An Interview with William M. Gaines, Part Two of Three

Posted by on October 13th, 2010 at 12:01 AM


Art by Graham Ingels.


GROTH: How reliable were the artists?

GAINES: Well, each one was different. Graham Ingels was an alcoholic. Graham Ingels would as soon get drunk as not, but you know, in all the times he was drunk and in gutters and God knows where he was, he never lost a job, and he rarely was late. Don’t ask me how he did it. Johnny Craig… [laughter] maybe every five weeks, four weeks, he would come in with his job, but I expected that. Jack Davis — we used to draw pictures of Jack with a machine that turns out artwork. You’d give Jack a seven-pager, he’s back in three days. Unbelievable, just unbelievable. Most of the guys were quite reliable. We got to know how long each one would take and we paced it accordingly. Most of the boys, like Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, were two weeks for a story. Graham was two-and-a-half, three weeks, Jack was very fast, Johnny was very slow, they were the extremes… most of the other guys were about two weeks. Oh, Williamson — Williamson was a screwball in those days. Now I understand he’s steadied down, he’s doing a syndicated strip which requires a reasonable amount of discipline, but in those days he was a screwball and very immature, sweet and love able and wonderful and I loved him very much, but he would be frequently late. But again, if you knew he was going to be late, you lied; [laughter] you lied about the due date.

GROTH: I guess you know that now they have the comics system down to a factory-conveyor belt system where they have a penciler, inker, writer, letterer, and so on. All of the EC artists inked their own material…

GAINES: Yes. But they had that system back then too.

GROTH: In the shops.

GAINES: You’re right, I’d forgotten, because we just never did it. But big outfits had pencilers and they had inkers, and these people were specialists. Some of them penciled better and some of them inked better, and there was nothing too much wrong with it, except that… We tried it for a little while, and if you look very closely you’ll see some stuff signed “Aljohn.” That was Al penciling and Johnny Craig inking. We did it for a few stories just for fun but it didn’t work out.

GROTH: What prompted you to go against current practice by letting the artist pencil and ink and do everything himself.

GAINES: Probably ignorance. [Laughter.] I don’t think I knew any better. But our artists didn’t want it. They were very proud of their work. Who wants somebody else to ink their work? They didn’t want that. Severin and Elder were the exceptions; they were always a team, they came to me as a team, and what one had the other lacked and vice-versa, perhaps; Elder did some work for us alone, particularly in the horror, because Severin probably didn’t want to, but for the most part, in science fiction, they worked as a team — just beautiful.

GROTH: Yeah. And in the war books. I know that you think very highly of the science-fiction books, you’re very proud of them, but I haven’t heard you talk much about the war books.

GAINES: Oh, I’m very proud of them too. But I didn’t do them. So there’s not much to talk about. Harvey and I just had completely different interests in this kind of thing and I did with Feldstein what I wanted. Feldstein was very good-natured; whatever I wanted, he wanted. He liked this stuff. Al can really do anything… nearly anything. The one thing he can’t do is what Kurtzman did. We tried once. [Laughter.] We wrote a story, I think it’s called “Hong Kong Intrigue” in the first issue of Two-Fisted Tales, which is the worst piece of crap you have ever seen, worse than our love books, because neither one of us has a feel for that kind of stuff, we didn’t know what the hell Harvey was talking about, and I still really don’t. I couldn’t do what Harvey did.

GROTH: One gets the impression, working with Harvey, that Harvey was very idiosyncratic, more difficult to work with than…

GAINES: Yeah, but that wasn’t the point here. The point here was that Harvey had a great feel for adventure. There used to be a radio program called I Love a Mystery, which was really an adventure program. I don’t know if you’re acquainted with it. Carlton Moss wrote it and he was terrific — he also wrote a bunch of other crap, a lot of soap operas, but this is a really unique thing he did, it was just pure adventure, giant spiders and Afghanistan and all kinds of crap, these guys are always getting into these action problems and getting out of them, and that wasn’t our genre at all. We were into — you know what we were into, we were into horror and creepiness and science fiction and fantasy and stuff like that, and although Harvey could do what we did a little bit, we couldn’t do what he did. And so there was no meeting of the minds at all between his books and ours.


William Gaines (left) and Harvey Kurtzman in the EC Comics offices.


DECKER: Why was Leroy lettering used so much in the books? I know this is a change of tenor in the questions, but I’ve always been puzzled by that.

GAINES: Well, I kind of inherited the outfit. My father, when he did Wonder Woman — and I have no idea why — used Leroy lettering. I don’t know if they still do, but the old Wonder Womans were Leroy lettered, and they were Leroy lettered by a guy by the name of Jimmy Wroten, who started out as a salesman for Keuffel & Esser, who made, among other things, my slide rule. [Laughter.] And they were the big company for slide rules, for templates, for Leroy lettering — and Leroy lettering mostly was used for lettering charts, engineering charts and so on, which it is beautiful for. How the hell it got involved in comics I don’t know, but it suited us very well because Al was a script-oriented person, although he is an artist — and a pretty good one — when he started writing, he was more interested in the script than the art. I think Kurtzman was more interested in the art than the script, so… that was one of the differences between them.

So because Al used so many words we found we could do it more clearly with Leroy lettering. If we had wanted a hand letterer to work that small, to get all that copy in, it would have been very difficult for him. You’ll notice Kurtzman’s stuff has very light copy. He never liked Leroy lettering, he wanted the feel of the hand lettering, so we used Ben Oda, a fine, Japanese hand-letterer who still works for DC and still occasionally does something for us. And that’s why.

DECKER: I see. It’s been said by some people that Leroy lettering gave the horror books and even the science fiction books a rather strange, rather inhuman look, because it was so mechanical.

GAINES: Perhaps it did, but that was not why we used it. We used it because… it was there. [Laughter.] As I say, I just kind of inherited it when I got down there. My father was using it I think on everything, or almost everything.

GROTH: Were there ever any moments when you thought, or Al thought, that the books were too text-heavy? A major criticism against the books these days is that they’re too text-heavy and the medium is primarily visual…

GAINES: Yeah, well, that’s what I’m talking about. They were very text-heavy. And that’s because Al and I both got enamored with his words. He wrote so beautifully.

GROTH: Did artists ever complain?

GAINES: Oh, sure. You’ve seen all those things.

GROTH: I remember the Graham Ingels thing…

GAINES: The Graham Ingels thing, where the Old Witch was holding up the balloon, and this little tiny space Ingels had to work in. Yeah, sure they complained.

GROTH: Did their complaints have a sympathetic hearing?

GAINES: Not a bit. [Laughter.] And of course then there was the well-known time that Krigstein was presented with “Master Race” in six pages and he was outraged and he cut the whole goddamn thing to pieces without asking us and pasted them all back together into an eight-pager and brought it in that way. And of course it was a masterpiece, but it presented us with a hell of a problem because we laid our books out for an eight-seven-six-seven format and here we all of a sudden have an eight-seven-eight-seven format. Where the hell were we going to get two more pages? [Laughter.] I don’t know what the hell we did — I guess we switched some stories around from later issues.


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