As a high-school kid, I’d fly up from Naples to New York City in the summers to do what I could at the comic-book publishers there. DC and Marvel were the biggies. DC was at 575 Lexington Avenue, and they wouldn’t give me the time of day; they were corporate. Marvel, over at 635 Madison Avenue, was more welcoming.
The wonderful man who took me under his wing, for some reason, was John Buscema. He was big, bearded and a bit scary at first to a green kid. And, man was I green. Within a few minutes, though, I realized that Mr. Buscema, in spite of his being a “real” comics artist– and one of the very best– was also a sweetheart and remembered what being green felt like. I worshiped him. I don’t know if he usually worked at the Marvel office, or was just there hanging out, but I was glad he was around!
He didn’t give me a lot to do and what I did do I probably did to excess. I bought an electric eraser and some various eraser sticks for it and reported in every day. I remember cringing whenever I saw a Jack Kirby page ready for erasing after being inked. Mr. Kirby drew with the softest pencil imaginable on a plate-finish board and it was all a smudgy grey-graphite mess for me to clean up!
The prime memory I have of that time was the day artist Gil Kane came to the “Marvel Bullpen,” which wasn’t a bullpen at all. I worked in a crowded closet using a cardboard box for a drawing table. Mr. Kane sat at one of the real drafting tables in the bigger room and started roughing out something in pencil. I sneaked over to watch, and was stunned. Kane could draw faster than I could think. It shattered me. I slunk back to my little closet and burst into tears. Here’s one of Kane’s rough sketches found on the Web:
Mr. Buscema found me and sat me down for a lecture: “Jimmy, we get paid by the page, not by the hour; no salary in this business. Gil’s fast and good because he’s smart and talented, but also because he’s been doing this for 25 years. Don’t over-react; you’ll get there.”
But I knew in my heart that no; I would never get there. I didn’t want it bad enough. As I went back to Newark that evening I knew my comic-book career was over before it really started. But I also knew that I had gained a friend who was a rare person; a giant with a giant heart.
John Buscema was called the Michelangelo of comics and take a look at some of his work to see why. His anatomy’s as good as Kubert’s and his ability to frame a scene is almost scary. He also had some of Jack Kirby’s ability to convey power and force:
A wonderful man; best known today, I guess, for his work on the early Silver Surfer and Conan the Barbarian.
The wonderful coloring on this Buscema Conan drawing is by a fellow in Morocco who goes by the name of bekkouri, and he did a stunning job:
And I still have my old electric eraser: