The Real Comic Book Men

The artists behind the comics we love

The Little Apple. Rain gently falls from the night sky. I stand atop the Alpha building and look upon my city. They think I am dead. Trapped under a bookcase. This would have been a good death…but not good enough. Unburdened by my past, I now live under a secret bunker underneath Latina Heat where I work to rid the city of evil, right wrongs and secretly proof-read this rag that Dawn calls a ‘magazine’. The rain on my face is a baptism. I’m born again. I am…The Elucidator.

My ears perk up. The wind rises. Frogs croak like a car alarm. Crickets pick up the chorus. A wolf howls. I know how he feels. I get the sense that a long-overdue article waits to be finished. To the Elucidator offices!

Upon Dawn’s desk I find a legal pad with the phrase ‘do a comics feature?’ written across it and little else. I deduce that she means to ask that with the increasing mainstream popularity of comic book culture, from blockbuster movies to podcasts to shows like ‘Comic Book Men’, why have comics grown so in popularity? I happen to know the secret identities of a literal bullpen of hidden comic talent living right here in the Lehigh Valley, True Believers. I use my transponder to summon them for their thoughts on their industry. They are:

Legendary Lee Weeks! He made his professional comics debut in the 1980s and is best known for his work for Marvel on Daredevil where he penciled the ‘Last Rites’ storyline.

Spectacular Scott Hanna! He is most known as a specialist in inking starting with Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol a five-year stint on Batman and eventually working on Spider-Man for fourteen years.

Masterful Bob McLeod! He began penciling and inking for Marvel’s Crazy magazine, then went on to become a top inker on many series, as well as penciling Star Wars and the New Mutants for Marvel. In 1987, he inked ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ storyline in the Spider-Man titles.

Dazzling David Fox! The new guy on the block, David has spent several years of learning under Scott Hanna and has been hired to produce artwork for a graphic novel, ‘Hell To Pay’.

Ryan: How did you end up in the Lehigh Valley area and what was the initial attraction?

Scott: I grew up in New Jersey, then went to school in NYC, but decided to move to here when we wanted to buy a house. I’ve loved the area since I was a child. I liked that there was a strong artistic community in the region as well.

Bob: We moved up from Florida after I-78 opened. I was looking for someplace with easy access to NYC, figuring I’d be going in to the Marvel and DC offices often. Two people we knew recommended Emmaus. We wanted a small town to raise our kids. I like the rolling hills and the central location to several major cities.

David: I was born and raised here.

Lee: My wife Tish and I were living in Dover, New Jersey in an apartment in the late 80s when we decided to shop for a house. I was still very young in the comics business — this was just before my big break came on Daredevil. When it came time for us to buy, the prices and taxes were more than we could comfortably afford. Tish worked in Morristown in a job we needed her to have at the time. A coworker of hers lived in this area and suggested we look. We did, and found a nice little neighborhood that reminded me a little of the one I grew up in Maine. We’ve been here ever since.

Ryan: Why do you think mainstream interest in comics and movie adaptations has happened? Is it a good thing for an artist like you? Has it ruined the industry or made it better?

Scott: Technology upgraded enough to enable moviemakers to convincingly portray the special effects and worlds of the comics. Comics and movies about them are also treated with much more respect and seriousness, so the quality keeps going up. The competition is now so strong that the quality has to be high to compete, which is good for everybody.

Bob: The publishers have wanted to make movies for decades, and the legal and financial end finally fell into place, along with the advancement of CGI. Movies are finally able to create believable images of everything we did in the comics. The movie industry has also been moving toward more action-oriented movies rather than dialogue driven movies for a while now, so the timing was just right. I think its good for all of us in the industry because it gives us more opportunity to sell projects that get turned into movies and make more money than is possible in comic books. The popularity also just raises the public’s regard for us in general. I don’t think it’s ruined the industry at all. I think it’s saved it. There are many things wrong with the comic book industry, but the movies are all positive.

Lee: I’m still not sure I understand the mainstream interest in comics. Is the interest in the comics themselves, or the ancillary things like the movies, cosplay, and such? The actual comic sales of the big two companies’ books are much lower today than just about any time in the history of the medium. Those books and characters, however, have a much higher profile in the mainstream media, largely due to the movies taking over Hollywood the last decade while showing no signs of letting up…just yet, anyway.

But, in recent years, there has been a broadening of the comic book readership base. There are more options today — many more titles from publishers not named Marvel or DC. Many of these alternatively published books contain creator-owned material that is being consumed and enjoyed by a wider variety of demographic groups.

In general, I think it is a good thing for the creator as there are more options. Creators are able to retain ownership of their creations more readily with all the competition, which may or may not mean massive remuneration from the publishing of the comic book alone, but if that property should then be optioned for a film, it could obviously result in much greater compensation for the creator.

And, of course, if you own it, you have the freedom to do with the character what you wish, and that creative freedom is to most more important than any future movie deal.

Ryan: Who wins in a fight? Superman vs. Hulk? Wolverine vs. Batman? Ice Man Vs. the Human Torch? King Kong Vs. Godzilla? Jedis vs. Wizards?

Bob: Really? People really care? These are imaginary characters and it’s totally up to the whim of the writers. Superman is plenty smart enough to figure out a way to defeat the Hulk. Batman has nothing over Wolverine, unless he’s smart enough not to fight him. I would think Ice Man could encase the Torch in ice and smother his flame. Godzilla is too big and vicious for Kong. Wizards would easily defeat Jedis.

Lee: I’m going to skip those and jump to my favorite answer to this type of question that I’ve ever heard. A dear old friend of mine who recently died was once asked, “Who would win in a fight between Batman and Captain America?” Without hesitation, he responded: “That’s easy. Captain America…the first time.”

Ryan: What first attracted you to comics? Who were your inspirations growing up? What still excites you about the industry?

Scott: I’ve read comics since I was a kid, and I was really hooked around age ten when I started reading the superhero comics. My two favorite characters were Spider-Man and Batman, and they still are. The industry is expanding with a lot more creator owned projects, which brings a tremendous amount of creativity to the field. It is now a worldwide industry with top talent from all over the planet working together.

Bob: I’ve always been fascinated by what you can do with black lines on white paper. But I was always more interested in humor than drama. The newspaper comics got me hooked, and I hoped to have my own newspaper strip one day. I got into comic books mainly on the urging of a friend who was a big Marvel fan. I thought I would only work in comics for a while and move on. My big influence growing up was Mort Drucker. I idolized him and wanted to be him. Walt Disney, Jack Davis and Charles Schulz were also influential. It wasn’t until I started working at Marvel in the production department that I started studying all of the dramatic comic artists. The comics industry no longer holds the fascination it once did for me, however. I enjoy other artistic outlets more these days.

David: The artwork is, without a doubt, the absolute reason I was drawn to comics as a child. As I grew older, I really began to recognize comics as a much larger art form than what my younger self had even been able to appreciate. The creators who had inspired me, I’m sure would read like a laundry list of industry pioneers. My initial attraction to the industry is simple. I was a bit of a nerdy kid who loved to draw. The rest is basic math…comic book fandom was unavoidable.

Lee: I began drawing before I can remember. Dad used to put crayons in my hand. My paternal grandmother was a painter, as was her mother. My Dad was a woodworker and furniture maker. But, it was one of my older brothers, Eric, who I found myself trying to emulate the most growing up. I discovered comics because he did. Just about everything he did, I wanted to do, too.

What still excites me about comics? The job on the table and the possibilities for what might be next. This craft is first and foremost about telling stories, and I love telling stories. To explore how I can do that better is what makes this work thrilling.

Ryan: Why is there still a general lack of diversity in comic book characters? Why is the white guy in spandex the go-to move? Why is there still an objectification of women and lack of female role models?

Scott: Actually, all of those things are changing drastically in current comics. Captain America is black, Ultimate Spider-Man is Hispanic, a Green Lantern is Muslim, and Thor is a woman. Comics continually change and fit to the world around us, and the international talent pool adds their input to the creative process. Many of the characters we know best from movies and TV were created 50 to 75 years ago when America had a different view of what was acceptable. Current comics always try to adapt their characters to the modern world.

Bob: I think the editors and writers are still primarily white males, writing comics primarily for white males. I think it’s slowly getting better, but more women and minorities need to become writers and editors, and more women and minorities need to buy comics. The publishers are afraid to market to fans outside their base, because profits are small and they don’t want to take risks. But I do think it’s slowly getting better, as more women writers and artists enter the business.

