now or especially back then. And yet, when I was obliged to use elements of his style and his artwork in my own, I felt it obviously helped. As much as I may have griped and moaned and bitched about it at the time, looking back on it now, I can only say that it added immensely to my understanding of not only my own artwork and the style that I've developed over a period of time, but how I did it as well. It's the whole mentality around it. Now I can do a pretty decent riff of both Neal and Jack Kirby when I need to. [laughter] And laughing at it, there've been moments when I've needed to do it and it's helped a lot. Even then, I've tried to keep my own style in the process.
EURY: So you were directed to draw Batman like Neal Adams. Did that extend to specific artist direction, like working from Neal Adams-drawn Batman model sheets?
GOLDEN: No, no. I think the expectation and, ultimately, the supposition then was much as it is now: They assume you're a comic-book fan. It's like, "Why else would you be doing this unless you're a comic-book reader?" So it's like I was handicapped right off the bat [chuckles]. So I had to go find this work and learn how to do it, because I wasn't a student of the comic-book art form at that time. My only familiarity with [comics] was with the Jack Kirby stuff-I was a store manager in Florida and would see his work on the stands. The people who were trying to steer me going toward comic books were all connected to DC, so they were all saying, "You need to look at Neal Adams' artwork and do it like this." I don't think they actually understood that you've got to have basic drawing skills to be able to do Neal Adams. So I had to learn all of this stuff after I was in the industry. For me, the learning curve had to be immediate so that I could pull it off and still get work.
EURY: Without that fan-based inspiration, what led you to draw comics for a living?
GOLDEN: Well, it's actually a long story.... I mean, I've always been sort of a storyteller. You know, in little kid talk, I was-well, I was a yarn spinner. [laughter]
EURY: You mean, a B.S.'er?
GOLDEN: Yeah, a B.S.'er, whatever. But I had been doing artwork, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, since I was a kid. I liked to draw, I guess, but although I don't really define it as drawing-it's just that I sort of had a natural inclination to design, let's say, as opposed to drawing, because even to this day, I don't really consider myself much of a draftsman. But during my teenage years, this sort of manifested itself in the sense that I would use artwork to barter things. [chuckles] There was a period of time in my late teens where I was traveling around the country.
EURY: On a motorcycle?
GOLDEN: Yes, yes, yes. You remember that story. Yes, several motorcycles, as a matter of fact, seeing as how one of them didn't quite make it. [laughter] [Editor's note: In a pre-interview chat, Michael Golden told Michael Eury about his "Easy Rider" youth-and a spectacular crash from which he was lucky to have survived.] This was back in the hippie days ... we'd all sit around in the park, and I would do a drawing and I'd trade it for food, sustenance, and gas for my motorcycles, or a place to sleep, whatever. That sort of turned into doing [art for] skateboards and surfboards. You're old enough to remember the van craze, I guess.
EURY: [singing] "I made love in my Chevy van." [laughs] There was even a song.
GOLDEN: Yeah. And I started doing vans, and storefronts, billboards, murals, that sort of thing. [chuckles] Eventually I started getting paid for it, as opposed to just bartering it for something else.
And so it eventually turned into a commercial enterprise. And one day, I was doing work for a guy who wasn't really connected to the comic-book industry, but had "friends of friends of friends," that sort of thing. And I was doing what he defined as a "comic book" or a "cartoon" art style. It was a very contoured line, very little rendering.
I was doing store illustrations from The Lord of the Ring s and stuff like that. He was looking at it and was going, "Ah, that's very comic-bookish." Okay, because it was very expressive, or whatever. And he started pushing, at one point, that he knew people in the comic-book industry and that I should be doing this. And for a period of, like, two years, I just ignored it.
And then one day, I had another friend of a friend who just up and handed me a plane ticket-there's a little more to that story [Eury laughs]-but basically, they just handed me a plane ticket and said, "Go, see what you can do." I'd already talked to some people about [going to] New York and they had said, "Well, if you're working for DC, you do Neal Adams." So I like did a couple of samples of ripping off Neal Adams' stuff and mostly, it was just my own storytelling that I did.
EURY: Did you actually work at Neal Adams' Continuity studio?
GOLDEN: No, I never worked at Continuity. I've done work with Continuity and for Continuity, but I've never worked at Continuity.
EURY: Did you ever sleep on the Continuity floor?
GOLDEN: Not that I remember. [laughs]
EURY: Dick Giordano told me that in the '70s, a lot of people crashed there.
GOLDEN: I wasn't one of them. [Eury laughs] But I went up to New York, went into DC one day, and got a Batman story right off the bat. It was a Batman story that I don't remember.
EURY: For editor Julie Schwartz?
GOLDEN: Yeah. I went in and talked to Vinnie Colletta. He was the art director at the time, and then he turned right around and walked me down to Julie Schwartz's office. And Julie immediately gave me a Batman story. I was doing the Batman story in motels, since I was moving and in transit, back and forth, for that three months. And [right after that] I remember doing a House of Secret s pinup intro page [for issue #148, Oct.-Nov. 1977] with the little fat character, whatever his name was.
GOLDEN: Okay. So there was a friend of somebody I was staying with over in Brooklyn Heights who basically had a large closet that they'd set up a cot in, and that's where I did that pinup, in that little closet....
EURY: But you don't want me to title this interview "Michael Golden Came Out of the Closet and Walked into Comics." [laughs]
GOLDEN: [mock pained] No, because that would definitely give the wrong idea, especially if we're talking about Brooklyn Heights at this point. [laughter]
But the next day, the next morning, I went over to Continuity and met Neal Adams and the guys at Continuity. That afternoon, I went over to Marvel and met Marie Severin ... I'm pretty sure she was the art director. But anyway, Marvel gave me a little eight-page story that day and it ran like five years later. They finally published it. Over the next two days, I sat in that little closet and did that story. [Eury laughs] Yeah, it's all coming back to me.... They wouldn't let me into the office to turn it in.
EURY: Why wouldn't they let you into Marvel?
GOLDEN: Because Marie wasn't there that day, so there was nobody there to let me in. And so I turned it in at the front desk.
When I came back [to Marvel's office], I talked to Archie Goodwin, who was the editor-in-chief at that point. I'm trying to remember the timeline here ... that's when I did the Logan's Run story. I did another eight-page story, an Iron Man story. I guess I did The Cask of Amontillado sometime in there, which was several months later.
EURY: And this was in 1977?
GOLDEN: This was late '76, the winter of '76. In the spring of '77, I moved to New York, and that's when I got Man-Bat [in the anthology Batman Family]. Right after that, I started doing Batman for Batman Family and then right after that, I got Mister Miracle. But also in that period of time, I was doing some work for Marvel.
And so I was floating around for that whole year, but I was mostly working for DC. Then DC had its big Implosion in '78, and that's when I went over and started doing Micronauts. And I didn't know George Pérez was attached to the project first! [laughs]
EURY: Micronauts was an odd fit for Marvel at the time. How was the book received when it first came out?
GOLDEN: I couldn't tell you. I had no feedback. I was working totally in a vacuum, other than the fact that I kept getting gripes from people saying it was all unintelligible-but that was within the office. I have no idea how the fans were reacting.
EURY: What did Marvel mean by "unintelligible"? Were they having a problem with your storytelling?
GOLDEN: I don't know. Nobody ever defined it. It was always, "We want you to do it like Kirby," and that was as far as it ever went.
Our excerpt ends here, but there's much, much more of the Golden interview-including Michael's recollections of Howard the Duck, The 'Nam , and, of course, Dr. Strange -in BACK ISSUE #24, shipping on September 19.
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