I wanted to make more money. No, make that I needed to make more money. New York was and is a far more expensive place to live than hometown Pittsburgh. I asked about freelance work. There wasn’t any freelance writing available. At DC, I’d been taught to color, but coloring at Marvel paid very little — my rate would have been under a dollar a page. I knew I couldn’t color fast enough to make the money I needed. Lettering? No. Making a small correction is one thing, but lettering a whole book…? I don’t know. I think I could have done it, but it would have taken a lot of practice time even to get ready to try out. Penciling? I’d always done layouts for the stories I wrote for DC, and in fact, in his very first letter to me, my DC editor, Mort Weisinger suggested that I might want to someday “draw features for DC.” But there’s a long way between sketchy layouts and finished pencils. The only finished drawings I’d done up until that time were in art school in a very non-comics style. Again, it would take lots of practice, at minimum, to even make a credible try.
That left inking.
I’d done a lot of pen and brushwork in my art classes at Carnegie Mellon. I had a steady hand. I’d been taught a lot about inking by experts at DC. It seemed worth a try.
I asked Stan about trying out and he sent me to Sol Brodsky’s office. Sol was the production manager. He handled production and basically, anything else Stan didn’t want to deal with. Sol had this stack of rejected, or for some reason, unused, penciled pages — it looked like a ream’s worth — on a shelf. He also had several large stacks of finished pages from already-printed books, pages that had been returned to Marvel by Chemical Color Plate, the separator. They’d pile up for a while, then eventually he’d take them to the warehouse. Occasionally, when a visitor came to the office, Sol or Stan would give them a finished page or an unused penciled page as a souvenir. No one thought twice about it in those days.
At any rate, Sol cheerfully paged through the ream of rejects, looking for some good ones for me to try inking. A lot of the pages, I’d say the majority, were Jack Kirby pencils. That was, I think, due to the fact that Jack simply did so many more pages than anyone else. Sol picked out a Fantastic Four splash page by Jack and a Daredevil splash page by Gene Colan for me.
I took them “home.” I think at that time I was sleeping on the floor at a small, fifth-floor walk-up apartment shared by four guys, one of whom was an assistant at Marvel. Sitting on the floor, with a crowquill, a lettering pen and a borrowed, well-worn brush — the only tools at my disposal — I inked those pages.
A lot of would-be comics artists think, “Inking! I could be an inker. That looks easy.”
I showed the pages to Marie Severin first. She was very sweet and encouraging. Especially about the Kirby page. Colan, who did all that fuzzy, side-of-the-pencil shading, was tougher. Maybe if I’d had some Zip-A-Tone….
Then I showed the Kirby page to Sol. He said, “This page was rejected because it was cluttered and hard to read. It’s still cluttered and hard to read.” In other words, I didn’t fix it. Nobody told me to fix it. And the idea of “fixing” Jack’s work frankly never occurred to me.
So, no inking work was offered me.
I might have tried again, but I left Marvel shortly thereafter — just couldn’t make ends meet in NYC — and got involved in other things back in the ‘Burgh. Mostly advertising and custom comics. Some of which I inked, by the way.
Maybe things would have gone differently if I had uncluttered that Kirby page. Who knows?
RE: Kirby Spider-Man pages: I saw, and held in my hand, exactly one such page. It was a page of design drawings. I remember that his version of Spider-Man had a “Web-Gun” and wore trunks, I think, like Captain America’s. He was far bigger and bulkier than Ditko’s version. There were no similarities to Ditko’s Spider-Man costume. I think he had boots with flaps. There were notes in he margin that described the character, again, nothing like the Ditko version. I think there was something about him being related to, or having some connection with a police official, which was how he’d find out about trouble going on. It was a long time ago, I can’t swear to that last item, but I can swear to the fact that it wasn’t similar to the Ditko version. I remember thinking, “This isn’t at all like Ditko’s.”
P.S. I must have seen that page when I was in Sol’s office and he was going through the rejects stack looking for pages for me to try inking. I don’t think I ever got to look through those pages again.
P.P.S. Years later, 1986, I had occasion to talk with Jack at the San Diego Con. He insisted that he created Spider-Man. I told him that I’d spoken to Steve Ditko, Sol, and other people who were there at the time, including Stan, obviously, and that they all agreed that Steve’s version was the one that was used, though Jack did his version first. I reported everything I’d seen and heard. We talked about the costume — the bib and belt combo, the stripes down the arms, the mask, the symbols, a very Ditko-esque design. Jack was having some problems with his memory by then, but he thought about it for a minute, then said that maybe Steve should get the credit. He’d be okay with that. A little later, he was onstage and clearly had forgotten our conversation. He and Roz did, however, come to Marvel’s 25th Anniversary Party that evening, which made me very happy. There’s a story about that, too, but it will wait for another time.