“Comics Detective” Ken Quattro talks in detail with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson about his terrific new book, “Invisible Men:The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books.” The lives of pre-Golden Age figures are examined such as Adolph Barreaux who contributed to the first DC and Harvey Comics, Matt Baker, Orrin Evans, George Evans, Hollingsworth, and Calvin Massey. Learn about some behinds the scene information on Will Eisner, Stan Lee, Walter Gibson, Harry Donnenfeld and more. Edited & Produced by Alex Grand.
#InvisibleMen #KenQuattro #MattBaker #StanLee
Alex: Well, welcome back to the Comic Book Historians Podcast, with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson. Today we’re interviewing comic book historian, Ken Quattro who recently published a critically acclaimed and beloved book, Invisible Men, about the trailblazing black comic artists of the early 20th century There’s been very little historical research into this area of comic history, we’ll go more into that later…
But Ken sets up a historical atmosphere of what occurred between reconstruction and World War II, the rise of the KKK, in the midst of the context of the formation of the NAACP, the Harlem Renaissance, the overall everyday life of the black experience… Being refused to buy a house because a person’s blackness was discovered. All that in the midst of contributing to the comic world. Ken, thanks so, much for joining us today.
Quattro: It’s a pleasure being here, guys.
Alex: So, what we’re going to do is hopscotch through your life, and your research in to this book. Jim’s going to start on your early years. Go ahead, Jim.
Jim: You were born in Detroit…
Jim: Which means, that your first comic book, which was Flash #121, if I’m correct…
Quattro: Wow. You’re good. Yeah, that’s right.
Jim: Was actually… You were 10, or so, I was thinking you were about eight, but you were around 10?
Quattro: Well, no, it was actually… I was eight years old, because my birthday’s in December. So, in early 1961 when it came out then, I was eight years old.
Jim: Okay, then…
Quattro: But actually, I’ve read comics before that. My brother was a big comic book fan and he’s quite a bit older, and the only comic books he kept were the Classic Comics. So, I grew up on Classic Comics even before I read any comic of my own.
Jim: Your older brother, if I’m correct, is the one that took you, a few months later, where you bought the Secret Origins Comics.
Quattro: That’s right. That was the thing that sold me on comic books. I mean, when I read all those comic origins, that was it. I just fell in love with comic books.
Jim: So, tell us the story about what you thought Flash #121 was about when you bought it.
Quattro: [chuckles] It’s kind of bizarre but… The night before, on Sunday night, it was Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, and they had one of those wild life adventure things that Disney used to make. It was called Flash, the Teenaged Otter.
When I was in the drugstore, the next morning with my parents, they’re picking up a prescription for me, I saw a Flash comic book. My first reaction was, “Oh, this is about the teenaged otter.”
I looked at the cover, obviously, it wasn’t on that. And I took it home, and like I said, I was hooked, almost immediately, with comics.
Jim: I was going to ask you if you thought Flash and Trickster were chasing the otter, or the otter is…
Quattro: I don’t know. It was bizarre. It was a bizarre entry into comics, but I’ll never forget it. I mean, it made a huge impact on me.
Alex: And it was, the otter, that was a compelling stuff, I would say, back in those days.
Quattro: Oh, I loved that Walt Disney stuff in that. I used to love those… I think it’s Wildlife Adventures, they used to make. It was great.
Quattro: Good stuff.
Jim: I remember those as well… All right, so, that got you interested. And I’ve heard you talk about the Secret Origins issue, why that was the sort of road to Damascus for you. That was the one that got you really interested.
Jim: It’s because of the history, which was part of you from the very beginning.
Quattro: Right. I’ve always been into history and stuff like that. Ironically, I was into mythology even before I was into comic books. I started reading really young, I was reading novels when I was four years old. My mom used to tease me about it, how I was always into all these mythological, super-type characters, and that preceded even comic books. And the comic books, to me, were almost like a modern-day version of mythological gods. So, just one, just build upon the other.
Alex: Were you a Ray Harryhausen fan and all that?
Quattro: To a certain extent, to a certain extent, man. I loved all the science fiction movies and stuff like that. I mean I just ate all that stuff up, and everything like that.
Alex: Yeah… As a kid in the early 80s, I love that Clash of the Titans and… I think I like mythology more before comics also. That’s interesting you say that.
Quattro: Yeah, I think it’s, there’s obviously a definite connection, between the two. And, to me it just, it was like one built upon the other. And then, the whole historical aspect of it really came into focus for me with Jerry Bails.
Jim: Yep. That’s going to go next, which is…
Quattro: Go ahead.
Jim: You, early on, became aware of…
Alex: Jim, before you ask that, can you increase your volume, your microphone input by like 10%.
Alex: I just want to make the audio easier to edit later. That’s all. And then I’ll splice my little interjection out.
Jim: How’s that,
Alex: It’s better. Thank you.
Jim: You want more?
Alex: Maybe 5% more.
Jim: Okay, how’s that?
Alex: Much better. Thank you so, much.
Jim: Okay. So, Ken, yeah, I wanted to talk about Jerry Bails because you became aware of him in Letters Pages in Alter Ego, and all of that, really early on… What you’re about 12 or so, at that point?
Quattro: Yeah, maybe even a little younger, because he was writing letters to like Julie Schwartz comics… Well, the Flash and comics like that, like Justice League of America. I would see his name, and I’d see Detroit, Michigan next to it, Well, that’s where I was at, or just in the suburbs of Detroit.
To me, that was really cool, that there was an adult out there that actually liked comic books. And he was talking about these previous versions of the characters that appeared; to me, sometime in the distant past, and it on like 15 years before. But the 1940s, early ‘50s seemed like ancient history to me. And then I ran into him, eventually, at these early conventions which were…
They were held in hotel rooms. I mean literally, you’d walk into this small room and just see a bunch of tables with piles and piles of old comic books on it. Nothing was bagged, nothing was boarded, just piles of all these old comics. And it was mostly adults who’re selling them. It was just, it was kind of neat and Bails was one of the guys. Most of my early comics, I bought him.
Jim: So, have you met him before the 1967 Detroit Con? That was the first one…
Quattro: No, no… That was the first time I met him. Like I said, I was such a shy kid then. I could hardly talk to him. I think the first comic I bought from was Detective #30. I bought a copy from him, which was pretty cool.
Alex: And just to clarify with the audience, this is the Detroit Triple Fan Fair, and it was 1967, or ’68?
Quattro: ‘68, I believe was the first one, because I think they skipped one year. It was the third one, I know that.
Jim: Yeah, that’s the third… Oh, because they skipped a year that’s why, it’s not…
Quattro: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I even get confused on that sometimes.
Jim: The first one was in ‘64. Now, were you aware of it at the time? Because you were…
Quattro: No, like I said, only through the Letters columns and stuff like that I… When he would talk about… He’d set up this organization, I think it’s American Comic Book Association or something. And he mentioned, giving away the Alley Awards, which is named after Alley Oop. I would see references to him in stuff like that.
Well eventually, after those early conventions, I started buying his publications. Bails was the first one really to start indexing in everything, comics. He started detailing what was in each comic book. And a lot of times, he would write these little explanations about who the character was, and sometimes he would write about the artists, and things like that.
That’s when it first hit me – there was something more going on. There’s somebody, actually a physical person creating these comic books, and that there was a world behind the comic book.
Jim: So, you were reading more like panel… What is it? Panelogist?
Quattro: The Panelologist. Wish you told me, I’d have brought some copies up here, and shown you that. I got all the issues of it.
Jim: Oh, I would have loved that. Show it to me, at some other time.
Quattro: Yeah, I will. Yeah. But it’s a…
Jim: Seen those, Alex?
Alex: I have not seen that.
Jim: Oh. Tell us about that for a second.
Quattro: Yeah. They were just hand stapled things that he typed up, and printed off probably on a mimeograph machine.
Alex: Oh, I have seen that. Because I like the early fanzine stuff. Yes.
Quattro: Yeah, yeah, but like I said, he was the first one who really did start detailing this and to put comic books really into historical form. Like to a lot of people, comics history is just talking about a character. Bails, to me, was the first one to start talking about the people behind the comics. And it wasn’t just him, obviously, you had guys like [(Rob) Hanes, (Chris) Ware??? 00:09:11] There’s other guys doing the same work, John Benson, stuff like that. But I became aware of it through Bails. Like I said, I started doing my own research almost immediately. When I was still a kid. I was probably like 18, 19 years old.
Alex: Wow, that’s cool.
Quattro: Talking about 50 years. I started trying to…
Alex: Is it an over statement to say that Jerry Bails is seen as a godfather to early comic book fandom? Is that correct?
Quattro: Well, it depends on how you look at it. I mean. like a lot of… If you want to be really technical, there was actually comic book fan, going back to the ‘40s probably. And to a certain extent…
Alex: Right. And then the science fiction fandom, back to the ‘30s even, right? Or earlier.
Quattro: Right, right. And there was an EC fandom, with guys like John Benson, and stuff like that, that was pretty active back in the 50s. But as far as like…
Bails happen to come along, just as the Silver Age was starting. And to me, the Silver Age… In a way, things started with Marvel. Okay. Even though they like to say it’s 1956, to me, they have a transitionary period. Because it wasn’t an immediate going from the Golden Age to the Silver Age. It wasn’t like somebody flipped the switch. There was a transitionary period in there. Where comic books went through the whole code thing, and there’s a lot of companies that closed down, and people left the business.
So, a lot of companies were going through a transition at the time. But it wasn’t until like the introduction of Justice League of America in 1960, and then what came right after that in ‘61 was Fantastic Four. And to me, that’s really when the Silver Age started.
Quattro: In this…
Jim: Showcase #4…
Quattro: What’s that?
Jim: Showcase #4. No?
Quattro: No, no, no, no, no, no. I mean, again, that’s retroactive history, that people are applying there. It’s not true, and even Bails said that. I quoted him. I got a whole long thing, I’d written, called The New Ages.
Actually, Jerry helped me write it, a couple years before he died. Where people like to think that just because they updated the Flash, automatically, everything changed at that point. It didn’t. Nothing really changed. I mean, DC didn’t…
Alex: Yeah. It all kind of trickled in.
Quattro: Right. I mean, DC didn’t even start getting the sales figures back until after Showcase #8. And even then, it just sort of indicated then that there may be a market for superheroes. But it wasn’t like everybody started doing superheroes, in 1956. They didn’t. The bestselling comics to that time by far were Dell Comics. It wasn’t even close. And it continued that way, right up to about 1960.
It wasn’t till Marvel came along in ‘61. And then, right after Fantastic Four you have the Hulk, and then you get Spider-Man. And that just set everything off, and that’s when you see the real beginnings of the Silver Age happening.
And Bails had a lot to do with that, because he got a lot of people interested in the history of comics, in tying the old with the new, and show that there was, history to it.
Alex: Within the context of these superhero team books that are just coming out.
Quattro: Right. See, there’s such a focus on superheroes and fandom, it distorts the reality of what physically happened on the ground… And any old-time fan will tell you that. If you talk to Maggie Thompson or any of these old timers and stuff, they’ll tell you flat out – Dell Comics, were by far the biggest selling comics of late ‘50s,
Alex: Yeah… Well, all that, like Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse stuff, right?
Quattro: Without a doubt. It wasn’t superhero comics; there was only a handful being published at the time. A lot of companies that tried them, like Archie Comics. They tried bringing back… What’s his name?… I can’t think of his name… He’s got the flag. What’s his name?
Alex: Oh, the Shield?
Quattro: The Shield, yeah. They tried, thinking back… the Shield… [overlap talk]
Alex: Yeah, you’re talking about like the Mighty Comics group of like ’66, ‘67?
Quattro: Well, right. But they proceeded back in 59… Simon and Kirby, brought back the Shield.
Alex: Oh yeah, that guy. Yes. That guy.
Quattro: Yeah, and it [sucked and it sucked??? 00:13:27]. [overlap talk]
Alex: Yeah, Private Strong, right?
Quattro: Private Strong, that’s who I was trying to think of. Yeah, they brought him back for a couple of issues. It was basically a flop. There was the Fly, and the Jaguar which are minor things, but they’re biggest selling characters were Archie…
Alex: Yeah, Jack Sparling…
Quattro: So, it wasn’t until Marvel really came along in ‘61 that set everything off.
Alex: Yeah, true. I mean that was the movement, and the JLA, obviously, yes. That means it’s like, okay…
Quattro: Right, the JLA was the one that showed the teams would work and stuff like that.
Alex: Yeah, team spirit, yeah.
Quattro: And that’s the apocryphal story of it led to Stan Lee, talking them Martin Goodman and all that stuff. [overlap talk]
Alex: Yeah, that’s where the chasing of the genre started, right?
Quattro: Exactly. Right. Again, comics historians have a very myopic view, because of superheroes. It’s distorted everything. But its, comic books follow trends.
Quattro: They’re not dedicated to a particular genre. They just go with what sells.
Alex: Yeah, that’s right.
Quattro: Just like after World War II, when the superheroes start dying out was when all these crime comics came along, science fiction, and then western and other stuff.
Alex: Even the ages of comic books, its actually very superhero focused.
Quattro: Right. Again, that’s… I wrote this thing called The New Ages, with Jerry Bails. And what we did is, we broke it down into different ages. That’s why I called it The New Ages, in a different way of looking at it.
Jim: So, that’s where academia and scholarship comes in because in film studies in genre, there have been people like Rick Altman that have written about the functions of genre. And so, definitions of genre are different, depending upon what its function is.
And I think that that’s the same thing with the notions of these ages, which are cycles and such. They have different functions for different players. So, I agree with you, in the context of how you’re using it. But if you’re talking about superheroes, well, obviously, the Earth 2 heroes are the beginning of the Silver Age or like, Earth 1 so, the Silver Age Flash has to be Silver Age. So, from that point, it would be that beginning [immersion??? 00:15:43] Manhunter or whatever.
But that’s not what dealers and collectors would use. It would be a different function. The functions are like audience, contract, producer’s blueprint, things like that. So, if you add that to it, it becomes more nuanced. And we’re speaking about it, where there’s multiple functions for these things like ages.
Quattro: Mostly, you’re absolutely right there, Jim. I see in a lot of the ages… And this is something like… You guys all know Bob Beerbohm, right?
Alex: Yes, [chuckle] of course.
Quattro: No, I know a lot of what he’s saying… But this, we’re, where him and I totally agree on. It’s that a lot of the creation of the supposed ages, well the dealer created. The definition of Golden Age, and stuff came out like in the ‘60s there.
Quattro: And Silver Age was just sort of like a natural follow up to it. But after that, any other terms that they used like, Copper Age or Bronze Age, and stuff like that is… It’s nonsensical. It makes no sense at all.
Alex: I think sticking to the metals, and keep adding more, I think that gets a little silly.
Quattro: Well, it is silly. And to me it diminutizes the history of comics. See, to me, as comic fans and historians, we’ve hurt our own cause by treating it the way we do, but by being such big fans… At the same time, comic history has been written mostly by fans, it also, has sort of held it back. Because we seem to remove comic books from just the whole scheme of society by doing that. Again, by being so, myopic about it. Because comic books, to me, it always reactive to outside influences.
And to me, that’s the way I define the different ages, is by the outside influences that created these trends that happen in comics. If you go back to like, the 1950s is a good example – all the anticommunist comic books, especially, that they had at the time. They were reacting to the bigger scheme of what was happening throughout the country. It wasn’t a genre created in comic books – anticommunist comics books. They were just reacting to what was happening in the outside world.
Alex: How do you feel about the term Atomic Age?
Quattro: Well, I hate that. Even Bob says that, and he’s the one who came up with it. He did it also, as an offhanded kind of thing for Overstreet, he sort of created that term. But Atomic Age is ridiculous. Why not call it television age? I mean, television had a greater effect upon comics than the atomic bomb. If you think about… Because they were responding mostly to what was happening on television.
Alex: Yeah, that’s good point.
Quattro: If you look at a lot of comic books created in the ‘50s, there were so, many knockoffs of like, I Love Lucy, and all these other shows that were happening at the time and they were just translating it to comics.
Alex: Right, that’s a better way to describe it. You’re right.
Quattro: Right. Comic books are a responsive medium. They rarely led in trends in society, they usually follow. And the whole superhero thing was basically just an outgrowth of what was happening in the pulps. If you look at it.
I mean, they just took, basically, pulp characters, and juiced them up a little bit, and they put them into comics. There’s a lot of the same guys creating the same characters.
Alex: Right. This is cool. Yeah, because now, I think from ‘90 then on, we’re kind of stuck in almost like a movie age, where it’s all chasing movies. But that’s cool that the early ‘50s chased TV, that’s awesome.
Jim: Yeah, but Alex, the movies are chasing comics… It’s…
Alex: They’re chasing each other, yeah… But it’s stuck on that, though.
Quattro: Well, I think that movies are using comics. I think it’s just…
Alex: Yeah. People are making comics, in the hopes to get a movie made out of it.
Quattro: Exactly. Right. See, what’s happening in comics now… And this is the thing, I had [Scott Leplan??? 00:19:55] was a visiting professor near here, about 10 years back.
And I was invited to come to a little forum they had. Me and him kind of got in to it a little bit. And I tried saying that comic books, what’s happening now is what I call, boutique comics. In a sense, they’re not looking at a large audience. They’re looking at a very specific audience, and it’s no longer like trying to appeal to a mass audience. They’re trying to appeal to a specific audience, and to do that, they’re very personalized comic books.
At least to me, of the ones that I’ve… Obviously, not all of them are like that. But they have a very specific reason. Wherein at one time, comic books, again, they’re trying to sell millions of copies. Now, what do we sell? 20,000 copies? 30,000 copies? In a country of 350 million people, that’s literally nothing.
Alex: Right. It’s almost more like subculture comics now.
Quattro: Right, And that’s the mode we’re in right now. But the movie and the screen… Jim, would know this a lot better than I would… Is that they’re just utilizing comics as a launching point…
Alex: Content. Yeah.
Quattro: Right, as content. But again, they’ll probably tire of that at some point. At some point, the genre will wear itself down, just like westerns, or anybody else. So still, there will always be, I believe, like superhero type movies. But I can’t see it lasting, as these great blockbusters, year in year out.
Alex: Right… I hope not.
Quattro: Just because people change, and society changes.
Jim: I always make the comparison to the western. And it’s broken into television, we will hit a saturation with the superheroes.
Jim: Hit a saturation point at some point, but also, the evolution of the genre. And the cycle is such, that they’re becoming more sophisticated. We will get some interesting films before it fades in…
Quattro: Exactly. Totally agree with you… [overlap talk]
Alex: Well, I hope. But I think the difference though, is that westerns don’t have a correlation with the growth of technology, and superhero films do. And technology is constantly growing, and that’s going to cause it to last longer than the westerns did. And my only worry is, like what if that changes that cycle? I guess time will tell, but I don’t know.
Jim: I respect that, but I disagree completely, and I’ll tell you why. Cinemas go, the wide screen that allowed for something like The Wild Bunch and things, technology was changing, in terms of sound, in terms of the film aspect, and everything.
You look at Stagecoach, and then you look at film from the late 1950s, and some of (John) Ford’s later stuff or (Howard) Hawks’ later stuff, or certainly by the time you get to (Sam) Peckinpah, technology is changed completely.
Alex: Right. I mean, the rate of change, you’re right, is important. But we’re a far more technologically obsessed society than ever. And I think that that might make a psychological difference or impact, as far as audience fatigue to what they’re… And some sorts of desensitization that we’re getting from these movies. I don’t know… We’ll see.
Quattro: I think it’s starting to happen right now, personally, because, they can’t keep cranking out these films. Like Wonder Woman is, to me, the latest example. I just saw it about a week or so ago. And I don’t know if you guys saw that new Wonder Woman film, but I was a bit disappointed. There’s just not much there. There’s a little bit of action, a couple of action scenes are kind of cool; specially at the beginning. But there’s not much there to the story. And to me, that’s…
If they’d make too many films like that, that’ll be the death knell to the comic book trend. Because people are… [overlap talk]
Alex: But that could be theoretically clumped into movies like Green Lantern, and whatever, that just… More often than not, there’s a misfire in DC movies. It could just be clumped in to that pattern.
Quattro: Well, it could be. But what I’m getting to, Alex, is that I think people eventually, just tire of the…
Alex: Of the genre.
Quattro: Well, of the genre, and just there’s so much eye candy that you can provide, to hold people’s attention. They want a story. I mean, I think, maybe it’s because I write. To me, a story is very important in anything you write. Whether it’s a comic book, a novel, or a movie, or anything, to me, the story is important, to hold my attention. There’s so many movies made, where at the end of the film, I’m going like, “Really? That’s it?”. It just sort of meanders off into nothing. And I think that’s dangerous. A lot of times with comic books, that there’s a lot of flash, but there’s not a lot of story behind it.
Jim: I think that the thing is, and this is unique, probably to everything except maybe MGM musicals versus other musicals in the classic era, in that there is a clear division. There’s DC, and there’s Marvel. And Marvel hasn’t made that misstep, so, none of their films have failed the way that DC films are…
Quattro: I agree with you on that.
Jim: Whatever. And now that they’re making a serious move in television, I’m not sure how long it’s going to go, but like WandaVision is getting tremendous buzz.
Quattro: Have you guys seen that yet? Is it good stuff or anything?
Alex: No. It’s coming out in five days.
Jim: Yeah, it’s out on…
Quattro: Oh, I thought maybe you saw clips or something of it.
Alex: Well, there’s definitely commercials. but yeah, the interesting thing I think also… I think it’s Kevin Feige. I think it’s all about him. Like I think he may actually start getting involved into some Star Wars content as well. I think they’re all like thinking him and (Jon) Favreau are the key to the streaming golden ticket; is what I’m thinking.
But well, we really should talk about Ken’s book, actually.
Quattro: Oh, I’m sorry.
Surprised that… [overlap talk], Alex.
Alex: All right, Jim… But Jim, continue.
Jim: Okay. So, I want to get a sense… Go back in time now. We left you is as a kid, basically, in 1968, and you’re reading comics. Do you ever stop going and buying comics on a regular basis?
Quattro: No. To give you an idea, 1967 I got my first job. Actually, in May of 1967, the month that Sergeant Pepper came out… Just to give you an idea how old I am.
Alex: [chuckle] That’s awesome.
Quattro: Yeah. But anyways… I got my first job. And from that point until 1975, when I first got married, I literally bought every comic book that was on the stand.
Alex: Oh, cool.
Quattro: I would go into a local bookstore, and they had a comic rack. I would take one of every single comic book that came out, and two copies of every #1 issue that came out.
And like I said, that’s all I ever wanted to do, was draw comics and everything.
Jim: Every Sunday, I would have my dad drive me to 7/11, and there would be the wired package of comic books, with newspaper over them. And I would wait until the 7/11 guy cut it. And he would let me go through it, and get them before they even went on the rack.
Quattro: Oh, yeah. It was key to get the ones that were a couple issues down, because the ones up top always have the wire cuts in them and stuff.
Jim: Yeah. And so, I don’t think from ‘67 to now, I don’t have in the next room, a comic with a month in a year. I mean, I never stopped. Did you ever hit a point where you said, “Okay, I just can’t go?” Because a lot of people do. They have that Barry Pearl notion of – “Okay, I quit this month, and I’ve never read a comic.”
Alex: Yeah, he stopped in like ‘79 or something like that.
Quattro: Well, no. What I did was, briefly when I first got married, and that I stopped reading for over a very short period of time. I mean, like a month or two, maybe. But from there, right up through the 90s, I had probably bought comic books every single month. I had a complete collection of Marvel Comics, from Fantastic Four #1 on, right through the ‘70s up to, through the ‘80s, until probably, about 10 years ago when I started selling some of that off. But I had a lot of comics…
Alex: Your love back then, you were more of a Marvel guy?
Quattro: No, I just loved comic books. I mean, Marvel was the one that really hooked me.
Alex: There you go.
Quattro: I must say that in the beginning. To me… Like a matter of fact, I was on a podcast yesterday… And the guy said, “If you’re stuck on a desert island, what comic or series would you like to have, just the rest of your life?”
I said, “Spider-Man, #1 through #38… I mean, to me, that was the perfect comic book. And especially when you get down to that famous sequence in Spider Man #33, where he’s supposed to lift the heavy machinery off, and stuff like that.
Alex: Heavy machine. Yeah.
Quattro: To me, the five-page sequence, in that right there, was all you need to know about comic books. Right there, why I love comic books. It tells everything you need to know about how to build a story, and everything in a comic. It was amazing.
And what’s so great about it, to me, was the hero of that story wasn’t Spider-Man. It was Peter Parker, because Peter Parker was, that’s what made him lift that. It wasn’t this ideal being, a superhero, it was the idea he’s saving his Aunt Mae, because he had to get the serum to her, to save her life. And that’s what gave him the strength to lift this thing off of him. And that’s what made him heroic. And it wasn’t this God like superiority that Superman has, and stuff like that where he’s saving the entire world. It was just that one single person trying to save somebody in his family. I just think that’s an amazing sequence.
Alex: It is.
Jim: That endured…
Alex: And the number of boxes, I mean, they would decrease with each page, until there is a big…
Quattro: Right. It’s a five-page sequence, I think, leading up there; from the beginning from the splash panel to where he lifts that one… thing off him.
Alex: Yeah. It’s a cool usage of the panels and the countdown and then this… explosive…
Quattro: Brilliant. It’s just so brilliant.
Alex: It was. Yeah.
Alex: That’s true.
Jim: That one and Namor dragging Daredevil on the ground, and he’s…
Quattro: [chuckles] Oh, there’s a lot of great scenes. I mean…
Jim: Yeah, no, but I mean, for me, that may be why I became a lawyer…
Alex: Matt Murdock man. You heard it right here, folks, the origin of Matt Murdock.
Jim: Somewhere in those trunks in the court room, and not because I wanted to see that, necessarily, but it was…
Alex: That’s what got me. That’s why I… Because of Namor himself, not Daredevil. Yeah.
Jim: But that’s funny. But yeah, there’s a Kirby, a Wood and a Ditko for me, that all swim around there and formed my basic moral system.
Alex: That’s like 1965, all that stuff.
Jim: Yeah. Yeah. But see, I started in… It would be about ’67, ‘68. But everything was being reprinted, in the reprint books at any point in time. So, while I might not have gotten it in the same version, as Ken did, I was reading those books at the same time, because they were coming out in Marvel Greatest Comics or [inaudible 00:31:24]…
Jim: All right. So, let’s get you to college. It’s time for you to go to college.
Quattro: Okay. Okay.
Jim: Did you decide you wanted to be a journalist? Because I know you were a journalism major. And tell me where you went to school?
Quattro: Okay, it’s kind of complicated for me. Early on, I knew I wanted to draw comic books. And again, it was probably Steve Ditko who made me want to do that. I hope you guys saw, yesterday, I drew a copy of Spider-Man #38. I copied him back when I was 13 years old. I put it on my Facebook page yesterday. I just happened to find it. But anyways, I always wanted to be a comic book artist.
Well, my mom really encouraged me at all that stuff like that, to be an artist, and everything. But she died of lung cancer when I was in 10th grade. And that kind of just changed everything for me at the time. My family ran restaurants. My father is one of the founders of Little Caesars. Hope you guys… You know the pizza place, right?…
Quattro: Okay. So, we have a bunch of restaurants, and I was working in our restaurants, and stuff like that. And it was just assumed that I was going to be an heir to working these restaurants for the rest of my life. So, I kind of had to swim against the stream there, and go to college, and study artwork and stuff. And even though I wanted to study artwork, I was discouraged by my counselors in school of taking up arts. Don’t ask me why, but they said there’s no real career there or anything. Even though that’s all I ever wanted to do.
So, I went to my second love which was writing. And I majored in things like, I majored in journalism. I went to Eastern Michigan University and I also went to the University of Michigan. I bounced back and forth between the two. And I took these journalism classes with all these professors who’re amazing, amazing writers. Guys who’ve been the war correspondents in World War II and everything, and had these fantastic stories and everything. They kind of ingrained in me this objective perspective of viewing a story.
I talked a little bit about this off the air with Alex… It’s become part of my personality, to try to be as objective as I can, to when I look at anything. Even though I may have my own personal biases, I try not to let that come through in the things that I write about. And that’s when I became… even though I studied journalism, again, I never really made a career of it, and that because it didn’t really pay that much, I guess.
Like I said, I got divorced early, when I was only 24, we have son. And I ended up raising by myself for 12 years. So, what I did for 12 years is, well more than 12 years, I’d worked for FedEx. And I was a delivery guy for FedEx for 27 years. I did all this other stuff on the side. I went back to college. I got a degree in computer programming. I became a fine arts major after that. I studied fine art at Eastern Michigan.
Jim: This is this is fascinating to me, because we… Well, let me just say, I was a journalism major too. And I wanted to be an artist, all the same things up until… I didn’t get married; I went to law school. And that’s… But apart from that, it’s almost the exact same.
But this is why you and I actually get along.
Even though we might have… Otherwise not, based upon other things.
Quattro: Oh, I’m an easygoing guy, Jim, believe me.
Jim: Me too, as Alex will say.
But you know what I mean, when you and I talk, we never have issues when we’re going back and forth.
Jim: Even if we may have different ideologies in a lot of ways, or different thoughts about things… Listening to you and Alex talking earlier…
I made go, “No!” But I was doing it, in terms of content. But we never…
Alex: And that’s what happens, when you don’t click, Join Audio, on this thing.
Quattro: That’ll teach you…[chuckles]
Jim: So, I just want to say, this makes sense to me, because it’s that journalistic sensibility of dealing with the facts, and getting the details out there, rather than trying to turn it into a point of view, is the thing that I think we respect each other for.
Quattro: Right. And like I say, that was really important to me in writing this book. Because one, not only was I referenced mostly news articles, I didn’t want to make the book a diatribe or a narrative that I was trying to sell to anybody. I just wanted to report the facts about these men and the world surrounding them, what they had to deal with.
I mean, these are actual facts. This is not me mythologizing anything. And it wasn’t me working from apocryphal stories, like a lot of comic book stories are. That drives me crazy. That’s one of the things that drives me crazy most about a lot of comics history, is it’s based upon just stories people pass down. And you got to be careful with that. It’s always nice to have, accounts from people who were during that time, but everybody has their own perspective in involving…
Like Matt Baker is a perfect example. There’s always been this rumor that Matt Baker was gay, for instance. You get some people who said that he was gay. Yet, other people, including his family swear that he wasn’t. So, I was presented with two sets of facts there, two opposing ideas. So, what I did in the book is present both of them. And I just leave it to the reader saying, I ended with just, “He never came out, one way or another.” So, I can’t sit there and make a statement about what he was or wasn’t and it’s not fair of me. I didn’t think as a historian or journalist, to make that determination. I’d much prefer to just present facts to people, and let them determine for themselves.
Jim: Yeah, I’ve read pretty much every book on Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster in the creation of things. And every single person, even the best of the books, they always make a decision about some of the things that have different stories and mythologies about them. And they present it as fact, and it’s not fact. There are several, where it’s like, “Well, that’s either true or it’s not true. But nobody knows for sure.” And they always say, “This is what happened… “, and it drives me crazy. And not a single one is has not done what you did, which is to say, “Some say this, some say that.”
Quattro: Right. And like I say it’s… I just try to be fair with everybody, and I just want to be honest. To me, that’s the way history has to be presented or should be presented. And, like I say, I’m privy to a lot of information that I never share with people. And that’s because people trust me, when they tell me certain things.
[chuckle] Hi, there.
I’ve seen documentation, I’ve seen contracts, sometimes, that would stun people, if they knew they existed. But I’ve been asked, I’ve been sworn to secrecy, not to discuss those sorts of things.
But that’s just part of thing I like about being a journalist, you’re presented with facts. Sometimes you have to whittle out what you can report and what you can’t report. And I always try to fall on the side of – if it’s going to hurt somebody, I’m not going to do it. And especially, like with Baker’s family, his half-brother’s still alive and stuff like that. It wouldn’t be fair to me to make a judgement, in one way or another.
Alex: Right. And the two competing narratives about that are from his half-brother, that’s saying he wasn’t, and then from Baker’s best friend, Frank Giusto, who was a comic artist also, who’s saying he was. Right? Those are the two competing narratives.
Quattro: I believe so… Who else was asked? (Ray) Osrin, he said he was not. And he was his anchor. He knew him for years.
Alex: Yeah, he was his anchor, yeah.
Quattro: So, again, you have these competing perspectives and it’s only fair to present both sides. That’s what you have to do. At least, I think, that’s should be a journalist’s job.
Jim: This is a great segue point to get to actually talking about your book. And specifically, Alex is going to ask you about the spark that started it.
Alex: Yeah. First, I want to compliment you on it because I read it, I loved it. I noticed that you put warts and all, on every aspect of it. You write both about… Even the pros and cons of some things like Woodrow Wilson’s involvement with the KKK. And that he was a Democrat with the southern democrat Jim Crow laws. But also, then, with the Harlem Renaissance – how there’s also good side to the democrat involvement, when some of these black artists were part of liberal movements to improve their rights in the world.
So, it’s interesting you have both. You really address it from a lot of angles and I want to come at you, but tell us first, how did the book start? Tell us about the initial spark, what started all this?
Quattro: Well, again, it goes back to Matt Baker, years ago, about 20 years ago. Like I told you before. He was always one of my favorite artists. I just really liked him. And I was, back at the time, I was in research for a long hour on St. John Comics. And he was their main artist for the romance line. And I wanted to get some…
Alex: Art at St. John.
Quattro: Right. And I wanted to do some background information on him. Well, at the time, 20 years ago, there’s also nothing known about him. There’s two facts that everybody knew that he died young, and that he was black.
Well, I kept asking around, everybody I would come across, “What do you know about Matt Baker? Do you know anybody who knew Matt Baker?” And nobody did, at least not that I’ve come across. Until finally, somebody said to me, and I can’t remember who it was, “Have you ever talked to Samuel Joyner, who was a retired black cartoonist in Philadelphia?” They said he’d been around for a long time, and he knew a lot of other black artists.
So, I got his address, then I wrote to him. Mr. Joyner wrote me back a letter, a four-page letter, and a whole packet of clippings and photocopies of not only stuff about Matt Baker, but Jay Jackson, and Elmer Stoner, who I knew and stuff like that, but several other artists had shared. And he just sent different cartoonists that he knew, not just comic book artists but different artists. And he also mentioned that he was friends with Cal Massey.
Him and Cal Massey had gone to New York. They were from Philadelphia and they’ve gone to New York together in 1950, to visit all these black artists. And they met E. Simms Campbell, they met Matt Baker, and Elmer Stoner and Ted Shearer. They went around to all their studios and got tips from all these guys.
Well, after I got this letter, I wrote to Mr. Stoner again, and he wrote me back more about his personal background as a cartoonist.
Alex: Oh, yeah? That’s cool.
Quattro: A matter of fact, I just put something about that on my blog, about a week or so ago, couple weeks ago about him. Fascinating and wonderful man. A wonderful, wonderful man and he’s really is the one who deserves all the credit for this book existing. Because he’s the one that gave me the spark, the idea for it.
So, I started looking into some, not only Matt Baker, but other artists that he mentioned. And I did what I normally do, which is I start looking in newspaper archives, stuff like that, to see if I could find any information. And there was nothing in the regular newspaper archives about these guys. And I go like, “That’s so weird.” It dawned on me to try to find a black newspaper archive, which at the time was very hard, because unfortunately most libraries never kept copies of black newspapers. They just never did.
Alex: And that’s kind of weird, I think.
Quattro: It’s very weird. I mean there’s very, very few archival sources for black newspapers in this country. There’s more now than there was, when I started this 20 years ago. At that time there was hardly anything. But finally, over time I would find me one here, or I’d find a partial one in another place. And then I would start finding articles about these guys, and many of these guys were well respected fine artists, or they were cartoonists in the black media. I mean, the black newspapers of the ‘40s are full of stuff by Robert Pious, Elton Fax, all these guys, E. Harper Johnson… All these guys were regular artists, well-known artists in the black media, but totally unknown in the white media, and that’s…
I speak about dual consciousness. There was a book written by W.E.B. Du Bois back in 1903, I think it was, called The Soul(s) of Black Folks. He speaks about dual consciousness, where basically, it’s where black people learn to lead to different lives.
The lives they lead at home, and in black society, with other black people. And the lives they lead in white society. And it’s literally, two different worlds. And as a white person, even though I may have had some inkling of that, I never realized it until I started reading all this black media. You’re talking about an eye-opening experience. I wish they had classes in schools where all you did was just read black media from, say like the mid-1950s and going back.
You would get such a different perspective of the world, of America.
Alex: That’s cool.
Quattro: Than what you see in white media. It’s amazing. It’s the same stories, would be covered but in a totally different perspective. Or you would see, in white media where something was not covered at all, like say a lynching. There’s some 1500 lynching prior to 1950 in America, from like 1910 to 1950 or something like that. 1500.
Quattro: But rarely were they covered in the white media, or if they were, many times are on the back pages. In black media, it’d be front page news, and headlines, and pictures and stuff. And like I said, it’s like, all of a sudden stepping into a different world.
Just, that’s what I, again with this book, I tried to do. I try to share that experience with people; with white and black people because even a lot of younger black people, I don’t think, are aware of everything that their forefathers went through.
I mean, it was unbelievable, the discrimination, the Jim Crow laws and stuff that they went through on a daily basis, that we can’t even comprehend. And that’s what I just try to, again, I just try to show that to people, and say like, “These guys didn’t just draw comic books.” Comic books were the entry point into their lives, for me. But there’s so much more going on. And that’s really… That’s what I tried…
Alex: Yeah, and you do that really well because you create an atmosphere of the Harlem Renaissance, and the involvement of that. And then also, even other things that other people wouldn’t really think about or talk about, like the difference between the African American experience in comparison to the African Caribbean experience in America. And it’s like two totally different experiences, two totally different sets of, even self-esteem, back then, and outcomes. It’s really interesting.
All right. So, Jim, go ahead into his research aspect of it.
Jim: You’re talking about it. I mean you’ve explained it pretty much that you’re a primary source researcher.
Jim: And in fact, you’ve called yourself more of a detective than a historian.
Jim: Why do you not call yourself a research journalist, instead of a detective? Is it just because…?
Quattro: Well, okay, it’s partially, its tongue and cheek because I don’t know if you realize that comics detective, if you flip it around is Detective Comics. Okay. That’s part of the reason.
Alex: Well, we won’t tell the DC lawyers that.
Quattro: Right, right. [chuckle] Like one time, I made a logo off it, where I just flipped the logo around, Detective Comics that I used… But that’s a little much. But that’s part of reason, but also, as far as the historian part of it, I don’t think I really have the bona fides to call myself that. I didn’t go to college for it. I don’t have a degree in it. And I think that a lot of times, a historian is basically a person who interprets history. And that’s not something I really try to do. I just try to report history, and that’s the way I look at it.
And as far as like being a detective that’s basically what I do; is I just try to find information and try to find connecting threads. I’m really good at finding connective threads between stories, and people, stuff like that. I’ve gone down rabbit holes, you wouldn’t believe, sometimes, to find something.
Jim: Well, I was listening to a lecture that you gave, and you were talking about going into the FBI files, for example, at [inaudible 00:49:27].
Alex: Wait, for who? Could you say it again, Jim?
Jim: For Lev Gleason, they’re the only one, because there’s the guy that wrote the book currently who is a great nephew, who did this thing…
Quattro: Brett. Brett Dankin.
Jim: But that’s family, and I think that’s a wonderful book too. I really enjoyed reading it.
Jim: That’s the kind of researcher that I want. I mean, because that’s fascinating to me, and it seems like that’s your approach to all of that… The question I would have is, when this started, some of these people were alive.
Did you go and talk to family members? Did you try to talk to the artist? Because…
Quattro: No. The only artist who was still alive at that time, that I knew, was Cal Massey, really. And I really didn’t know how to get ahold of him or anything else. And Matt Baker’s family had already done a long interview with Alter Ego Magazine, and Jim Amash, who was a friend of mine, and stuff like that.
Alex: Is that how his last name is said?
Quattro: Amash. Yeah.
Alex: Oh, I didn’t know. I thought it was “Ah-mash” for some reason. Okay.
Quattro: Well, that’s because you’re thinking about the guy from Michigan who’s in Congress.
Alex: Okay, that’s probably right. Yeah.
Quattro: He’s actually a relative of his I believe. He’s a cousin, I think. But that’s another story. Anyways, but he’s a friend of mine and out of respect for him and that, I didn’t want to re-trod the same path that he had. You know, interviewing something right after he’d interviewed somebody.
And a lot of times too, to be honest, I try to keep an arm’s length away from family members, a lot of times. Because you’d never know how they’re going to react, even though I’ve interviewed a lot of family members, I’ve had totally different results. Some people like Bernard Baily’s family couldn’t have been nicer. And I have a huge amount of personal information that they shared with me about Bernard Baily.
But I’ve had other families who’ve been… Well, they’re very sensitive about being contacted, because a lot of times, they’re ashamed that they worked in comic books, which I know is hard to believe. But even Bailey’s family, his wife and stuff, while she was alive; they were ashamed he worked in comic books, and they never want to talk about it. And the only reason why his kids talked to me is because their parents had already passed on.
So, it’s kind of a double-edged sword, when you’re talking to family members.
Alex: Right. I heard that in Mac Raboy’s family had similar weird concerns about talking about him that much.
Quattro: Right. Yeah, it’s kind of like I say, it’s a double-edged thing, so you never know what you’re going to get yourself into, when you contact somebody. And I didn’t want somebody to short circuit, what I’d started on.
And to tell an objective story, equally throughout each one of these guys, I thought it was only fair to do it the same throughout all. I didn’t want to give more credence to one story than I would somebody else, just because I’d had more access maybe. I’d say I’d be interested to talk to some of these family members but again I’d kind of leave that up to them.
Jim: I’ve also read where you talked about the nature of comic book history and historians, where its largely fan based, rather than from independent academic scholars and scholarship.
Jim: And that makes a difference because there’s a biased love for it. And once you start… If you’re doing a Kirby biography and used to spend your teen years at Kirby’s house. You’re going to have a certain perspective.
Jim: And you escape that trap that a lot of similar historians who have a large fan background in it, don’t escape that. And so, I think you were very smart to do that. And that’s why I asked you that question.
Quattro: Well, again, Jim, that goes back to the whole journalistic thing, though. I learned that early on, to try to create that distance between me and the story. No matter how I feel about it. It’s, I am a comic fan, obviously, a huge comic fan. But, to me that’s just the starting point of what interests me. But if you get somebody writing about these… What I’ve always thought was interesting, if you get somebody who’s writing from like an academic point of view like say, Jill Lepore did with The Secret History of Wonder Woman.
Quattro: You get a totally different point of view. She wasn’t a comic fan coming in, to write this thing of Wonder Woman. And that’s why there’s such a difference of opinion of that book. I mean, some people love that book, and some people hate that book. But it’s because she came in as a person who has no personal attachment to comic books. And I think that kind of skews, in a way, the story, because she has that academic distance there.
You see what I’m saying? I think I’m lucky in a sense of that, I do have the fondness for comics, and I do understand what comics fans like about these artists and stuff like that, like say, Matt Baker. I mean, I could write a book on Matt Baker, the things I love about his artwork, no problem. But that wasn’t what I was trying to portray, but at the same time, that was the entry point into his life for me, was comic books.
Jim: Non-comic fan scholars who come in and want to do it because it’s the hot topic, make more errors in their…
Quattro: Oh, it drives me crazy. It drives me crazy.
Jim: [inaudible 00:55:15], sometimes, and lay people, civilians will come up to me and say, “Did you read the Lepore book? Isn’t it great? You must love it”. I say, “Well, it’s hard to get past all of the stuff that’s just tragically wrong about it.”
Quattro: Right. But she did some really good work in it too. Maybe that’s, I’m a little biased because she also consulted me, and I’m quoted in the book [chuckle]. But she did some really good work, and I think she’s a good writer, as far as like that’s concerned. But like you’re saying, there’s mistakes in it. And that’s one problem I have with anything I read about comics history. Once I start reading, and even you guys see me do this on your own site there, where somebody will say something… It’s like something explodes in my head like, “Oh my god, don’t say that”, or “You’re so wrong…”
Jim: Oh, I remember the explosions. Yes.
Quattro: Oh yeah. As I say, I got to watch that… I’m Italian, it’s part of my personality. I can’t help it.
Alex: [chuckle] That’s cool.
Jim: [Overlap talk]
Quattro: Go ahead.
Jim: So, I think that’s his sources. And so that’s how you approach this book. But how did the book get made and Alex is going to take us through that.
Alex: So, once you start getting into this idea, collecting research, at what point were you like, “Okay, this would be a good history book”, or good comic history text. And then, did you approach different publishers? How did you approach them?
Quattro: No, it’s… Okay. I’ve been posting articles online, and writing articles for over 20 years. Going back to the mid-90s. And I’ve been fortunate, most of the time, I’ve been approached by people who want to publish my stuff. Especially, like Alter Ego, Roy Thomas has done it several times, and he has a bunch of other articles of mine, and they’re still sitting there.
And one of the other guys who’s done it was Craig Yoe. Craig’s a great guy. I’ve done a few things… [overlap talk]
Alex: Yeah, I love Craig. He’s awesome.
Quattro: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve done things for Craig in the past, stuff like that. Well, a few years back, probably four or five years ago, he said, “Do you want to do a book?” Because usually, people approach me for articles that I’ve already done. And they say, “Hey, can we publish that?” And I’ll do a few tweaks, and they’ll publish it. And he’s the first one to say like, “Do you want to do a book?”
See, part of the problem of the kind of stuff that I do is that, I’m told all the time, “That’s not commercial.” Because it’s not about superheroes. I’m not writing about the Flash or the changes in Wonder Woman’s costume, or something like that. I’m writing about this historical type stuff that’s pretty obscure, a lot of times.
And he was the first one that had the foresight, I guess to say, “Do you want to do a book?” And I said, “There’s a lot of books I want to do.” He said, “Well, what’s one?” The first one was Bernard Baily, and he agreed to that. I wrote an entire Bernard Baily book, along with images and everything and I gave it to him. I spent a year on it. And after I finished it, he goes, “Well…” He says, “I don’t know how commercial this will be.”
So, he said, “Is there another one you want to do?” And even though I’d spent a year on this book. I said like well, I’ve always wanted to do a book… And I explained to him about the black artists. I’ve done some articles, like about Stoner that Alter Ego had published. But I said, “I’d like to do an entire book.” I said, “Because there’s a story here that’s never been told. It’s a part of comics history that we have a blind spot about. And I’d like to point that out.”
He gave me free rein. He said, “Go for it.” And I spent well over a year on it, and then through rewrites and stuff like that, probably two years, writing it. And it’s been finished for almost two years.
Over the past two years [inaudible 00:59:04], I gave him a lot of images and he acquired some and stuff like that, and it’s just the process. I think they did a great job to design, him and his wife [Feliccia??? 00:59:14]. And I think they deserve all the credit in the world for that. Because the visuals mean a lot in this book, I think. I think it gives a lot to just the story of these men.
Alex: Yeah, for sure. And they’re very effective, because you have samples and photos, newspaper clippings and actual comic book pages, which are all… Are they… The comic book pages are, but are the newspaper clip… Is that public domain? How does that work?
Quattro: Some of that stuff is just because of age, and some of these publications are totally out of business.
Alex: Right. [overlap talk]
Quattro: I mean, That’s one of the things too. There’s also, you fall to a gray area of fair use and stuff like that. And most publications will let you use a standing image or stuff like that without too much. Only when were really had a deal with really was The Sojourner Truth story from Wonder Woman comics.
We had to go to Warner Bros there, and fortunately, I know a corporate lawyer at Warner Bros. He smoothed a way for us.
Alex: That’s good.
Quattro: Yeah, that’s how we were able to use that, which was a big thing. I wish I could have used the… I wish I could have used the [overlap talk] from DC or…
Alex: Yeah, that can be… Because it can be problematic, and you got to be careful.
Quattro: Oh, yeah. And like I say, that was part of the whole thing of putting the book together. There’s a lot of moving parts.
Alex: Yeah. Because there are some history books that don’t have any pictures because of that reason. Right?
Quattro: Right. Right.
Alex: But the nice thing is, a lot of these artists at the time, they’re working in companies that are defunct and no longer there, and you can actually use a lot of that stuff, so great. Quite a visual treat, and it’s really nice for the audience be able to read that, and compare and contrast the different artists and their work.
But also, you make a point of certain aspects, which we’re going to get into as we talk about… Each of us has picked one person from your book to discuss. But there are some interesting concepts, like how in World War II, a lot of the white men went off to fight the war. And so, there’s a vacuum. And you have the Rosie the Riveter type of presence in comics with white women in comics. But then you also have black men in comics that filled the void.
Alex: That’s one aspect, but then too, the shops that there were comic shops like the Iger shop, and Bernard Bailey’s Studio, and these different shops that would basically just take whatever work from whoever, and sell it to publishers. And so then, that created a way for black men to enter the industry.
So, first, let’s… Before we go to the different characters, when you started seeing these patterns, was that fairly soon into the research? Or was that years of research until you started realizing…
Quattro: That was actually years into the research. It’s funny, you mentioned that, because it’s hard to tell from just one or two guys exactly what was going on, until I started reading Silver Age stories. Fortunately, some of these guys gave interviews about their work in comics. And it was interesting how they each made a reference how they themselves didn’t like, or were afraid to deal with white editors personally.
So, they work through these, either they call them agents, or what it was, was it was comic shops. It was guys like Jerry Iger, and Harry Chesler, Jack Binder and guys like that, who they would work through; who would get the jobs. And in turn, they’d get their assignments from the comic shop, and do it remotely in their own studios.
Almost every one of these guys, (E. C.) Stoner had his own studio, which, you know, there’s photographs of it, I think, in the book there even, in Greenwich Village. (Alvin) Hollingsworth talked about dropping off stories – he would get an assignment and he’d go drop it off, and then he’d go home, and stuff like that. He was just a kid. But each one of these guys, they would work remotely, so they didn’t even have to deal with the white editors. It’s very interesting how it happened.
Alex: Yeah, there’s almost like a little bit of a bypass to get the stuff in.
Quattro: Right. It was a buffer. It was a buffer between the white editors and them, because they never knew what sort of reception they would get if they’d walk in there. Samuel Joyner was another one…
Alex: So, the shops, they didn’t care. They just wanted to fill material, sell material. They didn’t really care where it came from.
Quattro: Right. Right. Right.
Alex: And then the editors were like, “Okay, cool. This looks good. We’ll print it.” I mean, it’s the perfect…
Quattro: Right, because comic books at the time were just concerned about content. That’s all they cared about. They didn’t care where it came from… “Just help me fill the 64 pages.”
Alex: Also, another thing is how, let’s say if maybe the comic page of a particular artists may not look that great. Other art that they did, whether it’s illustration or being sculptors or working at the mint or… These other things that they did that were non-comics were actually far better quality. So, a lot of them were basically just trying to make some money through comics, and so you can’t really judge the artist purely from the comic pages, also. That’s another concept I learned from you there.
So, let’s talk about the different… A few people, we’ve each picked one.
Alex: The one that I really wanted to talk about was Adolphe Barreaux, originally named Adolphus Barreaux Gripon. Tell us a little bit about your awareness of him and his involvement in the early comics. Let’s talk a little bit about him.
Quattro: Okay, well, Barreaux was an interesting person. He was one of the people I had on the list of – May Have Been Black, or May Have Been Partially Black. Because that was one thing I did, is early on, I started creating a list of people who’d may have been black. I kept talking to different people, accessing different forums, and stuff like that. And he’s one of the people who’s on it. So, I was never really sure.
But a few years ago, Craig, my publisher, he said, he’d heard that Barreaux was black. And he said, “Will you follow up on that?”
And I said, “Okay.” So, I started putting more research into it. And sure enough, through genealogical research, he was black. I mean, he was definitely black. And what happened…
Alex: This is cool, that you and Craig, it’s almost like a Perry White – Clark Kent thing going on, with you guys.
Quattro: Oh yeah. Yeah. We work really good together. I mean, it was good.
So, I followed up on it, and he was definitely black. What happened is, he was raised by an aunt, basically. And they moved from South Carolina – Charleston, South Carolina to New York City. And when they did that, they changed their last name. And they changed their identity because they had such light skin, they started passing as white.
And he basically made up an entire mythology about his past. He would refer to his mother coming from Poughkeepsie, New York. It was just very bizarre how he just created an entire new identity. But that new identity allowed him access to things he never would have had if people had known he was black. Like I said, he went to Yale. He never would have got in to Yale, if they’d known he was black.
I looked into the qualifications to get into Yale, at that time. And though they didn’t expressly say, “If you’re black, you couldn’t get in.” They highly discouraged any black students going to Yale at that time. So, he knew if they’d known he was black, it wouldn’t have happened. And he ended up working entirely in white media. He never worked in black media. He was the only one of these artists, I found like that. He never worked in the black media at all. And he totally created this different persona.
To the point that even later in life, and even though I didn’t publish these letters, he was writing letters to his hometown paper in Charleston, South Carolina, talking about his friends, Strom Thurmond and his friend, Mendel Rivers who are segregationist. He belonged to The Sons of the Confederacy Organization, and stuff like that. Very bizarre from our perspective to see it, but…
Alex: There’s almost like a self-hating aspect to that.
Quattro: Well, again, I don’t want to get into a person’s mind. I don’t know, exactly, but it was very strange how he almost went to the extreme. I mean, his son worked for Richard Nixon. You can look his son up right now. And he so was a prominent member of the Republican Party. They all record themselves as being white. There’s no reference at all being partially black or anything. And so that’s always been a sensitive subject.
So, by my publishing this, I don’t know if I want to get threatened or something now, or whatever. But it’s, again, he’s a unique guy, but it was what he must have determined he had to do to succeed, because he never would have succeeded as well as he did.
Alex: Right. And he also went to DeWitt Clinton High School, is that right?
Alex: In the 1910s. And that’s where, what, Bob Kane and Eisner went?
Quattro: Yeah, Eisner went there. Actually, Stan Lee went there.
Alex: Yeah, yeah, that’s an interesting… But that’s almost like 20 years before them. Right?
Quattro: Right. Because he’s much older than them. Yeah.
Alex: He’s actually much older. But that’s fascinating, right? How much of like, early comics is coming from this high school?
Quattro: Well, all those New York high schools are… It’s ridiculous. If you look at the classes that they have there. The different students like the School of Music and Art, Industrial Arts School, and all that.
Alex: Yeah. That’s cool that you actually talked about the formation of the School of Industrial Arts, and what is going on around that, in the later 30s. But what’s cool, because Neal Adams went there, like in the ‘50s or something.
Quattro: Yeah, and Hollingsworth ended up teaching there.
Alex: Yeah. See, so it’s just really interesting. The high schools, and these kind of like training schools of New York and then comics. And that’s cool that you go into that in your book. Because you don’t really see the origins of those schools in other books, actually. So, just another cool thing, another cool treat from your book.
Now, more about Barreaux, a lot of people… I don’t know if the fans know, but just to kind of throw it out there, that he was actually working in the pulps with Harry Donenfeld. I like how you describe him – “A printer with mob connections who would acquire publishers that defaulted on printing expenses”. And that’s actually like a cool… That sentence, again, there’s many reasons why like… I love the way you phrase a lot of the things you did, but that sentence really summed him up; his early involvement in comics. Because there’s a whole question of acquiring DC Comics that way.
Let’s talk a little bit more about Barreaux… He actually did some comics, Sally the Sleuth for Donenfeld’s Spicy Detective Stories pulp magazine.
