I am back, alas, with an obit. Ernie Chan, one of the most prolific comic artists in American comics of the seventies, has died at the age of 71. His death (from cancer) comes right after the passing of his Filipino colleague Tony DeZuniga just last week.
As mentioned then here: In the early seventies, DeZuniga opened the door for the many comic artists in the Philippines to work for the publishers in this country, starting with DC Comics. Due to the different economy, DC found themselves able to get professionally-drawn comic book pages for a fraction of what they paid American artists. The work also was often quite excellent and work by Filipino illustrators filled DC's ghost, war and western comics. To the great frustration of management, those artists rarely seemed to be able to produce what the company wanted for its mainstay, the super-hero titles. Time and again, DC tried those artists out on Superman, Batman or other such features and the result was usually unsatisfactory. Ernie Chan, whose name then was Ernie Chua, was a rare exception.
Ernie "got" the style that was wanted. In fact, he did it so well that when he relocated to the United States — for personal reasons and to earn American rates — he wound up doing hundreds of covers for DC and drawing the Batman feature for several years. Readers also knew him for his long association with Conan the Barbarian at Marvel, finishing the pencil work of John Buscema and sometimes drawing stories on his own. He was fast and dependable and very much in demand.
I believe I met Ernie at the San Diego Comic Con (now the Comic-Con International) in 1976. He and Alfredo Alcala were doing wonderful color sketches for fans at bargain rates to raise money to help an ailing artist-friend back in the Philippines. I commissioned one from each and as Ernie worked on his, he told me proudly how he'd just achieved U.S. citizenship and had taken the opportunity to change his surname from Chua to Chan, restoring the original family name that had been changed against their will — I don't recall just why.
I asked him if he was going to start signing his comic book work as Ernie Chan. He said he was trying to decide that. People knew him as Chua and there was the thought that one should keep one's "brand" intact. As he was very close to finishing my piece, I asked him to sign it "Ernie Chan" and he did…and before the con was out, he decided to sign all his drawings that way. So I think I have very first drawing by Ernie Chan. I'm sorry to hear that now someone someplace has the last.
Filipino comic book legend Tony DeZuniga has died at the age of 71. Tony suffered a major stroke in mid-April which led to a range of infections and other medical problems. While no cause of death has been announced, it's likely that it was the culmination of what he'd been going through. Many in the comic book community had chipped in to help with hospital bills and other expenses because he was so well-liked and respected. He was among his many other accomplishments, the co-creator of the popular DC properties, Jonah Hex and The Black Orchid.
Tony entered the flourishing comic book industry in The Philippines in 1957, working as a letterer to finance his college education at the University of Santa Tomas. Despite warnings that a Filipino artist could not crack the American marketplace, Tony came here several times to try and do so and in 1970 secured work at DC, inking other artists at first, then doing complete art. His style was unique, at least to American comic books, and exciting for its blend of realism and energy.
He told the editors at DC that there were many other fine artists back in The Philippines. At first, the notion of working with talent so far away (and not well-schooled in English) scared DC's management away. That was until they learned how inexpensive it would be to have comics drawn there. Even with the expense of shipping work down there, it made it possible to get a comic book drawn (and drawn well) for a fraction of what American artists were paid. At first, Tony served as a kind of agent as dozens of Filipino artists began drawing for DC and later for Marvel and other companies. They included Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Nino and Ernie Chua (later known as Ernie Chan). Some of these artists later relocated to the United States and Tony spent much of his time here.
Tony is probably best remembered for Jonah Hex and for the work he did on DC's mystery comics and on Marvel's Conan the Barbarian. He drew very powerful heroic figures and very beautiful women and I always enjoyed talking or lunching with him and his wonderful wife, Tina. Our thoughts and condolences go out to her tonight along with the knowledge that Tony and his fine work will not be forgotten.
Animation producer Buzz Potamkin died recently (I heard April 28) following a long battle with cancer. Buzz was like the Johnny Appleseed of animation companies, running, founding or co-founding many over the years including Perpetual Motion, Southern Star Productions, Visionary Media and Buzzco. His tenures with each outfit were highlighted by innovative, acclaimed production, much of it in the area of advertising but plenty in the category of TV series and specials. As one example, he received credit and praise for a lot of the splashy animation that the cable channel MTV employed in advertising and imaging when it debuted.