David: Rather than look at the faults of the past, I prefer to look at the promise of the future. Yes, this industry has roots in a time period when our nation, as a whole, was less favorable to diversity. However, that landscape has long since changed. As far back as 1975, iconic writer Chris Claremont was creating very strong female characters, as seen during his run with the Uncanny X-Men.

Lee: I’m not familiar enough with the countless titles and characters to even be able to affirm the premise of the first part of your question — a bit beyond my pay grade. However, it seems a great deal of effort has been made as of late to more reflect the diversity of our culture within all forms of storytelling; even changing the race of a few long-standing comic characters — sometimes successfully, other times not so. The Samuel- Jackson-inspired Nick Fury likely is the best example of a success. But, speaking as an individual creator, when in my youth I created a few characters, they tended to more reflect who I was — a young white male. I’m pretty confident that was simply because on a subconscious if not conscious level, I felt less qualified to write a black character or a female character as my lead. As an artist, I find it refreshing, challenging, and just more interesting to draw different kinds of people. Tangentially, if you go back to the first few decades of the comics industry, it was in large part created by young Jewish men…boys, even. In fact, the first of the spandex heroes is none other than Superman, who sprung from the minds of two Jewish teens (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) from Cleveland during a time of great persecution of the Jews — during the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. I’ve often wondered if Superman came to be as a subconscious response to that persecute — to the fear that must have been part of the Jewish mindset of that day. As to the objectification of women — this is a sad and frustrating reality that the comics industry isn’t alone in propagating. We live in a culture that uses sex to sell just about everything. This was a big reason that I would only let my daughters read a few modern comic books when they were younger. I just do my best to not participate in any of it.

Thankfully, today there is more choice, and a wider variety of material to choose from. I think within the independent publishers, especially, there are some pretty cool things being done that are free from some of that other stuff.

Ryan: What storyline or character are you most proud? Any stories or characters you’d rather have taken an eraser to?

Scott: I’m very proud of the work I did on Amazing Spider-Man, especially issue #36, dealing with 9/11. I’ve also been part of many other fantastic stories like ‘Knightfall’ with Batman, and more recent stories like Avengers vs. X-Men, Green Lantern Corps, Iron Man, and the current Futures End.

Bob: My favorite work from my career was the work I did for Marvel’s Crazy magazine, the ‘Apocalypse Now’ satire, and the Teen Hulk strips. I also think I did some good work on Superman and Star Wars, and the New Mutants, of course, but it could have been a lot better if I wasn’t so rushed. I guess I’m mostly known for my inking, though, and I’m proud of a lot of my inking. I’d like to burn much of my earliest work from 1974-75, when I was still learning my craft.

Lee: Without question, it’s a Daredevil story I wrote and drew recently, titled, “Angels Unaware”. It appeared in a Daredevil anthology book called, DAREDEVIL: DARK KNIGHTS, running in the first three issues. It was a very simple linear narrative; Daredevil finds himself recovering from a concussion and amnesia in a hospital bed in the middle of the mother-of-allblizzards in New York City when he becomes aware of a little girl in the same hospital in need of a donor heart. The helicopter trying to deliver it was forced down in the blizzard, but the city is at a stand-sill and all communication with the pilots is lost. Daredevil realizes he’s the girl’s only hope and must journey in a Jack London-esque fashion through the elements to find and deliver the heart to save the girl.

There are a few twists along the way, and even an appearance of a certain Bethlehem, Pennsylvania hospital where the donor heart was harvested.

It’s not a light story, but the heaviness is not without hope, and it’s a story that has received some of the most favorable reviews of anything I’ve been part of. For me, it was a very personal story… as personal as one can get within the confines of a company-owned character. Through the simple narrative, we explore what it is to be a hero, the issue of life and death, and there is a great deal of faith mixed in. It was a great opportunity to return Daredevil to the core of his character and affirm those things that made him a favorite of so many readers —and creators—alike for decades now.

I nod at the assembled team, eternally indebted to each of them. They are pen-and-ink magicians, conjuring fantastic worlds where anything is possible; they opened pulp-printed portals that allowed a young, lonely nerd like me to jump into headfirst as a way of dealing with a world that had little patience or a place for him.

A giant “E” lights up the sky against the swirling clouds. The Mayor needs my help. A new super-villain in Easton. Goes by the name of The Toker. I recently thwarted his last campaign to take over the city. His real identity is anybody’s guess. But it’s probably Anthony. ‘Nuff said

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