But then also, drew the Magic Crystal of History in the first New Fun in 1935 under Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. So, he’s actually important in the early comics period and then that Magic Crystal of History was extended in The Enchanted Stone of Time in the comics by Dell going through 1938. So, tell us a little more background about Adolphe Barreaux, he married an Italian? I guess. And then there was something… Another thing you put, he had illustrations in Collier’s (Magazine) Snappy Stories. Let’s see…
Quattro: I just recently, again, on my blog, my follow up blog on Invisible Men, I just showed all these illustrations that he’d done earlier for George Matthew Adams, who’s a syndicator of comic strips. Most of the stuff that George Matthew Adams syndicated was stuff just like all homespun type of homilies, and things like that, and poems, and comic strips. So, it was something totally different from what you would expect Barreaux to be involved in.
But it was, at the same time, just like 1937, 38, 39, 40, and he did these illustrations for these homespun homilies that George Matthew Adams would do. And it’s, again, something totally… At the same time, he was doing Snappy Stories and semi-pornography for Harry Donenfeld. He was drawing these illustrations for probably the most old-school, white-wing type of newspaper columnist that there was; just very interesting. He was a very complex man in a lot of ways.
Alex: Yeah. That’s fascinating. And then also, he had his own art studio Majestic Studio that Donenfeld actually, like, funded his art studio. Then he also was part of… Well, when Worth Carnahan started Champion Comics that later became Harvey, that was… You mentioned that that could have been actually bankrolled by Donenfeld as well. But Worth Carnahan actually hired Barreaux to work on strips for those early comics that ended up becoming Harvey Comics. And Barreaux was actually working for them till through like 1941.
Quattro: Yeah, again, it’s very complicated, and that was purposely done, Alex. There’s so much stuff that was done behind the scenes because they were trying to hide… Guys were trying to hide money, especially a guy like Donenfeld. He had his fingers in so many different companies, it wasn’t funny.
Alex: And you’re saying it’s more for tax purposes…
Quattro: Tax purposes, and I’m sure that there was money that he probably had illegally, that he didn’t want the government to know about. And if he could fund, somebody to start up a company where he didn’t have to have his name on the papers at all, but probably got some of the profits out of it. I’m sure that’s what was happening.
Worth Carnahan was an established illustrator long before he knew Barreaux, and he became part of Barreaux’s studio. But in theory, Barreaux ended up working for him on those few comic books. But who knows? I mean, it could have just been all in name only. It could have just been a Donenfeld Enterprise where they just put Worth Carnahan’s name on it. They were all just working… It was Barreaux’s studio doing it, but just was Carnahan’s name on publication.
Alex: Oh, interesting. [overlap talk]
Quattro: But like I say, there’s so much razzle dazzle going on. It’s almost impossible to figure it all out.
Alex: Right? It’s just a paperwork trail, kind of. Also, Barreaux then worked on Donenfeld’s Trojan Magazines through his studio, which all ended about the mid-1950s. So, that’s almost a 20-year association with Harry Donenfeld that Barreaux had. Oh, what’s that? Show us that again there, Ken?
Quattro: Yeah, this is one of the issues right here. I hope you guys can see it.
Alex: Oh, okay… It’s a little blacked out from the virtual background, but I was able to see part of that. And that’s awesome that you have that.
Quattro: I got a lot of these. Well, this print has got the famous Sally’s Sleuth story. The one where they ended up in… Seduction of the Innocent.
Alex: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Uh huh.
Quattro: That’s in the story right here. Again, I see it’s breaking up on screen.
Alex: Though we thought we were able to see the title and some of the art, that’s awesome. And what’s fascinating is, him and Donenfeld, it’s again, I know you don’t want to get into their minds, but it sounds like they have some trusting working relationship going on for a long time.
Quattro: He must have. I mean, he was associated with Donenfeld, going back to when Donenfeld bought the Police Gazette, back in early ‘30s, and when Merle Hersey was put in control of Police Gazette. One of the artists that they hired was Barreaux, and he did a comic strip for them. From that time on, he became like, Donenfeld’s go to guy for illustrations in his spicy magazines.
Alex: Right. Right, which, if a lot of people don’t know, Sally the Sleuth, she was actually, in some ways, empowering in that she was a female, almost a hero or a detective hero. But there’s a lot of, obviously, it was about getting her naked half the time.
Quattro: Right. By the end of the story, she usually also has no clothes on.
Alex: Right. And still talking to the cops with a straight face, with her boobs out.
Quattro: Right. Yeah.
Alex: “Hey, guys. Looks like you’re a little late to the party.” [chuckle]
Quattro: Right. Yeah. It was very strange concept. But then, it sold, I guess. I don’t know. It’s definitely weird.
Alex: It definitely sold. And then also, just to kind of wrap him up a little bit, is that he was a photo special interest books editor and writer for Fawcett (Comics). That’s probably after their comics line was gone and he was more on the book end of things. Worked in the New Jersey paper, like you said, Francis [Strom Thurmond??? 01:15:58], and he died in 1985. So, he was around for a good while. Any last notes on Adolphe Barreaux? Until Jim talks about his preferred person to chat about.
Quattro: Nothing, just like I said, that there’s a lot more about his personal philosophies and stuff like that, that at some point, I think I’ll share some of the letters and stuff like that he wrote to some of these magazines, and to newspapers and stuff like that. He was, just like I said, he’s a very complex guy. And it’s really hard to know exactly what was going on with him all the time in that. But it just, like I say, he’s totally divorced himself from his black identity. It makes him a difficult person figure out. You can’t hold him up really, as a hero, but at the same time, you understand why he did what he did. Because it was to him, his only way he could succeed.
Alex: Right? More of a survivor than a hero, probably.
Quattro: Exactly. That’s an excellent way of putting it.
Alex: All right, Jim.
Jim: Well, Alex, actually, Ken’s going to go next. But in this exercise, I wanted to ask each of us why you picked the person that you picked out of the choices? So, what was it that drew you personally to this story as compared to some of the others?
Alex: Well, the number one, is that Barreaux was there during some of the earliest comics periods. And, and then his relationship with Donenfeld, who obviously also had his hand in quite a quite a lot of Golden Age comics companies. So, there’s something about Barreaux, and being part of that gestating period from which a lot of modern comic books come from. It’s almost like Lloyd Jacquet in a way where, a lot of people don’t talk about him but he was editor of the New Fun #1, which what started DC. But he also had obvious involvement in the first Marvel Comics #1 also from his studio.
So, again, it’s like, Jacquet and Barreaux are just really interesting figures to me. And then there’s also this weird self-hating aspect to Barreaux that I found somewhat fascinating too, if I can call it that. I’m not sure. That’s my assumption. But that’s why.
Quattro: I think that’s a fair assumption. But again, I didn’t want to state that in the book. Because I can’t read the man’s mind.
Alex: Right. Right. That’s an editorializing move.
Quattro: It’s funny you bring up Lloyd Jacquet, though because I got a huge file on him that I’m just waiting to put together one of these days. You’ll be amazed at the stuff he was involved in. Lloyd Jacquet, to me, was possibly the most overlooked important person in the history of comics. Because he was involved in so much in the early days of comics, in the first DC Comics, and first Marvel comic. I mean, he did a lot of stuff. And a lot of innovations that happened in the early years of comics, came directly from Lloyd Jacquet. And there’s more things involved with his personal life… It’s gonna surprise a lot of people when I…
Alex: Yeah, see that? I’d read that tonight. If I could, so yes.
Quattro: Yeah, like I say, with Lloyd Jacquet, I got a whole, personal letters of his that he wrote to his wife. I got his military files, I got from the government. So, I got a lot of work with him. You guys would be surprised when I discuss one of the projects, I want to finish this year.
Alex: Yeah, it’s great. I’m excited about that. That’s huge.
Jim: So, I’m going to let you go next, because it makes sense for you to do Stoner before we talk about Hollingsworth.
Quattro: Okay. Well, to me, Elmer Stoner is the most important black artist of all. More important than Matt Baker, Hollingsworth or anybody else. Elmer Stoner was this talented, fine, classically trained, fine artist. He went to, and studied in Europe. He studied in France. He came back from France in 1922.
He’s from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. His family wasn’t wealthy, wasn’t poor, necessarily. His father was a pastor and all this stuff. They were all very well educated. A lot of it was homeschooling and stuff like that at the time.
And anyways, he ended up going to study in Paris, and became a classically trained fine artist. In 1922, he came back, and he participated in this art show, it was the Negro Artists Exhibition, it was held at the Harlem Library in 1922. And that’s considered a seminal moment in black artwork in the United States, because that was the first time, black artists had their own art exhibition anywhere in the United States. And it was all these famous artists who happen to exhibit the same time. And one of those artists was Elmer Stoner.
The next year, he married this woman named Vivian, Vivian Stokes, who was herself a very accomplished woman. She was an activist. She was social worker. She worked for the National Urban League. And at the time, when he married her, she just been appointed an important position at the YWCA, where she overlooked something for an entire nation for finding housing for black women whose husbands have fought in World War I, and there was no housing for women who are left home, left behind.
Anyways, she was an important woman in the early years of civil rights. Well, he married her 1923, and they in turn became integral to the whole Harlem Renaissance. They belong to a literary group that included Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, and stuff like that. They’d befriended all these famous people, and were all part of the same group.
Well, Stoner, for his part, work very little on the black media. The only thing I’ve ever found was this one thing called Messenger, which was in 1924 issues that he worked on. And The Messenger was the most important black magazine published at that time; literary magazine. He was one of the illustrators for it. So, he was this well-established fine artist for years, before he even got into comics; almost 20 years before he got into comic books.
And the way he got into comics was a way a lot of black artists and even Jewish artists, and that was through the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, which was established by Roosevelt back in the ‘30s. In what, the creation of the WPA was to find work for unemployed artists at the time. And they put them to work doing things like painting murals on libraries, or you know, for different projects around the country that they would find for them.
Well, the one of the projects he worked on was the World’s Fair, the 1940 World’s Fair, 39, 40 World’s Fair. And he did a lot of work there. But what happened in 1940 is the WPA went away because it was defunded by Congress. So, when it was defunded by Congress, what it did is, it threw a lot of these artists out of work. They had no work at all.
And most of the artists were minority artists. They were the black artists and Jewish artists. And I’m talking about artists like [Luiz Fairstat??? 01:23:30], who was a fine artist. He ended up working comic books. Mac Raboy was another one, who worked for WPA, who was put out of work. And they all drifted in the comic books, because that was the only job they could find.
And with everything else, it was just the timing. But he started in comic books in 1939. There’s rumors that he worked on Detective Comics #1, which he didn’t. Even by his own words, I found him when he talks several times about starting in comics in 1939. And he was working basically through the Jack Binder Studio at the time, until he went off on his own. He worked out of his own home.
But he served as a conduit for later black artists to come in. Again, there was references, several times to artists saying how it was thanks to Stoner that they even got into comics. It’s more than coincidental that to me, that there is a lot of early artwork like, for instance, by Hollingsworth. Some of Hollingsworth’s first artwork was in comic books, like the Blue Beetle. Like he did Bronze Man and the Blue Beetle as a backup feature on a couple of issues. That was a comic basically done entirely by Elmer Stoner.
Owen Middleton, the only published comic bearing his name, appeared in a comic book called War Heroes. It was published by Dell, but was all almost entirely done by a Stoner, other than that one story.
So, a lot of these early artists were connected to Stoner, and he would serve as an entry point for them into comic books. And to me, that’s what makes him so important to the comic book history.
And afterwards, he actually published comics too. He did a few comics on his own. He continued making promo comics right up through the ‘50s, up till about 1957. He was still working for vital doing a lot of promotional comics. So, he had the longest career of any of the black comic artists and he was important before and after, his whole comic book career. Just a fascinating man. He’s a really fascinating man.
Jim: That’s great. I wanted to… That’s why I did it in that order, because he seems significant because certainly to Hollingsworth, he’s very significant. And it seems like his name pops up, Stoner’s name pops up over and over in your book chapters.
And so, does Bernard Bailey’s
Quattro: Right… Yeah.
Jim: Which, especially in the context of who I want you to talk about to me, which is Hollingsworth, because Bailey really is significant. I think, in his both comic career and his later career.
Quattro: Right. Yeah. Hollingsworth is an interesting guy. He’s another guy who was a tremendous talent. He started working in comic books when he’s in junior high, and that was basically through Joe Cooper, who was a junior high buddy of his. And he got him working through the Charles Quinlan Studio at first. He just did a few backup things for Quinlan. But it was really through Bailey, that he first got his real his first published work, bearing his own name and stuff like that. It was like things like Bronze Man, and stuff like that.
Well, later on in his career, he ended up working for Bailey again, in Bailey’s men’s magazines, which was kind of interesting. Bailey was a publisher, by this time, in the late ‘50s. He went to Hollingsworth, and yeah, he became an illustrator for his men’s magazine. He did some really interesting, I think, modern artwork-like for Bailey since.
I put some of that on my blog.
Jim: Which was in High… while in several things…
Jim: [inaudible 01:27:28] magazine?
Quattro: Yeah, it was these two weird magazines called High and Ho. They were very bizarre. They’re a weird format magazine. They were half size magazines. They were fully the size of a regular magazine, tall-wise, but only half size going across. So, that it could fit in the vest pocket of a gentleman’s suit coat, is the way they put it.
Anyways, Bailey published these magazines for several years, and they had Hollingsworth as their regular contributor. And one of the things he contributed too was this series of sketches he did of Harlem, which I think was really interesting. It’s like a three-paged pictorial that he did for one of the Bailey’s magazines. And just based on those Harlem sketches, which in turn led to a whole series of paintings that he did later on.
Jim: The way I read it, as you wrote it was, it was almost as if Bailey saw… Well, the way it’s framed, is Bailey saw it and said, “I want to put this in the magazine.”
Quattro: Right, right. Bailey had a… Again, he’s one of the more fascinating characters ever to appear in comics. I won’t go into it too much right now, because I have this entire book written about him. But he had a keen eye for talent. I mean, he gave Frank Frazetta his first opportunity to work in comics. And there’s a lot of guys that worked for Baily – Charles Voight, who was a fantastic old-time artist, who was an alcoholic and couldn’t get any jobs, and Baily hired him literally off the streets. And the only artwork he ever did in comic books was for Bernard Bailey.
John Guinta did some fantastic stuff while working for the Bailey shop. Like I said, if this book is ever published, it’s a beautiful, beautiful compilation of artwork.
Jim: I’m really intrigued by that. Because this… And your piece here, got me… I mean, I was aware of Bailey and a lot of his contributions, but reading this, and about High Magazine and spotting those Harlem drawings, and [inaudible 01:29:31] them, that was really intriguing to me.
I like this chapter so much, because there was like the friendship with Joe Kubert, which was interesting to me because you have these concepts of black and white, and they’re not being in the comics thing, not being the connections, that it’s segregated almost. And they went to the same high school before that, but Kubert encouraged him to go to the School of Industrial Art. And the fact that that was somewhere that he could go to, was somewhat surprising to me. Talk about that just for a second.
Quattro: Do you mean about the high school?
Jim: Because that that comes up in your book more than once. Alfonso Greene, went to that school too.
Quattro: Right… Well, he went to a different one. They went to… Let me think… Kubert and Hollingsworth, I believe, went to Music and Art, but Alfonso Greene and Ezra Jackson went to Industrial Art High School… And they’re all similar. What it was… See back in the ‘30s, Fiorello La Guardia, the mayor of New York, introduced all these vocational schools, basically.
I guess nowadays, they’re called magnet schools; where it was any student in the city who was qualified… You would test into these schools. You had to pass a series of tests to get into the schools. And if you had any talents, like artwork, or dance, or singing or writing or whatever, you would have to pass a series of tests to get into the schools. So, it’s like the best of the best, would get in, no matter where you’re from. And so, it was a unique opportunity for minorities, a lot of times to actually get real training. Whereas, they wouldn’t get it if they went to their own schools in their own neighborhoods.
I think it was great concept. I don’t know how well it still works right now. But at the that time, it was really unique opportunities for these kids.
Jim: And based upon reading your own chapter, I think Hollingsworth did go to School of Industrial Art, but he taught when he went back to teaching.
Quattro: Okay, yeah, I get confused. Like I said, I get too confused because they changed their names too, which may seem kind of confusing. Yeah.
Jim: But I thought that was really… That was interesting. The racial identity aspect of Hollingsworth. Let’s talk about that for a second because he was not African American, descended from slaves, the way that some of the others were? He’s West Indies, right?
Quattro: I believe so. Like I said, that’s one of the interesting things I talked to Alex about, a little bit before. And that’s the reason why I specifically refer to black artists throughout the book and not African American. Because there’s this concept we have in this country, we’re assuming all blacks are African American.
But a significant amount were not, and still are not. They’re African Caribbean, or… There’s different ethnicities within the black identity. It’s again, that’s all part of it, which I tried to get across in the book, that there’s so many things, us white people, were unaware of. And even within, the black community there was different degrees, and different perceptions. West Indian blacks were considered different than a lot of African American blacks, even within their own community. And that that’s a very interesting dynamic that they had going on there. They were almost like separate… A community within a community kind of thing.
Jim: And that carries over even today. Obama versus Michelle Obama were treated somewhat differently because of their…
Quattro: Right. Right.
Jim: Or Kamala Harris, and whether or not she is, quote, “black enough”.
Quattro: And there’s this one called [Cry City??? 01:33:32] was a series of paintings he did, and they’re very powerful, compelling images that he has, and it’s really something to see. And again, it’s something that you wouldn’t think about, when you think about a person, as a comic book artist.
I mean, most people think about AC Hollingsworth, they think about horror comics or something like that. And then you see this entirely different aspect of a person, artistic aspect. And that’s, like I say, it’s frustrating in one sense, because I can only touch on so much in such a limited space. But I just hope that all these stories lead people to go more into these stories and try to find out more about these men in the completeness of their lives. Because each one of them was so rich and so full of fascinating information.
Jim: Well, that was, I think the aspect of Hollingsworth, that’s why I was drawn to him, because he went back. He realized he wasn’t going to make his living at comics, [inaudible 01:34:43] And he went back to school, and he didn’t just go back to school for a course. he went through… I don’t know if he completed his PhD, but he was in a PhD program.
Quattro: Right. Yeah. Because that’s always been kind of vague, because he would refer to it as being a PhD program. But I also know he never used a PhD, after his name, even when he was teaching. So, I don’t know. It’s one of those things I’m not sure about.
Jim: I’m always fascinated by artists who go back to school, and they come out with different training, and they’re different artists. And certainly, he becomes more abstract, and his work is really interesting. Although, you mentioned the zombies, the zombies story that you…
And that is the other reason I picked him because I was just that [inaudible 01:35:34] page.
Quattro: Yeah, he was a great comic book artist. Yeah. But his fine art was totally different. And that’s what’s amazing about each one of these men. They’re just… You see different identities, that they had. Artistic identities, which people don’t… You always assume somebody having a style. Like there’s the Kirby style, or the Ditko style. But there’s more to a person, and especially these guys who had… They have fine art training. It’s just entirely different.
Stoner is another perfect example to me. If you look at the work that Stoner did outside of comics, you wouldn’t know it’s the same human being. You know, it just amazes me.
Jim: That’s what… And I would love to have a book that, showed that… I think, the definitive book on the WPA art…
Jim: Contrasted with the comics, and the influence of it back and forth on before and after, and everything else is really interesting to me, and I wish we had a good book on that.
Quattro: Yeah. Yeah. Like I say, I’m hoping that this book, kind of triggers an interest that will lead to other books that bring this these aspects of comics history and stuff like that, to the general public. Because, again, like I said, I’ve always been told that a lot of stuff is too esoteric, and too obscure to interest the book buying public. And it took me, until Craig came along, nobody even bothered to want to publish us. Because they always figured, “Oh, there’s only a handful of people who’re interested” In May, if there’d be enough people who buy this book, it’ll open up doors for other writers, other aspects of comics history.
Jim: Well, I will tell you this. I had I read this on PDF, for both purposes and for this. And then about maybe last Wednesday or so, my mother-in-law, sent it to me as a present, because she’s trying to figure out what to give me now. It was after the New York Times piece.
Jim: I knew it. I called her up and I thanked her. I said, “Did you get that from the New York Times?” And she said, “Yeah, I don’t know if you know that.”
Jim: And I’m like, “I’m interviewing him in like two days.” It’s going to great. And I got to say, for anybody listening, it really needs to be owned as that book. Because, I mean, as much as I enjoyed reading it on my iPad, it’s not the same experience. And knowing that and seeing it in print, makes a real difference.
Quattro: Oh yeah, I’ve had several people say that, because we set up a few PDFs, and then when people got the book, they go, “Wow.” Like I said, I think, Craig and [Feliccia??? 01:38:25] did a fantastic job with the design of the book, and that I personally think they should get some sort of design award for it. But you know, I’m partial.
Jim: Oh, I honestly like my mother-in-law more because of your book…
Which maybe we don’t have to… [chuckle] No, that’s fine.
Jim: Anyway… Because she’s not going to listen…
So, the couple other things I just want to say super quickly on Hollingsworth was the school, his high school experience. And his success, and how he how he lived and just his entire life story, and then I go to the next chapter, and it’s Alfonso Greene, and it’s like the opposite story, even with the same school. So just tell us, just for a second, why I’m saying that.
Quattro: Right… Well, Alfonso Greene… And who tipped me off… This is Alex Toth in that famous… He wrote… I don’t know if it’s famous but a well-known article, some years ago. He wrote about Alfonso Greene who he went to high school with. And he talked about this troubled kid who had been in and out of trouble with gangs and stuff like that. And he never knew what happened to him or anything like that.
So, he fascinated me right from the get go, and I knew a little bit about him. Well, unfortunately, most of Alfonso Greene’s story comes from the negative side, because he did belong to gangs and that, and he was in trouble. He was in prison, off and on.
I mean he had a good gig going with DC Comics, about while he was in high school. He was drawing a backup feature in Wonder Woman, in Sensation Comics, called the Black Pirate. And he also did the Soldier of Truth story for Wonder Woman in History for Wonder Woman comics. So, even while he’s in high school, he’s talented enough to work for DC.
But soon after, he went to jail for a gang fight, he’d been involved in. So, he comes out of jail in the later ‘40s, it’s about 1947 or so, and he ends up working for Eastern Color (Printing) and working on Heroic Comics. Basically, these two and three paged stories that appeared in Heroic Comics. These true stories that they would publish in comic book form. And he was doing a fairly steady work through them, and he got in trouble again and went back to prison.
Again, for some robbery at that time. He belonged to something called the Lemon Gang or something like that, because what they did was they were robbing people and shoving the lemon in their mouth, when they would rob them so they couldn’t talk. It was kind of bizarre story but he was involved in that, and he went to prison again.
So, around 1950 or so, he comes out again, and he ends up working for Atlas and Stan Lee. And he works for them fairly steadily, right up until the implosion about 1957 or so. And then he disappears. And there was nothing I could find for years afterwards, and so little bits and pieces. Until finally, I came across some references to him being involved, again, in a robbery with three other guys outside the Waldorf Astoria in New York in the early ‘60s. And I found the booking photo of him, unfortunately. And that’s the photo I had to use in the book. That’s the only photo I can ever find of him because he wasn’t even in his high school yearbook.
But it’s just a tragic story because he was a very talented artist, and from a young age. But he just went the wrong way, and that’s life. That’s the whole thing with these stories here, each person has a fascinating story behind them.
Jim: And then, when I read those back-to-back, the question I would have is, when you’re packaging this, are you doing this, simply in a more chronological way? Or are you telling… Are you playing with the narrative to some degree? Because it was jarring to go from that to the other, back-to-back.
Quattro: Well… I know it seems like I was, but actually, it was pretty much chronological. If you look at the birthdays of each one of those guys, it goes from the firstborn, which was either Barreaux or Stoner. I can’t remember the [overlap talk] a couple of years…
Alex: Barreaux. Barreaux is the first one.
Quattro: Okay. It goes from Barreaux to Stoner to (Robert) Pious, Jay Jackson, Elton Fox and it’s pretty much chronological in the way they were born. But I agree with you in that those two stories against each other are pretty jarring, when you see the… How all the different lives. Same thing with Ezra Jackson. I mean Ezra Jackson literally was in the same class as Alfonso Greene. Yet again, he had a fairly decent run at comics there until he left. And he came back into comic books later on in the ‘60s and ’70s, ironically enough, working for Myron Fass, doing some of those weird Shock comics and stuff like that; over knockoff Warren’s. I don’t know if you guys remember those at all.
Jim: Yeah. Oh, sure.
Quattro: Yeah, you know, some of those real horrible horror comics then. But he also did part… He worked for the Golden Legacy series that done by (Bertram) Fitzgerald, which is black history comics done in the 60s. And his daughter is Sheila Jackson Lee, one of the most powerful Congresswoman in Congress, which is a fascinating story. Every year, she would read a tribute to her father before Congress in the Congressional Record on Father’s Day. There’s a tribute to him, and she always mentioned his comic book work.
Jim: Yeah, I heard that.
Quattro: And I just think that’s really cool, that she does that. But again, there was nothing ever known about this guy. And it’s so funny, the person he was partnered with, most of time, was Maurice Whitman was a fairly well-known comic book artist. Early on, they would switch off, penciling and inking each other’s work, and they did a combination of their names. But when I went and asked his son, Maurice Whitman’s son, if he had any memories of his father talking about Ezra Jackson. He swore to me his father never worked with the black man at any time in his life.
So, which I just thought was interesting. So either, one, he didn’t know about it or two, Maurice Whitman just cut that part out of the story and they work together for a number of years.
Jim: Oh, see that’s really fascinating
Quattro: So, there’s a lot of stuff that goes in the background, you just don’t know what sort of dynamic these people had. Did they not like each other? Did he just want to not acknowledge the fact that he worked with a black guy? I don’t know. I don’t know.
Jim: That’s the question, and the unanswered question.
Quattro: Right, right.
Jim: Not to try to answer it. If you don’t know the answer.
Quattro: Exactly. And see, as I said, against Jim, what I do is I present the facts, and I leave it up to the reader to try to figure out what’s going on. I mean, they don’t… I don’t know any more than they do so…
Jim: So, we covered the people, but the one that it seems almost like the chapter that’s not just about the artist was your chapter on All-Negro Comics and Alex is going to talk about that.
Quattro: Right. Right.
Alex: So, the discussion of All-Negro Comics is interesting, because it’s actually a black made comic. And that’s important because it becomes almost an extension of what you’ve been calling the black media, in a way, but in a way that actually was accessible to a lot of white readers at the time. And also, within the context of, there was a previous comic book that had a couple issues called Negro Heroes #1 and #2, which was actually more of a white-made comic. So, that’s an interesting thing that would kind of precede that one.
And we can’t really talk about All-Negro Comics without mentioning Orrin Evans, who was kind of the person behind it. So, tell us first, about Orrin Evans, and the creation of All-Negro Comics and that also then goes into some involvement by some of his cohorts, George Evans his younger brother, William H. Smith. Leonard Cooper, John H. Terrell. So, tell us about this movement of All–Negro Comics.
Quattro: Well, Orrin Evans was an established journalist. He was one of the first black journalists to work in a white newspaper. And this is going back, I think, to the 1920s, when he first started his career. and he would work in white newspapers. Anyway, by the 1940s, he was working for the…
Alex: The Philadelphia Record?
Quattro: Yeah, Philadelphia Records. Thank you. I was trying to think of the last, which paper it was. Well, the paper went out of business. And when the people went…
Alex: It was actually because of like he was pro-union…
Alex: But the unions kind of took down his newspaper, which is an odd thing.
Quattro: Right, right. It was, again, it gets a very complicated story when you start getting into the union involved. Basically, what it was, the paper would rather shutdown, than work with the unions. So that’s what they did, they closed down the newspapers.
So, what Evans did is he recruited a couple of other editors that he’d worked with on the paper and some of the business people, and they formed their own publishing company. And he called it All-Negro Comics, and he was the head of this. He’s the president of it. His concept was to publish a comic book totally created by a black artist, and creators.
He started with, obviously, his brothers, and his brother George, his younger brother. And his brother had friends who he went to school with, with the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He recruited several of them. It was just, I believe, William Smith and Leonard Cooper, and stuff like that, were some of the guys he grew up with, went to school with. He recruited them work on the comic. And they also recruited this guy named John Terrell.
John Terrell had already been working in comics, off and on, in black media. He’d done something for the New York Amsterdam News back in the early ‘40s. And at the time… [overlap talk]
Alex: And Judge humor magazine, something like that.
Quattro: Right, he did like some of these panel cartoons and stuff like that. So, he’d done some professional cartoon work. He was the only one who’s really a professional cartoonist coming into this, all the rest were just college students at the time.
Alex: Right, like they just came out of the Museum of Art Schools that’s what…
Alex: That was the big thing there.
Quattro: Yeah, yeah. Ironically enough, Samuel Joyner, the guy who got me into this whole thing, he went to school with these guys at exactly the same time.
Alex: Oh, wow.
Quattro: But he wasn’t one of the guys who was recruited for this. It’s ironic. It’s just ironic how that all worked out. But anyways, so Evans came up with this concept, and they created this All–Negro Comics.
And right from the get go, they had problems because of distribution. There was a lot of white retailers and stuff wouldn’t even put the comics on the newsstands. Particularly like anywhere outside of going south or anything like that.
So, by the time, even though they completed the second issue, and it supposedly exists somewhere, from what I heard. There’s a number of the Evans families saying that the issue still exists somewhere; that it was never published because they couldn’t get any of the paper dealers to sell them paper to do the printing of the second issue, because they were black.
And so, it just was a good attempt, but just never worked out. Who knows what would’ve happened, if it would have caught on? But it would have been a very difficult sell, anywhere, on any newsstands, because anytime a black would appear on a cover, it was usually in a comedic sense or as a villain and never as a hero.
Alex: Yeah, and so, this is interesting because they had that one issue, and then there was some issues with printers, supply paper of some kind.
Quattro: Right. That was it was. It was, they wouldn’t sell them paper… [overlap talk]
Alex: Why is that? Is it because they just didn’t generate the money to buy the paper? What happened?
Quattro: Well, again, what the family claims, is that it was discrimination. Just because they were black. They wouldn’t sell to them because they were black. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s what the family claims is the situation. It could well be…
Alex: Which is tragic. That’s a terrible thing, if that was the case.
Quattro: Yeah, right. Again, do I believe it? Yeah. I believe that as a fact. But I also think that there was enough paper retailers around that time that they should have been able to find somebody. But maybe there wasn’t enough money generated by the first issue, I don’t know because it didn’t get wide distribution, that’s why it’s such a rare comic today.
Alex: Yeah, there we go. So, distribution, and then maybe some low money would also…
Quattro: Yeah… See, there was a definite bias against putting blacks on the cover of a comic book.
Alex: Of a newsstand.
Quattro: Yeah… Let me just show you something real quick…
I hope you guys can see this Crown Comics.
Alex: Yeah, uh-hmm… With the horns?
Quattro: Yeah, with the black guy on there?
Quattro: Okay, this comic book here is the comic that publishes Voodah, the first black hero to ever appear in a comic book. It was drawn by Matt Baker.
Quattro: Well, Voodah was never depicted on the cover as a black character. The only time they would show Voodah on the cover, but he just colored white, but on the interior for the first six issues, he was black, on the interior. And that was purposely done because retailers in the south wouldn’t put a comic on the stands with a positive black character on the front.
Alex: Right. This is interesting. This whole race changing. Because what I think Red Mask, had that happened to Red Mask in like what?… 39 or so, where it was like he was black in the first couple then he became a white character. And even later on, I mean, in the late ‘60s with that Jericho guy from the Teen Titans and there’s some issue with southern distribution so they made him a white character at DC. So, I guess this is just something that happened.
Jim: I think that may have been coloring. I’m not sure they could make… Because Jericho… Wait, are you talking about Mal Duncan?
Alex: I don’t know Mal Duncan. I know the codename. Maybe we’re talking about the same character.
Jim: Mal, originally, is the black guy that joins the Titans and later…
Quattro: Becomes Cyborg, right?
Jim: Yeah… What’s that?
Quattro: Doesn’t he becomes Cyborg, or…?
Alex: No. Different guy.
Jim: [inaudible 01:53:45] but he gets Jericho’s horn, at one point. And I think there’s some coloring issues. But I don’t think they ever convert him to a white person within the narrative. It that’d be hard to… Oh, but it’s complicated because he has a relationship… There’s a hint of a relationship with Lois… And that has driven people crazy.
But I don’t think they could have made Mal actually white because he was so, you know, there’s…
Alex: Right, and the way he’s drawn, but the coloring though, was altered.
Jim: Yeah, there’s an interesting early issue of him where he goes into space, and he’s floating in space, and he has a helmet on. I don’t know if he’s got perspiration coming out, but if he does, it’s perfect because it’s that reference to …
Alex: To the EC comics.
Quattro: To the EC…
Alex: With the… Yeah. Judgement Day?
Quattro: Judgement Day.
Jim: Yeah, yeah. Okay…
Alex: Joe Orlando. Yeah… So yeah, and then also just to conclude on Evans story, everyone goes their separate ways. He worked for a newspaper in Pennsylvania… I like how you write the mechanism of death in some of these… But he died of an aneurysm in 1971, it sounds like.
Quattro: Yeah. Yeah.
Alex: So, that’s pretty interesting. And then I think Jim has some follow up questions and then we conclude.
Jim: One of the things that I liked about your book, the most, Ken, besides the comic book aspect is these other things that watching how you navigate it, but how it’s sort of a mapping of certain aspects of that time period. And I just want to go through this real quick, that I think one can learn a lot from that book, even if you’re not a comic book person, necessarily.
And the first one was literally mapping, in terms of racism and different places in the country, and how the narratives are different based upon the people growing up in New York, or the first person, growing up in the south or being a southerner, or west. I wanted to ask you in the context of what you learned while you were doing this in relation to regions? And what surprised you or you found fascinating about America, based upon where they were stationed at?
Quattro: Well, it’s funny you say that because this book, like the whole thing, was a learning experience for me because, unfortunately, we’ve had basically one story. One perspective told, about history in this country. As a white person, you never considered the black perspective. And to realize that different parts of the country, like you mentioned there, had different ways of dealing with their black populations.
Like for instance, like I didn’t know until I was doing research for the book, like, Baltimore was the first city in the country to have segregated neighborhoods. In the sense of where they… You were not legally allowed to sell a home to a black person, you had to sell it to a white person. Now, you think of Baltimore, at least I’ve always had, is like a northern city. And to think of that happening, and it happened within in the late 1910s, and ’15, right around there… That there’s different parts of the country were racist, but they’re racist in their own way, in more subtle ways.
And it’s something that I didn’t realize, and until I started doing this research. And, again, it’s all part of that, the dual identity thing which blacks had to deal with, which a white person never even noticed it, but a black person was very aware of it. If they were going to go buy a home, there was literally red-lined areas where they could not physically buy a home. And that was happening in northern cities as well as, black communities in southern cities. We have a tendency to put all the blame on this country’s racism on the south, but it was… It was systemic. It was throughout the entire country but it was more benign, in the sense of like it was… It wasn’t in your face so much as, as is just established societal boundaries that the blacks had to deal with a lot of times.
And that I think, was even shown in the way they had to deal with editors. Even though they were in New York City, the liberal bastion of New York City. Blacks did not feel comfortable dealing with white editors and white editors didn’t feel comfortable dealing with blacks. And that includes somebody like Stan Lee. I don’t know if you saw that one instance there where Cal Massey talks about dealing with Stan Lee. And when I read that, it was kind of shocking to me in one sense, because Stan Lee employed more blacks than any other editor, by far. But at the same time, he’d probably also had his own biases too.
Alex: Right. He kind of saying like some derogatory poem back at him.
Quattro: Right. Yeah, it’s about…
Alex: And Massey was like, “What the hell? Okay…” and he started to leave and Stan was like, “All right, all right, all right… What do you got?” And then, so…
Quattro: Right. It was an old slave song. It said, “M’sah, is buried in the grave.” M’sah meaning master. Like he was doing a play on Massey’s name. And Massey was shocked by Stan Lee singing it to him. This is in early ‘50s, like 1952…
Alex: Is that when Stan was wearing that propeller beanie hat.
Quattro: [chuckle] But this was like in early ‘50s… And yeah, he came to know Stan Lee as not really a racist type guy. But he had these attitudes. That was the attitudes of the people then. And it’s something that you come to realize when you’re doing this research. It’s the mind… It’s hard to wrap 21st century mind around a mid-20th century mind.
I’m lucky in the sense of like, I’ve been around long enough I’ve known people who grew up in the 1920s and ‘30s and stuff like my parents and a lot of people I know. But their biases were intrinsic to them, and it wasn’t something that they necessarily wore on their sleeve. It’s just they felt, interiorly. I don’t know if you guys understand what I’m saying but it’s…
And it’s something that you see, even in the way they presented the comic books. It’s hard for somebody to read the Spirits and overlook Ebony, for instance. That’s also saying, you talk to somebody, say you tell him how great the Spirit was, and then you see the character of Ebony. How do you explain that to somebody? How can you look at artwork and remove the racism of it?
And that’s something I struggle with, all the time, when I’m doing this stuff, because I’m not oblivious to that. But at the same time, a lot of the stuff that we research, a lot of stuff that we love, these old comics, have a lot of these attitudes which are just anathema to what people believe nowadays. It’s a very interesting dynamic, and it’s a tightrope walk, I guess you’d have to walk all the time when you’re talking about these things.
And I know you guys, you probably deal with that all the time with the Comic Book Historians page because…
Jim: Comes up, every once in a while.
Quattro: Yeah. No, what I’m saying is, how far do you let people go because almost immediately, people will run to their corners with stuff like that. May as well start espousing something or other, and it’s hard to get people, unemotionally, to discuss these things, which I think is really unfortunate.
Alex: Right. I think for as many people as we have in the group, the 10,000 plus, for that amount I think we’re still able to maintain the best dialogue for that amount of people. I think there’s groups that have maybe a higher level of dialogue with only a few 100 people in them, and that… So, I am glad that we’re able to do that.
But you’re right, there’s a certain tribalism that I think, as we’re talking about off air, that that’s inherent in social media – that everything gets split into two sides, like on every issue. And then they just got to hound to each other and… And so, how far do you let any of that go? And I think that’s something that Jim and I wrestle with like all the time.
Quattro: Yeah, and like I said, it’s something you can’t avoid when you’re talking about Golden Age comics because they’re so different. The mindset behind them is so different than what people…
Alex: Right… There’s a lot of outrage, and that’s true. Trina Robin said, “You just got to look at this stuff within its context. Discuss the context, and then talk about why that context doesn’t work anymore, but then also kind of appreciate maybe whatever good you can get out of it and how formative that stuff could have been at the time.” You got to like do that. You got to throw context at it. I think a lot of people just get mad at a panel, and they react, because that’s the… It’s like meme culture. Right? It’s all about reacting to a quick thing.
Quattro: Right, right.
Jim: There’s two components to it, and one I’d be critical of the left, one I’d be critical of the right. There is that taking panels out of context, or judging it in that quick way and saying, “Oh, we have to,” or “We reject the creator 100%”. We recently, had somebody posting that really awful one page, one cartoon that Hank Ketcham did with the black kid, that’s a very, very bad drawing of Stepin Fetchit-looking kid next to Dennis the Menace. And people were just attacking Hank Ketcham. Hank Ketcham may be a horrible human being… I don’t know, and I don’t care because we would not have some of the art we have if not for Ketcham’s influence and I love him for that.
And then in Comic Book Historians, we can isolate that and talk about it in terms of artistic influence. On the… I won’t even say right because it’s not fair to the right. But there is a… When Superman Smashes the Klan came out there were people that are defensive about the Klan because of Charlottesville, and other things. And they went, “Why do we have to talk about the Klans?” That’s somehow politically correct, people wanting to bring that up, the Klan. And it’s like, well that’s just stupid, and I just want to say, it’s stupid.
That’s a radio program, the Klan, it’s okay to make them evil, nobody’s attacking political parties because they’re bringing up the Klan.
And that created a lot of tension on the site.
Quattro: Right. Right.
Jim: So, we all need to take a breath on that kind of thing.
Quattro: Right, and see, and I totally agree with that scene. And that’s the unfortunate aspect of social media that I was talking to Alex about, off the air previously. It creates these divisions, and creates these unnecessary fights with people which really have nothing to do with what you’re talking about in the first place anyway.
Like I say, I love Wil Eisner. I love Wil Eisner’s artwork and in no way do I think the man was necessarily racist, from his point of view. Was Ebony racist from our point of view? You can’t get around it. Yes, he was. I mean, there’s no way to look in that and say he wasn’t, you know, racist characterization. But from what I know about Eisner, and I know quite a bit, you can’t say that was a racist comic and take it as that. It’s not a fair characterization of him.
Alex: No. I don’t think that he was racist himself…
Alex: Specifically, either.
Quattro: No. And like I said, I’ve read hundreds of interviews with Wil Eisner on things that he’s written, and I’m like talking about going through 1940 on. He was interviewed all the time. Then people change over time too. We have. I mean, everybody changes over time, whether they believe it or not. I can guarantee, in 1970, I was a different person than I am today, 50 years later.
Jim: Of course.
Quattro: And everybody is, and that’s the other thing. We don’t ever give people enough credit for the fact that they change over time. People evolve. We just got to relax. We just got to chill out a little bit.
Jim: But I would also say that, I as a white person, I’m not going to say, “Wil Eisner wasn’t a racist because he’s not, maybe to me, as I perceive it. But if I was black and I read that…
Quattro: Oh, yeah.
Jim: I’d like to say, “Yeah, he’s a racist.”
Quattro: Oh, yeah. But I totally understand that.
Jim: You know… And that’s where individuals have their right to their perceptions.
Alex: But I think the Wil Eisner that I’m thinking about, the guy from the ‘70s and on, I think he learned from those mistakes, at that point.
Quattro: Right. Well, he knew…
Alex: I think Wil Eisner in the 1940 is a different guy than Wil Eisner 1977, Contract With God Wil Eisner.
