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Biographies of the Stars

Interview with Gil Kane

COMIC-ART.COM:Gil, when did you start in the comics business?

GIL KANE: I started during the forties when I was a teenager, and was in the, I would say, the last half of the Golden Age and went into the Army in 1944 and when I came out, when the war was over, the field was winding up. It was pretty dead. Nothing much was happening except that the superheroes were dying, and the replacement seemed to be a kind of true comics and animation (funny animals). They dominated. Most publishers were turning out either true crime or true war or heroic material but all essentially, or supposedly, based on true material.

And the other thing that was extraordinarily popular was animation. And then of course romance started at the end of the forties and that turned the whole field around because it allowed a lot of the straight guys to come back to the field. I forgot also that westerns seemed to be starting about that time, too. So, I had done some work for DC when I was a teenager but ultimately I came back to the field, to DC, around '47 and then came back again, this time to stay, around '49. And from about '49 on I've been there, you know, ever since. I mean I've been out for sometimes as much as four or five years, sometimes even more, but essentially that's the company that I've been with for the last, almost fifty years.

COMIC-ART.COM: And what kind of work were you doing for them in the late forties?

GIL KANE: In the late forties? Well, when, in '47, I started doing Wildcat and then after that when I came back in '49, I started doing romance and westerns and then during the fifties they were trying everything. They were trying westerns, they were trying science fiction, they were trying licensing big names like Hopalong Cassidy and so on and so forth. I did that also and I did what I did, "Rex the Wonder Dog". I did whatever, you know, DC determined that, because they, essentially were the creators of the comics, not the writers or the artists, so they said they wanted this kind of a book and then everybody went about giving them what they required, but they wanted what they ordered, what they wanted made to order.

And that's the way it went pretty much on through the fifties, and then westerns died and the field started to change again. And they fooled around and they came up with the superheroes in Showcase, which did very well. And on the strength of DC doing well with their superheroes, Marvel tried it and by 1960 the field was off and running all over again.

COMIC-ART.COM: How did you happen to do Green Lantern?

GIL KANE: Uh, well, Carmine (Infantino) and Joe Kubert were doing The Flash for Showcase and they decided they had so much success with The Flash that they would try a second character. So they decided on The Green Lantern and they picked me to do it.

COMIC-ART.COM: You designed his costume didn't you?

GIL KANE: Oh, yeah. And I, in fact, I did another book for them called The Atom, which I pitched to them myself. I designed the character and the costume and everything else, and showed them my drawings and sketches and they decided to build a magazine around it.

COMIC-ART.COM: What inspired you to rework the Atom character?

GIL KANE: Well, first of all it was very much like characters done by my favorite artists Louie Fine and Reed Crandall and so I, and they owned the title, The Atom, and it just seemed to me it would be a perfect situation, so I suggested it and the book was, you know, successful for, for a very long time, and as was The Green Lantern, but I must admit that I, it was sort of boring doing it. I really didn't enjoy it.

COMIC-ART.COM: Oh, really?

GIL KANE: No. First because I longed to ink my own pencils, which they wouldn't let me do, and, the only time they would let me ink pencils is when I did westerns. It just so happens I like westerns better than superheroes, so I started to ink more and more of my westerns and then finally when the opportunities came, they would let me ink and just little by little, and I finally went over to Marvel, having worked for them on and off also for a period of years. I first started working for Marvel in 1942, and then I worked for Jack (Kirby) and Joe Simon as their assistant in 1943 and stayed with them until they both went into service.

COMIC-ART.COM: That must have been great training.

GIL KANE: Well, I must tell you, it wasn't training at all, because they simply wouldn't tell you anything and I didn't work there. I worked home and brought the work in, and what they would say is: it was either lousy or it was acceptable, you know, so, because some of my stuff was just you know, a sheer copy of what they were doing and it wasn't all that great.

