A 2008 Interivew with Bruce Jones! (by Richard J. Arndt)
RA: Thank you, Mr. Jones, for agreeing to this interview. Can you tell us a little about the influences on your writing and your art?
BJ: Like everyone else, I suppose, my influences were a product of my times and environment. In my case, I was born during that nether period somewhere between the War Babies and the Baby Boomers. I think of myself as a child of the 1950s, but my influences bled into both the decades preceding and following.
Comics-wise, this made me late to the EC era and pretty much jaded by the time of Marvel’s big resurgence during the early 1960s. By then I was getting too old to read comics, or so society assured me. It may be chic to be a nerd or geek today. It wasn’t in 1956. you were a boy who read comics and then you were a man who read magazines and there was little gray in between to ‘find your way’. What’s widely regarded as the ‘Stan Lee’ era of the 1960s felt like a “watered-down” period to kids raised on pre-code horror comics, film noir movies and post war guilt.
To me, most comics after 1955 felt colorless and apologetic. It was like someone ‘else’ had started running the store. I don’t think anyon who didn’t live during the advent of the Comics Code can understand it. You had to be there. The same thing, to a lesser degree, was happening in the paperback field. There was this general ‘cleaning up’ attitude. Let’s make the nation safe for white American…while black America continues to sit in the back of the bus. At least the change of art direction among the paperbacks lent an air of respectability to the format it probably needed and actually profited by. Anyway, you didn’t have to feel like a lowbrow to have one on your coffee table anymore. [Still] I missed the lurid covers and not so subtle blurbs. After 1955 everything felt sanitized.
The only two national publications with any kind of iconoclast mindset were Playboy and Mad. Young people today may laugh at the idea of Mad magazine as avant garde but by ‘50’s standards they were pratically anarchists. You just can’t imagine. In retrospect we laughed perhaps too long and harshly at our own expense. I think it may have been a sort of smirking revenge disguised as rebellious humor. But it was a great time to be a rebel. Really easy as almost anything within spitting distance was worthy of rebellion. So when they took away the horror comics it was like being herded by Big Brother, a slap in the face. Even though I was too young to have actually bought or collected pre-code comics, I could feel the cold breeze left in the code’s wake. It was probably the only time in my life when I knew I was absolutely right about something and adults were absolutely wrong. It was a hollow feeling, frustrating beyond articulating. Like being betrayed. Great practice, though, for dealing with girls later on.
Anyway, some of us turned to short fiction, novels, film and TV—the other forms of American ignominy. Playboy in particular was a great source of beautifully illustrated science fiction. Every kid’s dad or uncle had a stack somewhere in the house. You just had to wait for the proper moment. The keepers of history rant at how Hefner began the whole sexual revolution and brought heterosexuality out of the closet, but they fail to realize how much his magazine’s science fiction did to legitimize that genre for future generations. The old joke goes: “I only read Playboy for the articles.” The truth was many of us really did savor the fiction and cartoons as much as the pulchritude. Playboy was a kind of badge, our Mad sans the sniggering innuendo that Ma forced itself to dance around with. Besides, if we weren’t supposed to be reading horror comics we sure as hell weren’t supposed to be reading Playboy. It was the last remaining forbidden fruit. So naturally we bit.
RA: Your first artwork appears in print on the Warren Magazines fan pages. Then you published a story, ‘Morgan’, in the fan magazines of the day. How did the printing of that first story come about?
BJ: In the late 1960s I became acquainted with Vern Corriel, the Kansas City publisher of the Burroughts Bibliophiles and all thing Tarzan. I used to go over to his house in K.C., Missouri to gawk and drool at all the great original J. Allen St. John paintings and Frazetta art gracing his walls. Vern either thought I had potential or he was just a nice guy—either way he offered me the chance to write and draw my own Tarzan comic story for his publication. I leapt at it. I mean, where else was I ever going to have the chance to both write and draw a Burroughs character almost bereft of editorial control? I may have been a callow kid, but I was smart enough to know that. ‘Morgan’, as I recall, was a filler story to pad out the issue of the Bibliophile that included my early take on Tarzan. Pretty dreadful stuff. I ruined everything in the inking stage. Just wasn’t ready yet. Why oh why are we forced to look back? The curse of print. This was about 1968, I think.
RA: How did you get involved with Skywald Publishing?
BJ: My style of writing and drawing was just about anathema to the kinds of things being done in comics when I chose to break into the field. That sort of sums up my business acumen. I’d had some success doing spot illustrations for Galaxy and some of the other remaining sci-fi digests but comics didn’t know what to do with me. The editors at Marvel and DC would look at my portfolio and scratch their heads and say things like, “Well, that’s some pretty nice line work but can you draw more like Jack Kirby?” Skywald, like Warren, was one of the few games in town doing non-superhero publishing. They liked short pieces with horror or science fiction settings—beginnings, middles and ends—something that came naturally to me. So I tended to gravitate there the same way I gravitated toward the other artists in New York who drew in a more illustrative style. You know, the Foster/Frazetta school as opposed to the Kirby/Anderson school. I remember showing my portfolio to Carmine Infantino when he was head honcho at DC. He smiled graciously and grunted and said “Huh. You draw like Frank Frazetta.” I was naïve enough to think this was a compliment.
RA: Where did the Philip Roland pen-name, which you used on your first Skywald story, come from?
BJ: Philip Roland came from my brother’s first and middle name. I used it, if memory serves, because Skywald asked me to draw and rewrite a script by another writer. Maybe I didn’t feel the final product justified either of our names, I don’t recall. Anyway, there was no Writer’s Guild around to arbitrate the thing so I just used a non de plume. It probably helped save the other writer’s career. I’m not terribly proud of most of the work I did for Skywald. Seems very rushed and crude to me now, even for back then. I was frantically trying to make comics a real, paying job, always racing the clock. I should have treated it more like a hobby as my friends did. Looking back, I wish I’d taken more time with it, gone the extra mile. As Krenkel said: “If you’re feeling rushed or not in the mood to draw, don’t.”
RA: You also had a number of early stories/art jobs in 1971-72 for Warren Publications. One of them was the lead-off story for a Steve Skeates scripted series in Eerie. The stories were about an underwater prince of Atlantis and were probably leftover scripts or plots from his tenue on DC’s Aquaman. Do you remember that first story?
BJ: I couldn’t figure out what that Skeates story was about, let alone what it was doing in a horror magazine. It was just a script lying around the office that the editor handed me. I wasn’t known as a writer yet so I took what came my way. I think I saw the script as a chance to do my Al Williamson/Roy Krenkel thing—have fun with exotic flora and fauna and indulge in weird machines. I made the pencils very tight for some reason, I think because Jim Warren insisted on seeing his artist’s pencils before the job was inked, or maybe before the lettering was put on. In the elevator on the way up to Warren’s office, I remember Bernie Wrightson sifting through my pages, nodding. He turned to me and said something like, “You know, you should tell Warren these are the finished pages. He can print half tone art. This thing looks great the way it is.” So that’s what I did and that’s what got printed. I believe that was Bernie’s subtle way of suggesting I don’t screw the job up with my lousy inking. Good ole Bern.
RA: The 1974 story ‘Jenifer’, which appeared in Creepy, seems to have put you on the map as a writer of interest. I myself, reading it for the first time that summer, was struck by how little it seemed to have in common with the average horror story that appeared in comics and how closely it tied in with the prose writers I was discovering at the time—stories like ‘Lover When You’re Near Me’ by Richard Matheson, ‘Bianca’s Hands’ by Theodore Sturgeon, ‘The Snake’ by John Steinbeck and ‘Miss Gentibelle’ by Charles Beaumont. All five stories dealpt with psycho-sexual themes that seemed a good deal deeper and more mysterious than the average prose story I’d encountered before. Certainly stranger than most comic stories! It also seems to be the first time you appeared in print as a writer rather than as a writer/artist. Can you tell us some of the background regarding that story?
BJ: As I said, by the mid 1950s I pretty much quit reading comics. Most of my inspiration came from short story writers. These were in paperback collections, mostly, or Playboy. I gravitated toward the Ray Bradbury school of writing: Ray Russell, Robert Sheckley, Charles Beaumont, guys like that. I read Asimov and Clarke but preferred the ‘soft’ science fiction writers. I remember, while reading them, having that epiphany we all eventually have—“Hey, I can do as well as that!” Some ego, huh? I was so clearly cut out to be a novelist and not a comic artist. I don’t know why it was so long in coming. Anyway, I’m sure some of that Bradbury School was still in my head and leached into ‘Jenifer’. I’d been writing short stories regularly for my own amusement from about the age of eight and ‘Jenifer’ was just one more to me. I was amazed at the ruckus it made. It must have struck a core. Or maybe it was Bernie’s art. I remember that at the time, my wife Yvonne and I were looking to get out of New Jersey. Tramping the streets of Manhattan for comic work had begun to get old and I was sick of the high rent. Her folks were fighting or something back in K.C. and we decided to move back and act as a buffer for a while or some such stupid thing. I wasn’t getting much work anyway. Bill DuBay, who edited the Warren books at the time, wouldn’t look twice at my stuff. But Wrightson and Jeff Jones dropped by my plance one day after leaving Warren’s offices and told me DuBay had read ‘Jenifer’ and gone ape. Bernie wanted to draw it. I was in shock. It was too late to celebrate, though. I was already committed to moving back to the Midwest.
RA: Following ‘Jenifer’ I began consciously searching the magazines for stories with your byline. You began to appear regularly over at Marvel in their B&W magazines but even with ‘Jenifer’s’ success you only had a few more stories appear in the Warren books until Louise Jones (now Louise Simonson) became editor. After that, the floodgates opened, with dozens of your stories appearing regularly at Warren through 1982. How did you get along with Louise Jones as opposed to the previous editor, Bill DuBay?
BJ: I know it’s only a typo, but your original question read: “How did you get ALONE with Louise as opposed to Bill DuBay?” I don’t know about Bill, but any red-blooded boy would have loved to get alone with Weezie. She was cute as a bug. We all had crushes on her. She was married to Jeff Jones at the time though, who’s one of my best friends. So while I didn’t exactly get “alone” with her I knew her very well almost from the first day I arrived in New York. Jeff was one of the first artists I sought out having seen his work in Larry Ivie’s magazine. Jeff’s place became a kind of locus for illustrative artists. Mike, Bernie, Archie Goodwin, Steve Hickman, Steve Harper, Vaughn Bode (not exactly illustrative, but–), Roy Krenkel, we were all over at Jeff’s constantly for parties or just hanging around, goofing off and feeling inferior to Bernie’s artwork. Anyway, when Weezie took over editing the Warren books, she called me in K.C. She asked if I’d be interested in contributing some scripts. I was trudging the humid avenues of Kansas City looking for advertising work at the time, so you can imagine my immediate response. Anything to avoid drawing cattle feed ads and wheat products.
RA: Shortly after Louise became editor you almost took over the Nov. 1976 issue of Creepy, writing four great stories, including ‘Country Pie’ with illustrations by Carmine Infantino & Bernie Wrightson, ‘Process Of Elimination’ with art by Russ Heath, ‘In Deep’ with art by Rich Corben and ‘Now You See It…’ with art by Al Williamson. What can you tell us about these stories?
BJ: With the exception of Carmine Infantino, all those other guys were friends of mine so it was a pleasure knowing they’d be doing the illustrating. Now that I think about it, the Weezie years at Warren were perhaps slightly nepotism-oriented. Well, not really, but a lot of us worked and hung out together socially both before and after her Warren tenure. It was kind of grand, really. She was certainly the best editor I ever worked with. It was also the kind of genre I was most familiar and comfortable with, which helped. But I also think Weezie made a concentrated effort to improve the magazine. She really cared about it and her work there was very professional. She was the picture of brains and beauty. The comics editing community could have learned a lot from Ms. Jones about both the art of publishing and how to handle artists’ and writers’ egos. No mean feat. Sadly, few listened.
RA: Do you have any favorites among the stories at Warren?
BJ: No, but if I did the list would probably contain stories associated with the top illustrators. It is a collaborative medium, after all. No one’s immune to that, no matter how celebrated a writer they may think themselves. You always look at the art first. Always. This is true even when the art is stinko.
