Bob Haney Interviewed by Michael Catron Part Two (of Five)

Posted by on January 6th, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Part One.

From Our Army at War #125 (December 1962). Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. ©1962 DC Comics Click to view larger image.

Bob Haney, Year One

CATRON: How do you go about getting into comics in 1948?

HANEY: I needed money. I had some G.I. Bill and I had some other dumb little jobs. A friend of mine living in the same building, a young married guy, was working for an advertising agency, but in those days what they paid was low. He wanted to make some extra money and he heard you could make money writing comics. Ted Bratton [Ed. note: spelling of name guessed; we were unable to find records]  was his name and he was sort of a writer, nice guy. And he said, “Let’s write some of these strips.” But he couldn’t do the legwork. He had a steady job. Somebody had to do the legwork, go around and sell. So I said, “Well, I’ll do that.” So we did a couple of sample scripts, I forget what the hell they were. They were crime, maybe, or Western. At that point in New York City, there were God-knows-how-many outfits in business in comics. A lot of them were major publishers who had a comics sideline because there was a lot of money to be made. DC had shown the way. Comics were then 10 years old. Comic books, right?

CATRON: Superheroes in any case.

HANEY: Well, also a lot of other stuff had already been published. As Gil Kane’s interview [in TCJ #186] says — Gil, because he goes back farther than I, even though he’s only roughly the same age. He goes back into the early ’40s. This is now late ’40s. He got in when he was an early teenager. I’m now 22 or 3. Anyway, I went around and started calling on all these places. It was amazing how easy it was to get work. Because everybody was humming at that point. Everybody was selling comics, I guess. Some better than others. I never got to DC at that point.

But anyway, that year I went to several places and it wasn’t that hard to break in. I sold first to, well, Ted and I did, we first sold to Fawcett and Quality, I guess.

CATRON: Wow.

HANEY: You’re familiar with them.

CATRON: Sure, of course.

HANEY: These are major publishers who have a comics line. And we sold romance. We weren’t too good at it. We had an editor, a woman editor, she wasn’t right. She gave us a lot of blue pencil because we weren’t that good. But women wrote better romance stuff.

CATRON: What was her name?

HANEY: I cannot remember for the life of me.

CATRON: She was at Quality?

HANEY: Fawcett. She was very professional. She may have been from the pulps, although most people who came out of the pulps were men.

CATRON: There were lots of romance pulps.

HANEY: Well, then maybe she did come from the pulps. She was in her late 20s. I can’t remember her name. I have a good memory but I don’t — because I don’t think I ever remembered it even then, if you know what I mean. [Laughter.] She wasn’t that attractive.

CATRON: So you weren’t hitting on her, is that what you’re saying? [Laughter.]

HANEY: Naw. Listen, in those days, I had girls — I had five girls at a time. Jesus. I was cutting a swath through New York. It was a great town for that, when you were —

Anyway, then I sold to Thrilling, which was Standard or Thrilling. You’re familiar with that?

CATRON: More by reputation than actually having read the stuff.

HANEY: Yeah, well, Joe Archibald, he’s mentioned constantly in Gil Kane’s interview. He was an ex-pulp editor, I guess. Nice guy. Then I went to Hillman and sold Hillman, St. John’s — Fox. You’ve heard about Fox.

CATRON: Of course.

HANEY: That was a sleazy guy —

CATRON: Used to work at DC.

HANEY: Well, Gil mentions him, too. Gil knows more about him than I do.

CATRON: He was an accountant or something who saw the figures and decided to make his own comic books.

HANEY: He opened his own place and he had this sleazy — he was like something out of a ’30s movie. The office he had was right out of a sleazy movie set. He had this weird harridan of a peroxide blonde up in years who was his secretary. She was a bitch. Battle-axe. And he cheated everybody. He owed me $60 — no, $120. That was a fair amount of money in 1948. For some scripts I had done — there were many crime [scripts]. I kept trying to collect. And she would guard the door and she was always saying he wasn’t there. We could see him behind the frosted glass. We knew the son-of-a-bitch was there. But unless you broke the door down, you couldn’t get at him.