GIL KANE: Well, I must tell you, it wasn't training at all, because they simply wouldn't tell you anything and I didn't work there. I worked home and brought the work in, and what they would say is: it was either lousy or it was acceptable, you know, so, because some of my stuff was just you know, a sheer copy of what they were doing and it wasn't all that great.

COMIC-ART.COM: And what kind of stuff did you do for Marvel over the years?

GIL KANE: Well, I did everything. I did over a thousand covers. I did every character they had except probably The Fantastic Four, and otherwise I did everything.

COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, because I remember seeing you do The Avengers, Captain America...

GIL KANE: Well, I did everything. In fact when Roy Thomas became the Editor-In-Chief you always sort of plotted the stuff you drew...But with Roy there there was greater freedom for me, so I introduced a kind of a King Kong character and for Spider-Man I made up the vampire. What was his name?

COMIC-ART.COM: Oh, Morbius? GIL KANE: Yeah. That was my character. I based him on Jack Palance. And I did Iron Fist, we did Captain Marvel. Those are all brand-new things that we were, you know, generating at the time, so it was a lot of fun there during that period and of course I was doing so much that I helped to take the load off Jack by doing some of the covers. But when Roy got in I did practically all the covers. So, you know I stayed there for a while and then came back, then ultimately I did a newspaper strip.

COMIC-ART.COM: Right. Starhawks.

GIL KANE: Starhawks, right, and did that for about five years, and when that was finished I came back to Marvel for a while, then went over to DC again, started to do Superman and after a while I introduced the, you know, The Sword of the Atom, which was my pitch and, you know, in the meantime I also did Savage, I think I did the first graphic novel, and I did Blackmark, I also did the, in paperback, I did the, you know, the first original graphic novel for paperback.

COMIC-ART.COM: Now Blackmark was intended to be a paperback first, correct?

GIL KANE: Oh yeah. Of course, and was.

COMIC-ART.COM: His Name is Savage, that was a pretty unique project at the time, too, wasn't it?

GIL KANE: Yeah, right. What we did was, it was a graphic novel, and it was the first time a single story took up an entire book and was intended you know to be a, not a series of twelve pages or eight pages, which is what most books were comprised of. They'd never had a story, a single story that was long enough. What am I talking about? All-Star Comics, where different characters took over different sections of the story even though it was the same story. So, in any case, I did that and finally came out to California and worked for Ruby-Spears and Hannah-Barbera, and Marvel and was in there for about five years and designed the Superman show and you know just generally working, and at the same time always sort of, once a year or so, turning my hand to a comic book.

Then I got back in comics and I started really coming back somewhere around the nineties, the early nineties. And it's taken me a little while to hit my stride, but I feel I'm doing about my best work now. My biggest problem is I don't ink everything I pencil so it's like those early days when I hated Green Lantern and The Atom, I hated them because I didn't ink them. So as a result I never could take the credit or the blame for what those things turned out to be simply because people of varying qualities inked the material and simply used my breakdowns or did whatever it was that they do, in other words, a collaboration, you're making a contribution but a lot of your contribution is, as I say, is, it's sort of watered down or it's changed or adjusted or given a facade by the last person to touch the material, which is the inker.

COMIC-ART.COM: Gil I remember seeing some of your John Carter comics from Marvel in the early seventies and your style was just buried under the inkers.

GIL KANE: Yeah, right. Now I happen to like Nebres's inking but I felt, and I thought he did a sensational job, I was a little unhappy only because I couldn't find my own stuff. All I saw were my layouts and my pencilling was not there, you know, my fold patterns, my approaches to work were different, his whole feeling for light and shadow was different, so as I say, he did an excellent job and the stuff looked good, but again, it didn't satisfy me unless I inked it myself. And now, however, it takes so long, the requirements of turning out comics today, it used to be that we used do an average of two to three pages a day of pencilling in the old days. I think most guys do an average now, if they're lucky, they do a pencil page a day. If they're not lucky they do a pencil page once in two or three days and so it's almost impossible for someone to pencil and ink a whole story every month as a regular situation.

Now, in order to compete with the kind of heavy detailing and effects that are necessary in order to properly utilize the new production values that are in the field, why you, in effect, what you are doing is you're creating pictures for the reproduction possibilities that are evident in the field now that never used to be. And as a matter of fact, that's one of the reasons I feel that, to a great extent, writing has suffered because, for a while, everything was taking a back seat to these big pin-up shots. It was almost impossible to get anything except a little framing continuity and that's it. But I think you know ultimately, the field has definitely moved totally away from what it was, and it just seems to me, and it's hard keeping up with the changes in terms of production and also of possibilities, and also the way it's being sold and the way it's being sold and the way it's being distributed.

But anyway I just wanted to say that I think that the thing now, the chaos and confusion that everybody's enduring because I don't think anybody knows where the field is going or what's going to happen to comics now, I think we're finally passed the whole century of doing pulp narrative and so on and everything else. A lot of that started in the mid-nineteenth century and pulp is essentially the ingredient you see in films, you see it in any sort of popular work and somehow or other, while I don't think pulp is going to die, I think the means for utilizing pulp is changing to such an extent.

The whole idea of comics, comes out of the illustrations that were made possible by the new technology in the mid-nineteenth century that allowed black and white drawings to be used and engravings to be used along with a text. Ultimately, that created a whole school of painters and illustrators who came out of the romantic tradition that developed the same romantic novels, and, what I'm saying is that, we've reached a point now where I'm not sure that those romantic stories are necessary, and by romance I mean pulp, and I mean I think essentially, I think games are as absorbing, apparently, to the new audience as narrative used to be.

I don't see that narrative, it seems to me that titillation, as long as you get the audience and absorb them, by some kind of situation that's a surprise and a visual surprise, why the visual surprises at this point are subordinated to continuity in the narrative. So I mean I don't know where it's going. I used to think I knew, but at this point I wouldn't even hazard a guess, it's happening so fast that it's almost impossible as to who's going to be suited to do it and, you know, what it'll take, and all of that. I think those are questions that are still to be answered.

I think the whole business of communication all of a sudden everybody's gotten the idea that it's all one idea, the whole business, whether it's recording or movies or paperbacks or comics or newspapers that essentially it's all one idea and that's communication and maybe with one machine to do it or one way of projecting a million different possibilities, so what I'm saying is that I think we've reached finally the end of a classic era and about to begin on a whole new way of communicating ideas.

COMIC-ART.COM: Do you find that exciting?

GIL KANE: Well, yes and no. I mean I really like drawing and I like the old style and I like magazine illustration and what it represented and you don't see that anymore. You don't see magazine illustration anywhere. In fact, all the editors, all the magazines that used to do magazine illustration all went under years ago because the whole information just took over, and magazines which were called general interest magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers and Liberty and all of those things, all of those things went under, and the magazines that managed to stay are specialty magazines, magazines that give you specific information about a single subject, whether it's hairdressing, whether it's clothes, whether it's fashion, people want information and information has destroyed Argosy, Blue Book, all of the pulp magazines, all of the things that used to come out that people used to read. They don't have to read anymore, they can watch, and watching is as absorbing, or more absorbing to them than reading, so I don't know what's going to happen to narrative. I think if the explosions are big enough, if the pictures are provocative enough, you know, it just may take a turn there and just never come back the way it was before.

COMIC-ART.COM: Interesting. Okay, Gil, in closing, what would you say are your major contributions to comics? What would you like to be remembered for?

GIL KANE: Oh well, I'd like to be remembered for the fact that I worked all through its major periods, you know, and I feel that we're just, we're closing a major period now and already have started on a new period that I can't even begin to hazard a guess on where it's going.

check out the Gil Kane biography here

We thank interviewer Steve Ringenberg for this transcript

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