RA: When I re-read the Warren stories while working on the Warren checklist, I remember being particularly impressed by a two-part story you did with Gonzalo Mayo called ‘Francesca’. I liked it for both the gothic tinge of the story and the different approach Mayo made with his artwork. Very much outside his usual style. What did you think of the many Spanish artists who worked on your stories?
BJ: For the most part I thought they were pretty terrific. I’ve been blessed with some really superior talent over the years that made my stories look better. Interspersed with some really under-superior talent. The best artists seem to come in clumps. The first time at Warren, I suppose. The next—and the only time it was my own doing—was at Pacific Comics in San Diego. The third I’d say was my run on The Hulk at Marvel. Little highlights in-between to be sure, but those, cumulatively, were the best runs in terms of art. Luck of the Black Irish, I guess. The average twenty year old today, of course, wouldn’t be familiar with half the names I’ve mentioned. How’s that for a wake-up call, Rich? Brrrr!
RA: Only a few days before Louise Jones left Warren for a position at Marvel, Jim Warren began a story freeze, stating that no new stories could be purchased until the inventory was used up. Both Don McGregor and Bob Toomey mentioned to me how this edict messed up their careers at the time—in fact, Toomey left comics, believing that Warren was going out of business. What effect, if any, did it have for you? Your byline vanished shortly thereafter for over a year, then returned only periodically in the year or so before Warren went under. Was this why a number of your short stories began to appear in DC’s mystery books?
BJ: That’s something of a blind spot. I do remember Weezie calling with the bad news. But it seemed no time before she was calling back to invite me to Marvel to write Ka-Zar and Conan, etc. I think I was also busy with some early novel work around that period. Sorry, I can’t remember it more clearly. Some days my brain cells just don’t want to do the Time Warp Again, I guess.
RA: You and Russ Heath had a left-over, possibly unfinished story from your Warren days, called ‘Odysseus Descending’. Is there any possibility of it being published?
BJ: I really have no idea. Dark Horse Comics is planning to republish the Creepy and Eerie line of Warren magazines and eventually offer new stories. Perhaps the Jones/Heath job will finally surface at that time. I’ve always loved Russ’s art.
RA: Who was or is April Campbell and what did she do as co-editor for your anthologies from Pacific Comics? How did your involvedment with Pacific Comes come about?
BJ: While hanging around at Al Williamson’s place I discovered the European fumetti comic magazines he had lying about—it’s panel art told with photos in lieu of art—and ever since then I’ve wanted to do something with that format. As mentioned, I was writing stories for the Warren books under Louise Jones until Warren shut his doors to new stories. Around that time Richard Corben, who lived just a few miles from me in K.C. got to thinking about projects we could publish on our own without editorial intervention. Rich had his Fantagor comic line but I wanted to do something that would reach mainstream audiences. I was constantly doing that back then, convinced that all it took was the right product and the average guy on the streets would read comics. Hah!
Anyway, I decided to try the fumetti idea and launched my own imprint—BJA—working with photographers instead of artists. I had a kind of neo film noir-meets comics idea in mind, something I could shoot in black and white to keep the costs down. I felt a comic story that looked like a movie was a good hook and was fooling around with that idea when Star Wars came out. It was all everyone was talking about. So that prompted me to do something in the science fiction genre but that also meant it had to be in color.
Corben had a convoluted photographic coloring technique he used then (this was before computers) and a couple of assistants working the mechanics with him. I struck a deal with them, shot the first ten pages in black and white, had them colored at Corben’s and set off for New York to find a publisher. Warner Books bought the book which I named Amberstar. It was actually pretty cool looking, with all kinds of split-image photo techniques clearly in the Star Wars vein. At that time I think you could have sold a cookbook based on Star Wars. The black and white pages turned out nice, but I was less than happy with what the coloring people did to it. Corben was too busy to watch them and it all got pretty muddy in places and it all ended up with a kind of “colorized” feel rather than the vibrant hues Corben got into his line work. The whole thing just worked much better in black and white.