So I’m waiting in the outer office one day. And a very mild-looking older man, middle-aged man, is sitting there. He was waiting to see Fox and get some money out of him. So finally I said to him, let’s go out and get a cup of coffee. I don’t think I ever got his name and I’m pouring my heart out, over this cup of coffee, and I’m raging, “This $120, that son-of-a-bitch, he owes me $120 and I wrote this script” and I’m going on and on and on and on. So, he said, “Well, we’re getting together a bunch of the creditors. You want to join up?” And I say, “Oh sure! I wanna — ” So finally I says to him, “Well, what does he owe you?” [Laughs.] $48,000. And I looked at this guy and said, “What?” He turned out, Mike, to be the printer.

CATRON: Oh my God.

HANEY: This guy Fox had gotten into him for — I don’t remember the precise figure. But it was up — many, many thousands of dollars. [Laughs.] So then he says to me — well I think maybe I had not mentioned the amount that Fox owed me. I just talked about him owing me and these scripts. So this guy says to me in a very, you know, responsive way, “Oh and what does he owe you?” And I say, “Oh — not that much.” [Laughter.] I was embarrassed to say he owed me $120. Later there was a lawsuit and I got some mail about it. I don’t think I ever got any money. Maybe I was too small a creditor to get any money. Maybe he paid off a nickel on the dollar. I don’t remember too well. I don’t think I ever got any money.

CATRON: What kind of artists were you working with then? And how did that system work?

HANEY: In those days, you came in and you hardly ever met the artist. Especially with those outfits that were running in those days. Although as time went on and I got to work more for specific places like — I did Black Cat for Harvey, which is a bit of a cult magazine now. People remember it much more fondly than I do. I wrote it for a couple years. Black Cat is a property that I’ve got a funny feeling that somebody’s going to make a movie out of or something. It seems to have a cult overtone to it. I think Lee Elias was doing it.

CATRON: I believe he was, yeah.

HANEY: But I never met him. He was good. I saw the product, the finished product. I never ran into him. In some of these offices, you never met the artist. You really dealt only with an editor in a very kind of compartmentalized way. It was only later, when I started working for Toby Press — you’re familiar with them …

CATRON: Mmm-hmm.

HANEY: … that Mell Lazarus was an editor, who’s now the famous successful cartoonist of Miss Peach for years. That’s still carried in many papers, right?

CATRON: I think it is. [Ed. note: the strip ended in 2002.]

HANEY: Mell was a very attractive, affable guy who was kind of like a cynical, slick kind of a character, who — I don’t know. He didn’t seem like he belonged in it as a comic-book editor.

One story about Toby Press. I did a John Wayne book for them. Right?

CATRON: Mm-hm.

HANEY: That was sort of fun. You know, Wayne was, of course, a superstar then. This was the late ’40s. He was at the peak of his career as the guy who won World War II [laughs] and all that shit. In the John Wayne book, you mainly did Western stories. They did one issue based on Hondo, the film. I wrote several of those. Anyway, do you know who owned Toby, or was part-owner?

CATRON: No.

HANEY: Al Capp.

CATRON: Oh, was he?

HANEY: He was one of the worst pricks that ever lived. He was an absolutely awful human being — as the world found out later. He was so hostile and aggressive to people. Anybody who was under his thumb, he kicked them around. He was just a rotten person. There’s that famous interview with him with John Lennon and Yoko Ono; that shows you what kind of a personality he was. He was a disgusting man. He had a part interest in Toby Press. Anyway, I wrote a couple of books for them.

Ziff-Davis, Hillman and All the Rest

HANEY: I worked for Ziff-Davis, who was mentioned by Gil Kane. Ziff-Davis was a huge publisher, still is. They had a comics division. Herb Rogoff was the editor.

CATRON: Jerry Siegel was the first editor there.

HANEY: Yeah but he was gone when I got there.

CATRON: OK. Who was Herb Rogoff? Tell me about him.

HANEY: I don’t know what his background was. I worked for him. He and I got along fine. Oh, I’ll tell you one reason I worked for him. I first met Herb — I worked for Hillman, for Ed Cronin, whom Gil Kane mentions quite a bit. Ed was this wonderful old Irishman from another time. He was one of those men who still wore, you wear those things around your sleeves when somebody dies — what do you call those? Garters like on your sleeves —

CATRON: The armband thing?

HANEY: Yeah, the armband thing when somebody died, right? But he was a guy who wore those, so he was already like an anachronism. He wasn’t a fogey, though. He was probably only 55 or 60, he just seemed like from another world. But a nice guy. He was the top editor at Hillman. He may have been from the pulps. Other guys like Gil may know more about him than I do. But he was a nice guy and he liked me. I wrote a lot of stuff for him. I wrote good stuff for him. Carmine was there then doing the Heap.

CATRON: Mm-hm. Well, what were you writing? Do you remember?

HANEY: I wrote some Westerns and I wrote some stuff that appeared in Airboy. I did not write Airboy or The Heap. There were other writers. But I wrote — what Ed turned me loose on was crime. They had a lot of good crime books. I created a couple of series. One was called “Memoirs of the Sûreté.” The Sûreté is like the best French detectives bureau.

CATRON: Sort of like the French FBI?

HANEY: Yeah. It goes way back, though. It goes back into — I think the first Sûreté guy was the great criminal Vidocq. Back in the 1830s, the French government wanted to catch all these criminals — it may have even been Napoleon, I don’t know. They were smart. They said, “The way to catch criminals is to hire the best criminal to catch them.” And Vidocq was the guy. He was a master criminal. They hired him and he became the greatest catcher of criminals because he knew where they all were. [Laughter.] I sort of used that as a basis. I did a lot of research and — French crime is so fascinating. It’s so much more rich and colorful than American criminals. Through the 1800s and into the early 1900s. I did a whole lot of stories.

“Shadows Along the Seine” was another series we did. Then I did a lot of American crime for Ed Cronin, too. You know, gangsters and so forth. They were fun. I did a lot of research and it was mainly all based on true crime but then I could take a couple of gimmicks or a story and invent characters. So it was fiction, too. It was both. And they sold well. Hillman did pretty well in the late ’40s.

Then I was working on Black Cat for Harvey. I can’t remember what I did for St. John. Joe Kubert was there at that point but I never ran into him. And Hillman and Fawcett and Quality and who else? Thrilling or Standard. Toby, of course. Fox. Let’s see. Who else? I think I’m missing a couple. Oh, I went to Timely, which was Stan Lee, right?

CATRON: Right.

HANEY: He didn’t hire me. I had an interview with him. I think I’m leaving out a couple, but I’ll be damned if I can remember them unless you come up with names; everybody was into comics. The comics business was booming. We’re talking ’48, ’49, ’50.

I wrote Black Cat. It was kind of fun. Lee [Elias] made a very cute, sexy little thing and I wrote for most of one year. Again, I can’t remember the exact dates. So here I am. Ted Bratton, the guy who got me into this, dropped out. He went to Reader’s Digest and had a better job. Started having kids and so on. So I continued on. It was a great way to make — even though they paid low per page for the writer — I was so busy writing for so many outfits. And living in New York was relatively cheap. I was doing a lot better than guys who had regular jobs. At that point.

So I never thought I’d wind up being a comics writer. I had all this education and other interests. But I was doing it and it enabled me — my time was my own. Of course, you had to get up and crank out the stuff every day. But you weren’t punching a time clock. You weren’t going into some awful office.

Then the next big thing, of course, is the big shakeout in the early ’50s. Which, of course, Gil talks about at great length.

CATRON: And how did that affect you?

HANEY: Well, that affected me quite a bit. In ’52, most all of these guys went out of business. It wasn’t just the Wertham scare and the Congressional committee. That helped a lot. But a lot of them peaked; there was just too much competition and only the powerful — like DC and Timely and a couple of others — survived.  Hillman and all those guys went under — like, Hillman was my main — you know, Ed Cronin got fired. All these places went out of business, out of the comics business. Back to their other publishing.

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