Jim: Yeah. He doesn’t always… Just like anybody that’s an older person that’s dealing with their own racism, they’re funneling it through their own thing, so you can find quotes, not really racist things but where he is sounding defensive, or he’s confused… It’s just complicated. Race is incredibly complicated. And I don’t think there’s one answer to any of those things about who’s racist and who’s not. It is in the eye of the beholder, and the eye of the person that’s having to experience it.
Alex: But that Stan Lee story though, is really interesting. You never hear that about him. Again, that’s like another cool thing about your book. There’s just these things you point out, have documentation for them, you just never hear about. Even about people that we know, actually, which is awesome.
Quattro: But see, to give Stan Lee credit, at the same time, Stan Lee also employed Cal Massey, Alfonso Greene, Matt Baker, Warren Broderick, all these black artists worked for him. [overlap talk]
Alex: Right… And his editorials on racism were very powerful at its time and well placed in the ‘60s when they were coming out.
Quattro: Like I say, it’s a complex sort of thing… To Hollingsworth or to Massey, he may have been a racist but at the same time, he gave them a job. It’s weird. EC comics, as liberal as they were, never employed a black artist.
Alex: Right. That’s true.
Quattro: Whether it’s Matt Baker… And I even talked to Al Feldstein about that, some years ago. We had a discussion about that. He said he’s ashamed. He told me he was ashamed to admit that he never employed a black guy. The only black person they employed was a secretary. He said, “We never employed a black artist.” And he says, “I’m embarrassed by that.” He even say that.
Alex: Yeah, and honestly, I think that if you give someone a job, that shows a lot more than if you sound a certain way but you don’t actually give them a job.
Alex: I think that’s… To me, the proof is in the pudding… I love the EC Comics and what it stood for. But like you said, it’s far from perfect.
Jim: I was going to mention the industry, but I think we kind of covered just in this little bit of conversation. Besides the region, one of the things I was curious what you learned about, or felt like you understood more was education opportunities.
Specifically, art training, about school, and the impact on that and how that impacted these black artists. Because a lot of them were trained. Was that surprising to you, what their experiences versus others?
Quattro: Oh, yes and no. I mean, obviously, almost every single one of these artists had a special art training. It’s interesting, if you compare it to a lot of the white Golden Age artists. A lot of the white Golden Age artists were self-trained. Just kids, and stuff like that, and they became comic book artists.
But with the black artists, is also like they had to have another level of training to reach the same point of the white artists did. Because almost every single one of these black artists, either in high school or in college, they studied art work, or they went to specialized high school to learn art work or something like that. None of them that I came across, that I can think of, just walked in off the street and became an artist.
Alex: Right. None of them were like apprenticed by a person like that.
Quattro: Right. Right. Which I think, is really interesting, when you compare that to most of the white comics book artists. They had…
Alex: Yeah, I heard Joe Kubert, he joined when he was like 13… With no real training.
Quattro: Right, and he got in… Right, and he brought in Hollingsworth, and stuff like that.
Alex: That’s right.
Quattro: But even so, Hollingsworth wound up going to get into specialized training in high school.
Alex: Yeah, that’s interesting.
Quattro: And also, the other thing too, which I think is interesting, which kind of struck me was, most of the black artists had very short careers in comic books. Whereas white artists, you find guys that’d multidecade careers. They were comic book artists and they stayed comic book artists their entire lives. Whereas these black artists, it was only a stepping stone to something else, for most of them. Either they went into teaching or they became fine artists or… They had other ambitions beyond the comic books. And I just think that’s interesting.
Like I said, to me, it was an entry point into their lives. But it didn’t define their lives like it does for comic book artists. Like when you talk about Gil Kane for instance. Gil Kane was always a comic book artist. Steve Ditko, always a comic book artist. Even Jack Kirby, for all intensive purpose have just always a comic book artist. You don’t find that with black artists, which I think is interesting.
Jim: That was actually going to be my final one, was the notion of high art, and how so many of your artists in your book went on to that. And one question I had was, a lot of… And I realize with this generation, they weren’t coming from fanboy perspective like comic book artists are. But, was the material that they were working with, the comic stuff that they were working with, as white artists may be, at least a little bit more there and personal, and relatable than it was to the black artists who were doing things like white jungle girl, kind of comics. That that had to be like, “This is weird and I don’t love it. I want to do something beyond Sheena.”
Quattro: Right. Exactly. It’s funny you mentioned that, because I think I even to mentioned that somewhere in the book, how each one of these artists it seems like, were drawing, were basically a slap in the face type of characters where you always had the white jungle god or the white jungle princess, or something like that. And they were drawing these stories. Every single one of them ended up drawing stories like that, whether it was Robert Pious, or Matt Baker, or Hollingsworth.
Again, it’s all going back to that dual identity thing. Like somehow, they were able to separate themselves even though they knew it was a racist presentation that they were depicting. They were able to do it. And I guess, having to eat makes you do a lot of things. It’ll make you accept a lot of crap.
Jim: And when you try to do, like Hollingsworth did, or maybe did with Bronze Man, it’s like, “Okay, we’re not going to have it be what you might think it might be or want it to be.”
Quattro: Well, I think that sometimes, they did some things subtly. I just happened to notice yesterday, somebody posted on some site, the front cover to Rocket Kelly #3. I wish I had it for you, to show you that. And what it is, it’s an E.C. Stoner Fox Comics. Basically, nothing special comic book, but what it is, it depicts the Earth and a rocket ship taking off, launching from the Earth.
But what’s interesting, the rocket ship was taking off from Africa. Why Africa? You would think it would take of from the United States or Europe or something. It’s taking off from Africa. And it’s very obviously Africa because it’s front and center right there on the globe of the Earth where it’s launching from. That to me, was a very subtle thing by Stoner. I just wonder how many other things were done like that. Check it out sometime.
Alex: Little Wakanda precursors, or something like that.
Jim: That’s [overlap talk]…
Quattro: Yeah, that’s certainly…
Alex: Another thing I liked… I think it was… Yeah, Stoner’s relationship with Walter Gibson. That was kind of cool.
Quattro: Yeah, it was. And again, they had this working relationship but I don’t know how close they really were. Because in the thing I read for Walter Gibson, he talks about this colored guy he’d worked with and even though he wasn’t good an artist and stuff like that. But they worked together off and on for a number of years. All through Street & Smith (Publications, Inc), stuff they did for Blackstone Comics. And then they did this comic strip. But Stoner ended up getting fired from the comic strip because of his artwork. They didn’t like his artwork, and they hired Walter Johnson, who was a white artist. He ended suing them, as a matter of fact, over it.
Jim: Oh, that reminds me of a question I had. Charlie Frederick… Is that the name?… Who was the artist that was friends with Hollingsworth, worked with Hollingsworth? Charles Frederick? Do you know who I’m talking about?
Quattro: Oh, you’re talking about Charles Allen?
Jim: Not Charles Allen. No. Charles Frederick.
Quattro: Charles Frederick… I don’t know. You got me there, Jim.
Jim: No, you know, I am famous for getting… It’s probably some other…
Quattro: He had a friend named Al… Oh, gosh… Al Sargent, he worked with.
Jim: Not that far off. It’s okay, we’ll…
Alex: Charles Quinlan?
Quattro: Well, that was early on.
Alex: Yeah, at Holyoke.
Jim: No… Wait. Who’s that?
Alex: Charles Quinlan which he worked with at Holyoke.
Jim: Alex, you’re going to talk about the tremendous reception to the book and New York Times coverage and things. I’ll be back in a second. I’ll have the name of the person.
Alex: And so, tell us how it’s been, the reception, Ken, to your book. It’s gotten a lot of coverage. And I’m loving seeing that because it’s putting almost what was originally could have been viewed as esoteric material, front and center, culturally, what do you think that means, as far as the current audience, and the current reception you’re getting?
Quattro: I hope it means that more would be interested and want to read more, about comics history in general. I think timing has a lot to do with it. I think the subject matter has a lot to do with it, because race being so front and center right now. I’ve gotten a lot of emails and text from people who’ve never read anything about comics history, and they’re thanking me for exposing them to it, which I think is really cool. They’d said, “Wow, I never realized that comic books had such an interesting history to it.”
I got this Times article today. They’ve published something here in the Detroit Free Press, which is the largest newspaper in Detroit. It has a large article. Actually, I got another interview I gave to a West Coast chain of newspaper. It’s going to be published the next couple of days. So, a lot of people are reading this stuff now. And to me that’s really exciting.
Not so much for me, because I don’t really care. I’m not that ego driven to worry about that…
Alex: Right. I know that you don’t like you picture taken.
Alex: You don’t want to be out there visually. You want the work to stand for itself.
Alex: But it is nice to see your face and to see you talking. [chuckle] But no, it is. And also, the passion and the research you’ve done, it really… You can see it in how you discuss it. It is a real pleasure to see it in action, verbally and visually. I appreciate it.
Quattro: Well, thanks. Like I said, I’ll talk about comics all day, 24 hours a day if I could. It’s something I’ve been doing for 60 years. It’s kind of weird for me, in a way, to see comics come to such prominence during my lifetime, from where it started. I mean, for the longest time, comic fans are ostracized and made fun of. Then to see comics get the respect that they are nowadays, and discussed seriously, it warms my heart to hear that. It’s just a really satisfying sort of thing. And if I can help with that, that makes it even better, as far as I’m concerned.
I just hope that there’s more books like this published. And not by me, I’m just talking about… There’s so many guys out there who have things that should be put forth.
There’s so much great research that’s been done over the years, and I just hope there’s a market for it. That they see that there is a market for this kind of stuff. More publishers take a chance. Because publishing, I understand is a tough business. These guys got to… They take big risks every time they publish a book.
Alex: Right. Just the print runs alone, and then also this whole… The Covid world. How does even make you selling at a bookstore, or comic store, or any sort of physical place. This gets pretty strange, actually. It might all be online sales for a while.
Quattro: Exactly… Yeah. Well, like I say, it’s weird for me to watch. Like I check Amazon every day, and I keep seeing the book sell out. I go like, “What happened? The books sol… Is that good or bad?”… I don’t know. I was thinking, we need more published? There aren’t any more published. They guaranteed me to that, but it’s just strange, to even think of that. That somebody’s reading something I’d written… I’ve always written for me. I mean, somebody says, “Who do you write for?” And I basically write for me. It’s what I like to do.
Alex: In a way, it’s kind of how you gather your info, kind of make notes for yourself, post it…
Alex: And it’s almost to your own mechanism of kind of jotting your notes down, in a way.
Quattro: Right. I don’t know if you guys noticed, but a lot of times, especially with my post, it’s almost the way I talk. I talk very much the same way I write. It’s almost like a stream of consciousness kind of thing. And since comics are what I do almost 24 hours a day. I mean, being retired, I literally spend almost all day involved with comics in one way or another. And that’s why I just try to share as much as I can.
Alex: I had a different voice in my head, just so you know. I’m going to have to… [chuckle] I have to reconcile…
I’m not sure how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to have to reconcile that.
Jim: I don’t know if you get to call yourself retired when you’re out promoting you book, Ken.
Quattro: I know, it’s bizarre, isn’t it?
Quattro: I know I’m suppose to be sitting out in the patio, sipping a long island iced tea or something.
Alex: A little marmalade and bread… [chuckle]
Quattro: Yeah. Yeah. There you go.
Jim: The name I said, Charles what? Does anyone remember?
Alex: Charles Quinlan was the guy I threw out.
Quattro: You said Frederick…
Alex: Yeah. You said Frederick.
Jim: All right, Charles Ferguson.
Quattro: Ferguson. Oh, yeah. Charles Ferguson. Yeah. What about him now? What was the question?
Jim: He popped up a lot in the Hollingsworth chapter, and I wondered… I guess I was using him as an emphasis to say, “The ones that are here on the book are not the only black by any [inaudible 02:23:38]
Quattro: No. By no means. See, that’s also the thing that’s frustrating for me personally. Because the only criticism I’ve had so far is, “Hey, why didn’t you include so and so… “, or “Why didn’t you say such and such about a person?”
When you write a book, they only allow you so many pages. It started out I was only allowed 200 pages to do this book. And Craig realized early on there’s no way in the world you’re going to be able to include as much as you want with 200 pages. So, he got IDW, who’s over reaching a publisher to agree to knock it up to, first to 225, then to 250 pages. For an un-proven author in a book, which was really… For them, going out on a limb. I really appreciate that.
This book easily could have been twice as long, if not longer. And somewhere down the line, I hope somebody will it, take a chance and let me do a second volume to it. Because there’s so much more I want to say, and there are so many other artists involved, who I left out. I mean, like Warren Broderick is one. I didn’t include in the first volume because I didn’t know much at the time. I’ve since learned a lot more because I constantly keep doing this research. E. Harper Johnson, Tom Feelings are all three artists who should definitely be included, because they all did a significant amount of work in the 1950s.
I’ve recently learned that there’s a couple of other artists who worked in comics who have yet, I can’t even find any credits for them, anywhere in comic books, but I know they worked in comics. I have an article, a matter of fact, I was going to put it online, the next day or so, about an artist named Bill Curry. He talks about being a comic book artist for five years, in the 1950s, and I don’t know of any Bill Curry who worked in comic books in the 1950s. And yet, he wrote an entire article about it in a black newspaper.
So, this is the kind of stuff that I deal with a lot of times. It’s this, you got this one clue, and you have to try to build a biography from this one crumb of information that you have. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 20 years.
And that’s what I hope to do. Expand upon what I had on the first volume. And expand on from like 1915, and going forward.
Jim: Well, I hope you do another one, and not take 25 years, because this…
Quattro: Well, honestly, I don’t think I’ll make it to another 25 years, Jim.
I’m 68 right now and I’m pushing it.
Jim: Alex, any tie up questions?
Alex: No. But I do want to thank you for your time. I know you’re a busy guy and you have a lot of interview offers and such. I’m really glad you chose to spend today with us. It was a huge pleasure. I’ve long time been a fan of your research, and I’m really glad that you put this book together and really solidified this story. I got so much out of it. Not just of the black involvement in early comics but also just on the origins of various things, and the context, historically that you put. Just the whole Philadelphia Museum of Art just by itself is its own fascinating story.
So, I really appreciate the time you gave us here at the Comic Book Historians Podcast, Ken. Thank you.
Quattro: Well, thank you for asking me guys. I really appreciate you asking me.
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