Thursday, June 04, 2009

Even when wright is wrong he's all right

Thursday story day.

I have been showing some of Mort Meski's comic book work for the last couple of fridays and I will have a couple of interesting early DC stories tomorrow. Toayspost is related to that.

Mort Meskin was good friend wih artist George Roussos for all of his life. Roussos started very oung, helping Meskins later partner Jerry Robinson on Bob Kanes Batman. He soon developed a reputation as a quick and capable inker. All thorough the fifties he worked in that capacity, smetimes even doing stories with Meskin (but not as much as you would suspect). But he also did a lot of solo work, most of which was better inked than drawn. He was a very capable storyteller, but his figure drawing was peculiar to say the least. He did some of his best work for the GE line of informational comics (some of which I showed in an earlier post), producing at least one a year from the late forties until the late fifties. He also did solo stories for Timely/Atlas and other companies. He ended up at DC, together with Meskin, where his art improved as much as Meskin's was dumbed down until there was a point that they were not very easy to tell apart anymore. When Meskin left DC to go into advertising in the mid sixties, Roussos moved to Marvel, where he worked as an inker and ended up as a very much loved colorer and color coordinator. More about his career can be found in a special section of the Mort Meskin website at

In te late forties, Roussos worked in the newspaper strip Judge Wright for a short time. It is common knowledge among comics historians to say that all comic bok artists wanted to work in newspapers more than anything, because of the respect and money) that would bring them compared to comic books. The newspaper artists looked down upon the comic book artists and often pure comic book artists were not a member of the newspaper strip artists' club. But like all common knowledge, this has to be taken with a grain of salt. As I am going trough Jerry Bails' Who's Who and I find more and more comic book artists who did work for newspaper strips for a short time and didn't leave comic books. Now if it was true that all comic books artists wanted was to be a newspaper strip artist, you would expect the to leave comics as soon as they had a strip of their own. Even if the strip only ran for one or two years. Who knows in advance how these things go? And they are supposed to take up all your time, so how can you even do comic book work on the side unless you employ assistants or work really hard and really late. It seems to me that the main reason for not abandoning comic book work would be financial. A newspaper strip is nice, but only if it pays the bills. And not every artist can afford to tough it out for a year just to get that respect. So my impression is that most artists would say they would love to have a newspaper strip, because it would give them more respect by their collegues. But what they really mean is that they would like to have had a succesful newpaper strip, so they too could hire assistants to do the work and go golf all day.

The list of artists involved both in comics and newspaper strips is long. Irv Novick did a long stretch of a strip called Cynthia in the late forties. Al Weiss took over Joe Jinks for aout a year. Bob Lubbers had Cairo Jones. Carl Hubbell and Paul Reinman worked on Merrie Chase. Before that Reinman did a stint on Tarzan. Submariner artist Carl Pfeifer did The Bantam Prince, which was a continuation of Bodyguard by former Quality artist Spranger. A.C. Holingsworth worked on Secret Agent X-9. Matt Baker did Flamingo. Mike Roy did crime stories while he still was doing The Saint. Drift Marlo's Tom Cooke started in comic books. Mac Swayse went from Captain Marvel to Flyin' Jenny and back again. Mel Keefer did Dragnet and Classics Illustrated. Frank Thorne did Perry Mason at the start of his career. And George Roussos took over Judge Wright when they couldn't pay the artist who started it anymore.

Here are te last two weeks of the strip and three from the week before that.


Smurfswacker said...

Right you are. Back then everyone imagined they'd be able to live like Alex Raymond once they landed a newspaper strip.

In reality it depended upon which papers you appeared in and what kind of a deal you made with the syndicate. Newspapers paid syndicates according to their circulation. Big papers paid big money but small ones often paid ridiculously low rates...perhaps a couple of dollars a week. All these fees were collected. Then the syndicate subtracted overhead costs (platemaking, stats, shipping, etc). This was often an inflated amount; it was always a lot of money. The remaining money was split between creator and syndicate according to a percentage established in the contract. Your strip could be running in 100 papers but if they were all small you could end up earning peanuts.

I was in an unusual position when I drew for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Because the strip was a licensed product I was paid a (very small) weekly salary. I received a cut of any income over a certain sum...after overhead, of course. This I split fifty-fifty with the syndicate. For the first six months, when my strip ran in 300 papers, many of them big ones, that meant pretty good money. After six months (the syndicate insisted papers sign up for a minimum of 6 months), papers dropped us like autumn leaves. All I made from then on was the minimum.

I belonged to a cartoonists' club when I was assigned to the strip. I was told that several of the old-time strip cartoonists resented me for not spreading my supposed wealth by hiring them as assistants. In fact I was ashamed to admit publicly how little I was being paid. After I quit, the strip was offered to several big names. They invented new expletives to describe how lousy. Not that it helped my reputation any.

I knew a guy at the syndicate whose strip appeared in perhaps half a dozen small papers. He did the strip at nights while working a day job in an ad agency. He hoped someday the feature would catch on and he could do it full-time. When I spoke to him he was earning approximately ten dollars a week.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Fascinating, oh blue one.