Though I worked with Buzz and considered him a good friend, I'm not up to itemizing all his credits. I'll have to leave that formidable task to someone else and just write about the work we did together in the eighties. We met when I wrote a prime-time animated special that one of Buzz's companies in New York (I was never sure which one) animated for CBS. Shortly thereafter, Buzz relocated to Hollywood for a time and you might be interested in the story of how that happened. I guess this is okay to tell now.
Hanna-Barbera was doing shows for CBS in the eighties and at one point, they delivered a string of notably substandard shows, well below the level that was expected of them. Angry CBS execs told H-B, "We're not buying any more shows from you!" H-B execs understandably panicked at the thought of losing about a third of their marketplace. They begged, pleaded, cajoled and promised to do much, much better next time if CBS would grant them a next time. In particular, they pledged to not send any more CBS shows to a particular lousy subcontracting firm overseas.
CBS gave them one more chance and bought another show from Hanna-Barbera. For reasons which were never clear (I heard a half-dozen explanations) H-B sent that show to the particular lousy subcontracting firm overseas.
When the first episodes were delivered, CBS exploded. They said that not only would they never buy another series from Hanna-Barbera, they weren't even going to accept or pay for that one that was currently in production.
Again, there was much panicking and grief in the executive offices on Hanna-Barbera. There was more pleading, more cajoling and a lot more promising. When it all settled down, CBS agreed to continue with that series if (big, expensive IF) H-B would pour megabucks into producing the show and if they would hire an animation producer CBS trusted to spend all that money, spend it wisely and deliver a quality show. That producer was Buzz Potamkin.
He moved to L.A., set up an operation, finished that series and produced several others, mainly for H-B but some also on his own and a few in co-production with CBS. Probably the best one he did was The Berenstain Bears, which was on from 1985 to 1987, winning much critical praise and several award nominations. He was later involved in several of the more popular shows developed for Cartoon Network including Johnny Bravo, 2 Stupid Dogs and Dexter's Laboratory.
Someone else will have to list all the other shows he did. I just wanted to tell that story because it speaks of the Buzz Potamkin I knew, who was a man of utter integrity both in handling money and in handling the creative reins of a show. I wish we had more like him and am sorry to lose the one we had.
Another one. John Tebbel was a clever, nice man I met when he and his wife Martha Thomases were publishing Comedy, a magazine about a subject near and dear to us all. It should have lasted a lot longer than it did…and might have, had they not made the apparently-fatal mistake of having me contribute to it. But I got two friends out of the project and later when Martha went to work at DC Comics, the three of us would sometimes lunch together.
John was actually a good person to do a magazine called Comedy because he was terribly knowledgeable and passionate about great makers of comedy. I suspect he was terribly knowledgeable about everything and passionate about a great many topics. I wish he was still around so we could delve into more of them.
My condolences to Martha. Heidi MacDonald has more.
Most of what I have to say about Dick Clark, I've said before here, like in one post which is not easily accessed at the moment so I'll quote from it…
I worked a lot with Dick over a brief period, including producing a show that he hosted but which was not done through his company. If you can set aside a fierce determination to pay everyone as little as possible, my memories of him are all good. I liked the man and I really admired his professionalism and work ethic. He worked like a madman yet still managed to be utterly accessible. If you just walked up to him and said, say, "Little Richard," he'd drop everything that was droppable and tell you ten minutes of Little Richard anecdotes. Or Elvis. Or Ray Charles or anyone. He had, of course, worked with everybody and he had real sharp insights into every aspect of show business.
Great sense of humor. Very little ego. Always on time for everything. Very respectful of the talents and expertise of others. Worked like a dog. Easy to get along with. I can tell you hours of stories of producers, execs and stars who were maniacs and a-holes. I have only good stories about Dick Clark. That is, if you could get past the underlying fear that he wouldn't make every possible dime on every project.
I should add that there was something about him that set him apart from many other producers I worked for and with: He was Dick Clark. He didn't flaunt it but it was tough to be around him and not feel that sense of television history: He'd been everywhere, done everything, met everybody. One time when I was working for him and we were taping, my friend Steve Gerber phoned me on the set. Dick was the nearest person to the phone when it rang so he answered, heard it was for me and called me over. When I picked up the phone, Steve was stammering on the other end: "The person who answered the phone…was that…was that Dick Clark?" By that point, I'd been working with Dick for several months so I thought of him mainly as my boss. But to Steve, it was like he'd dialed a phone number and Santa Claus had answered. Later that day, he came to the set and I introduced him to Dick. Steve was a pretty sophisticated guy but we all have certain people who impress the hell out of us and reduce us to giggling adolescents. For Steve and many others, it was Dick Clark. (And for some, it was Steve Gerber…)
The main points I should underscore about Dick are his professionalism — always on-time, always well-aware of the costs and problems of production — and his graciousness. Oh, and his cheapness too…but I almost didn't mind that. Because he was Dick Clark. His struggle to keep being Dick Clark after his stroke was both sad and inspirational, and I'm sure most who write about him will say something about how New Year's Eve won't be the same without him. Just as television was never the same after he came along. He was one of the greats.
Fran Matera, who spent a lifetime in comic books and newspaper strips, has died at the age of 87. The cause is given as prostate cancer.
Matera grew up in Stratford, Connecticut and was still in high school when he sent a fan letter and samples to cartoonist Alfred Andriola, best known for the newspaper strip, Kerry Drake. Andriola liked the young man's drawings and gave him work as an assistant and referrals to comic book publishers. Apart from a stint in the Marines, Matera made his living thereafter in comics, mainly in strips, often as a ghost or assistant. Among the many strips he worked on over the years were, in addition to Kerry Drake, Dickie Dare, Little Annie Rooney, Mr. Holiday, Nero Wolfe, Rex Morgan MD, Judge Parker, Apartment 3-G, The Legend of Bruce Lee and a long run (credited) on Steve Roper and Mike Nomad. For comic books, he maintained a steady presence in Treasure Chest from 1959 until 1971 with his feature, Chuck White, and was known to pop up occasionally at Marvel, Charlton or some other publisher when the newspaper strip work was slow. His art style was heavily Caniff at its core but from all those years of ghosting different strips, he knew how to skew it for any occasion.
My only contact with Mr. Matera was over the phone. I don't recall how we "met" but he called occasionally in the late seventies in search of a writer for some strip project he hoped to launch. As newspaper strips with continuity (as opposed to a gag-a-day) declined, the secret to continued employment for a guy like him seemed to be volume, volume, volume. He was usually doing one strip and trying to sell another…because doing just one didn't pay all the bills. When we spoke, it was because he had an opportunity to take over an established strip that from its fame, you'd think would have been successful and lucrative for its current handler but no. Getting the gig was a matter of submitting samples plus the lowest bid, and he told me the lowest bid was more important than the samples. When he told me how low we were talking, I was amazed. I wasn't interested in writing that particular strip at any price but I sure liked Fran on the phone, and I liked his determination to work as hard as he had to in order to make a living in the field he loved.
Tom Spurgeon has a good career overview on Matera at The Comics Reporter and Matera's local newspaper also offers a good obit. Everyone seems to have the same view of the man: Dedicated professional who did an awful lot of fine work.
Josie DeCarlo, widow of comic book legend Dan DeCarlo and the model for the character Josie, has passed away in her sleep. I don't have her age but her husband Dan was born in 1919. Dan passed away in 2001 and Josie continued to promote his name and work, and she attended comic book conventions as long as her health permitted.
Josie Dumont was a French citizen when she met Dan via a blind date in Belgium shortly after the Battle of the Bulge. Photos of her at the time suggest her as an obvious model for all the beautiful women that Dan was known for drawing throughout his career. She was a direct inspiration for perhaps his most famous creation, Josie. Josie (the woman) fashioned a pussycat costume for a shipboard ball on a Caribbean cruise they once took. Dan's sketches of her in that outfit figured into the later life…and her first name provided the name of the star character when Dan shopped around for a proposed newspaper strip. When no syndicate jumped at what he offered, he offered Josie (the strip) to Richard Goldwater at the Archie company where he was already working. Goldwater accepted the idea and the comic was launched, later turning into Josie and the Pussycats, a rock group dressed much like his spouse had dressed on that cruise.
Dan was the star Archie artist for over 40 years but in 2000, he got into a legal altercation with the Archie company over ownership of Josie and took legal action. Josie stood beside him when he was fired by the firm. He died the following year.
She was a lovely lady and every one of Dan's many friends and fans loved her just as much as they loved Dan. Funeral services will be held Monday is Scarsdale, New York. E-mail me if you need information.
The family of Don Markstein is reporting his death at age 65 due to respiratory failure following a prolonged illness. Don was a mover 'n' shaker in science-fiction, animation and comic book fandom in the sixties and after. I believe I first met him in person (as opposed to the correspondence which preceded that moment) at the World Science-Fiction Convention in Los Angeles in 1972 and even then, he had a lot of friends and a lot of respect within the fan community.
Don and his wife Gigi founded Apatoons, an amateur press publication that was reponsible for much scholarship and research about the field of cartoons, and Don edited the magazine Comics Revue as well as several books on comic history, including The Prince Valiant Companion. He also wrote a number of comic books, including Disney comics that were primarily published overseas.
His most lasting contribution on the 'net is The Toonopedia, which he updated every day since he established it in 1999. Until recently when illness (I assume) caused him to miss dates, he would post a listing each day tracing the history of some newspaper strip or comic book feature. We engaged in some friendly e-mailed debates about some of his facts but I never questioned Don's devotion to getting things right. I hope his family arranges for someone else to continue the project.
A great artist has passed. In a way, two have: Under his own signature, Jean Giraud illustrated some of the finest adventure comic stories of the 20th century, most notably the wildly-popular adventures of Lieutenant Blueberry. (The Lieutenant was later promoted to higher ranks.)
And under the name Moebius, Giraud drew surreal, imaginative tales of science-fiction and fantasy. His work was a special highlight of Metal Hurlant magazine and of its American outlet, Heavy Metal. He was easily one of the most respected and popular illustrators of graphic fiction of all time.
I am informed he passed away this morning. No other details are yet available and it's late. I would imagine the Internet will be full of tributes and sadness this weekend and for many days thereafter.
Let me tell you some facts about a man named Sheldon Moldoff, who died Wednesday night at the age of 91 due to kidney failure…
- Shelly Moldoff was one of the artists who worked on the historic Action Comics #1 (1938) which featured the first appearance of Superman. He didn't work on the Superman material in that issue but he did have artwork in what some call the most important comic book ever published. And he was the last surviving person who did.
- Shelly Moldoff worked as an assistant and ghost artist to Bob Kane on the earliest Batman stories that appeared in Detective Comics.
- Shelly Moldoff drew the cover of Flash Comics #1 (1940) which introduced the original Flash to the world.
- Shelly Moldoff drew the cover of All-American Comics #16 (1940) which introduced the original Green Lantern to the world.
- Shelly Moldoff was the artist of the original Hawkman feature beginning with the character's fourth appearance and continuing for several years.
- Shelly Moldoff was by some accounts the inventor of the horror comic book, having proposed the idea to EC Comics publisher William Gaines before Gaines came out with his own Tales From the Crypt.
- Shelly Moldoff was the ghost artist for Bob Kane on the Batman comic book stories and covers that Kane allegedly drew between 1953 and 1967. He also worked for DC Comics directly, often as an inker of covers on all their key titles including the Superman books.
- Shelly Moldoff also worked for Kane as the main artist/designer of the animated TV series, Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse.
- Shelly Moldoff was a very nice man and as you can tell, a very important person in the history of the American comic book.
Sheldon "Shelly" Moldoff was born in New York City on April 14, 1920. A self-taught artist, he was encouraged in his work by comic book illustrator Bernard Baily, who lived in the same apartment house as the Moldoff family. He was 17 when he broke into professional comic book work, selling filler pages to Vincent Sullivan, the editor at Detective Comics, Inc. The page for Action Comics #1 may have been his first sale or publication, though there were others at about the same time.
