Is it true that Martin Landau used to draw comic books?
Nope. The award-winning actor was a comic strip artist early in his career. He worked as a cartoonist for the New York Daily News and assisted on the newspaper strip, The Gumps. But he never drew for comic books.
The confusion stems from a number of articles that confused him with Kenneth Landau, a comic book artist of the fifties and sixties, whose work was seen primarily in A.C.G. and Gold Key Comics. It has been erroneously written — even in at least one book on comic book history — that they were the same person (one article claimed "Kenneth" was Martin's middle name, which it isn't) or that they were related. Neither is true and, yes, I've met both of them. Different, unrelated people.
In fact, I interviewed Martin Landau about his comic art career and published it in my column in Comics Buyers Guide. Here is an excerpt from that interview:
ME: Did you ever draw a comic book in your whole life?
ML: No. I loved comic books, of course. I loved strips and I loved comic books. I remember buying the World's Fair comic in 1939 with Superman, and I still have my copy of Famous Funnies #1. But no, I never worked in comic books, as Ken Landau or any other name.
ME: Do you remember what comics you liked? Books or strips?
ML: Well, Will Eisner was my favorite. The Spirit. He was the best of what we called the "wrinkle artists." These were the guys who drew a lot of folds in clothing and had a lot of texture in their work. Caniff was my other favorite. Those guys…they could create an entire movie on the page. Eisner's work was amazing. I've never seen a storyboard artist in Hollywood who could be as cinematic as what Eisner did on The Spirit. Is he still around?
ME: Still around, still drawing. I see him every year at the San Diego Convention.
ML: Well, when you see him, tell him Martin Landau loved his work. I don't know if that will mean anything to him but he was a terrific inspiration, not just to me but to everyone I knew who drew back then.
ME: Your main experience in comics was with Gus Edson on The Gumps…
ML: The Gumps, exactly. I started working at the News in New York doing illustrations in '47…or maybe it was '46. I was working for them while I was still in high school. Gus had a fellow working with him before me named Sam Hale. He was an old United Features cartoonist and he left. So after I'd been at the News for a few years, I became Gus's assistant. I started off lettering and doing backgrounds and in just a few months, I was drawing whole strips by myself, usually the Sunday page. Gus had a continuity on Monday through Saturday but the Sunday page was an entity unto itself, and he eased me into doing it. At first, he'd write it and maybe rough it out but pretty soon, I was doing the whole thing. I did it for about a year, maybe a little longer.
ME: At the time, did you envision moving on to your own strip some day?
ML: That was the goal, yes. That's what everyone wanted.
ME: But you got interested in acting instead?
ML: Eventually. I started getting that interest and I had to pursue it. But while I was at the News, I loved hanging out with the cartoonists. Some of them worked in the building and there were others who lived out of town but they'd come in once a month or every few months. I had a cubicle for a time right next to Bill Holman. Do you know his work?
ME: Smokey Stover. I have one of his originals on my wall.
ML: Marvelous stuff. Bill was quite a guy and he worked very hard. He had the worst eyesight of anyone I ever knew who made their living with their eyes. He had these Coke bottle glasses — they were the thickest lenses made and even with them, Bill had to get down, with his eyes about two inches from the Bristol Board in order to draw. You know, I have a few originals here. I have a few Terry and the Pirates by Caniff. I loved that work. I was heartbroken when George Wunder took it over. He was one five-hundredth the artist Caniff was. I have a bunch of Edson's Gumps strips, of course. I have a Smitty. I liked all their work. I loved Herriman and Roy Crane…Wash Tubbs. And Winsor McCay, especially.
ME: Do you still draw? When was the last time you drew something for publication?
ML: I draw from time to time. I was drawing this morning…I had a few minutes. I paint. I sometimes do caricatures. But no, I haven't drawn for money since — I don't know — around '51, which is when I left the News.
ME: So we can say with some certainty that you are not Ken Landau the comic book artist.
ML: As far as I know, no. I never drew for comic books. But you know, I had this happen before. When [the nightclub] Studio 54 was open, there was some altercation with some of the people involved. Some fellow who was mixed up in it told the police and told the reporters that he was my brother. They called me and I said, "I remember sisters around the table at home. I don't recall any brothers." I don't recall being Ken Landau the comic book artist, either.
I thought that would be the end of this rumor but, before the month was out, someone e-mailed me: "I love your column and never miss it." and then later in the message, they asked, "Is it true that Martin Landau drew comic books under the name Ken Landau?"