Shelly was much in demand throughout the forties, working for DC on many strips. One of his favorites was one he created — The Black Pirate, featured in Action Comics. In 1953, he became Bob Kane's main ghost and I guess I need to explain that working arrangement…
Kane never drew Batman on his own. He was not by nature an adventure artist — funny animals were more his style — nor was he the kind of cartoonist who liked to sit at the drawing board all day and night. When he started producing Batman for Detective Comics, he adopted the modus operandi that was common for newspaper strip creators of the day, which was to hire on one or more assistants. It was also not uncommon for the assistants on a strip to do most or all of the work. Moldoff was apparently Kane's first assistant on Batman, then he left and was replaced soon after by Jerry Robinson…though the first year of Batman stories also shows indicators of other hands.
As Batman became more popular, the feature got its own comic plus a newspaper strip was added as well as a Batman feature in World's Finest Comics. Though Kane took on more assistants, the company's needs for Batman tales exceeded what he and his team could produce so stories were commissioned by DC editors and as per the terms of Kane's deal with DC, all were signed "Bob Kane." Artists like Jim Mooney, Dick Sprang, Winslow Mortimer and Curt Swan were Bob Kane ghosts in the sense that they drew comics that were signed as if Kane had drawn them. But none of those men worked for or even dealt with Kane. Jerry Robinson, George Roussos and others did work for Kane though they later began working for DC on their own.
Around 1946, Kane renegotiated his deal with DC. Under the new contract, DC would continue to commission Batman stories by others (all signed "Bob Kane") and Kane would produce X number of penciled Batman pages, drawing up scripts purchased by DC editors. The fee he was paid for this was so high that Kane could hire someone else to do the work, pay them low-end going rates for the industry, and live very well off what was left over. For several years, an artist named Lew Sayre Schwartz did somewhere between 80% and 100% of the work Kane handed in under this arrangement. When Schwartz moved on to other work in '53, Kane offered the position to Shelly Moldoff, who accepted. At first, Kane seems to have done a little art-editing on the pages, occasionally redrawing a shot of Batman or Robin. Before long, he went from doing almost none of the work to doing none of the work. Sheldon Moldoff did it all.
There is some dispute as to whether the editors up at DC knew that Shelly Moldoff was the guy drawing what Kane handed in. They definitely knew that the work was ghosted but Shelly told me they had no idea he was the ghost. He was also working for DC at the time, mainly as an inker. From time to time, they'd say, "Shelly, we have another Bob Kane story for you to ink" and they'd give him a story he'd penciled for Kane. Others who were around DC at the time said, "Naw, everyone knew Kane's work was being ghosted by Shelly."
Moldoff was still ghosting Kane's work in 1964 when due to declining sales, DC decided to upgrade the look of the Batman strip, getting rid of the cartoony Kane/Moldoff style and making it more realistic. Moldoff did his best to draw in the new approach but it took a lot of work by the strip's newly-assigned inkers, Joe Giella and Sid Greene, to make it look more contemporary. For that reason but mostly because Kane had become difficult to deal with, DC decided to change the working relationship. In '67, Kane's deal was renegotiated. They gave him a lot of money and he no longer had to pretend to produce pages for them…which put Shelly Moldoff out of a job. At first, he had another gig — working on a cartoon show called Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse that Kane had sold — and he still had some assignments of his own from DC. But then the cartoon work dried up and some new management at DC decided his art was "old-fashioned" and that ended. He worked on and off in advertising and animation after that.
Then came the comic convention circuit. In the eighties, a Las Vegas cab driver/comic fan named Dave Siegel made contact with Shelly and arranged an invite to the Comic-Con International in San Diego. Shelly was swamped with admirers who wanted to meet him. Many wanted to purchase re-creations he did of his classic covers. I asked him once which one was most requested and he thought for a moment then said, "Lately, anything with Bat-Mite on it." He designed that and many other well-known characters. Dave did a wonderful thing for Shelly by getting him to conventions…and a wonderful thing for so many of us who enjoyed meeting him and getting to know the guy.
I typoed in the previous message and have now fixed the error. Broadway legend David Burns died around eight years after he won the Tony Award for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum not, as Davy Jones said, a few months. Burns was one of those performers who literally died on- (or almost on-) stage. He was in Philadelphia with the tryout of the Kander-Ebb musical 70 Girls 70 when he was stricken with a heart attack.
In-between that and Forum, he did a few things of note. He originated and played the role of Horace Vandergelder opposite Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! and he appeared in Arthur Miller's play, The Price…and won an Emmy for the TV presentation of it. Before Forum, he appeared in the original The Man Who Came to Dinner, Pal Joey, Oklahoma!, Out of This World, A Hole in the Head and Do Re Mi. That is not a complete list. For instance, I also left out his other Tony award-winning role: He originated the part of Mayor Shinn in The Music Man. It really is one of the most amazing careers of any actor, past or present. Since he didn't spend much of that career before TV or movie cameras, he's not as well known today as he oughta be but those who knew him (or just saw him perform) still talk fondly of the guy.
That's him at left in the above photo, taken years ago on a Manhattan street corner. The kid on the right is my friend Jim Brochu, who was mentored by Burns and was very close to him. I've mentioned Jim here before many times. He's the guy with the great show where he plays Zero Mostel and creates for you an imaginary (but hilarious and moving) evening with that much-loved actor. Through March 11, he's Zeroing in at the Bathurst St. Theatre in Toronto. For details on that and other places he'll be, check out this website.
Shelly Goldstein's not the only friend of this blog who had a memorable encounter with Davy Jones. Will Harris writes about his, also focusing on the late Mr. Jones's role on Broadway in Oliver! Will even links to a video of Davy as The Artful Dodger way back when. Well worth clicking to read and view.
In the piece, Davy says that the New York producer of Oliver!, David Merrick, advertised the show by quoting rave reviews by folks who happened to have the same names as prominent Broadway critics. I'm wondering if this is so. Merrick had famously done that a year or so earlier when another show of his, Subways Are For Sleeping, opened to negative reviews. He found people in New York with the same names as the critics, invited them to the show and when they liked it, advertised their opinions with their names and also photos attached. Only one newspaper ran the ad for one edition until someone at that paper noticed something. Richard Watts, the critic at The New York Post, was white but "his" quote did not mention the Post and the photo of him was of a black guy. The ad was pulled after the one printing, Merrick was condemned up and down Broadway for his trickery…and he loved the publicity. Did Merrick try something of the sort again with the well-respected Oliver!? Or was Davy, as I suspect, conflating separate incidents?
Also in the piece Jones says…
…I remember going to the Tony Awards, and they said, "And the winner for Best Supporting Actor, David…" And I leaned forward in my seat…and they said somebody else's name. But I'm glad it wasn't me that won, 'cause that guy died six months later. It could've been me!
The category was actually Best Featured Actor in a Musical and the other David was David Burns for his work in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. But David Burns didn't die six months later. It was more like eight years. Just a minor point.
How doubly-sad to hear that Davy Jones of the Monkees has died of a heart attack at the age of 66. That would be just plain sad at any time because he was a talented fellow. The Monkees were a manufactured, artificially-created band in that a bunch of execs sitting behind desks decided there should be Monkees and they did auditions and said, "Uh, let's use that guy and that guy and that guy and…oh, how about that guy?" That shouldn't have worked. Musical groups should be more organic than that. But by a happy combination of clever writing on their show and the natural charm and ability of the four guys selected, the Monkees became as legit as any group of their era. Davy Jones was more than 25% of the reason for that.
What makes it doubly-sad is that some of us got to meet him just 18 days ago at the Hollywood Show out in Burbank. He had a long line of autograph-seekers and folks who just wanted to shake his hand and tell him what his work meant to them. As I explained here, he could not have been more gracious and nice to his fans. Shelly Goldstein (seen in a video not far below these words) was one such admirer. She complimented him on his work on stage in Oliver! and he started singing a song from that score for her, a cappella and all the way through to the end. An hour or so later, he saw her walking by and he sprinted out from behind his table to gift her with a CD he was selling there that contained a medley of Oliver! tunes. She was amazed not only at his generosity but at the sheer fact that he remembered her and thought to do that. What a shame to lose someone that charming.