So, after Amberstar I started my next fumetti book Dime Novel using the film noir idea, this time to avoid the color problems. I was casting roles for the parts and one of them was a young local model named April Campbell. We did some modeling work together for the Kansas City Star’s newspaper ads and got to know each other. April was very bright, looked terrific, had a Playmate figure and—most importantly—had acting experience. I hired her and we began shooting Dime Novel and a second novel, Vampira, simultaneously with April in both lead roles. Some of the location stuff for Vampira we did with the Colorado mountains substituting for European mountains and in the beautiful, downtown Empire Theater. The Empire is one of the original ornate movie palaces of the 1930s which we used for the vampire castle interiors. It worked wonderfully. Both projected books were period pieces, which is the worst thing you can do to yourself budget-wise, but we were very lucky. We found people who let us use their art deco apartments and their classic Untouchables-type 1930s’ roadsters for Dime Novel. There was even one guy who had his own gangster-style machine gun. We had our act down after shooting Amberstar so the brochure and test pages looked fabulous, period wardrobes and all. Nothing in the frame showed a single modern item. It was killing work but worth it. Both projects were akin to a film in terms of setups and lighting sans the movement. Blocks of text were linked in with the images with every ounce of design-Jones I had in me so that both would flow together throughout the books. There were no word balloons. It was exhausting but we all learned a lot.
However, neither presentation interested New York publishers, which was the only game in town back then. So, broke and weary, I closed up shop and went back to comics.
April and I had been together every day for months, meanwhile, working far into the wee hours and the close proximity eventually evolved into a romantic relationship, though a complicated one as both of us were married to to others.
When Neal Adams called and offered me the graphic novel that became Freak Show with art by Bernie Wrightson, April and I moved in together and she helped me plot the graphic novel. After that we began working together on things like Ka-Zar and Conan for Marvel, always with the idea of getting BJA up and running again. Soon after this, Steve Schanes at Pacific Comics called and offered me some writing work. I countered with my own offer to package a group of comics the way BJA had packaged Amberstar for Warners—but only if I could retain editorial, writing and design control over the thing and pick out the artists.
April and I met with Steve and Bill in San Diego and cemented a deal. You could see right away though, that having the control I insisted on was only going to work if we were in their proximity, so April and I moved to California and rented a house on Coronado Island across the bay and not far from the Pacific offices. The result was Twisted Tales, Alien Worlds, Somerset Holmes, Pathway To Fantasy and Silverheels.
April and I were very hands on, right down to the fonts used on the covers and how to advertise the books. It would never have been possible if I didn’t have so many talented artist friends in the business. I had the cream of the crop. Brent Anderson, Joe Chiodo and other artists we worked with eventually followed us out there and we had a little art colony there for awhile. It was probably the hardest I ever worked and the most fun I ever had. I’m still pretty proud of those books.
RA: What is April doing today?
BJ: April and I were married in 1984. We left San Diego for Los Angeles in 1983 to pursue film and TV work, which is where we thought we were headed. Somerset Holmes was created with the idea of attracting the film community and that’s what happened. It’s what got us our Writer’s Guild cards and our first film deals and TV work. We made a lot of money but boy oh boy did that ‘hands on, total creativity’ thing go out the window! Hollywood hates creativity, which sounds strange, but is nonetheless essentially a given. Movies and TV projects get green-lighted for reasons you would not conceive, rarely based on a project’s inherent worth. After Warrenand San Diego it was like working in a straight jacket…that paid really well. It’s very seductive. Stay away.
RA: In a conversation with me, Steve Bissette said you wrote great horror stories but that it was because they were actually twisted love stories. He particularly mentioned your Twisted Tales’ story ‘Shut-In’, with art by Libertore, as a prime example of what he was talking about. Do you agree with his assessment?
BJ: Well, I think maybe the emphasis on love or sex some people associate with my stories is more from the format they appeared in than anything else. Sex was a common writer’s tool in short stories, novels, movies and TV writing whether it was blatant or danced around. But, the underground comics aside, it was new at the time to graphic story telling. I was probably taking advantage of the relative freedom I had at Warren and Pacific instead of the more child-oriented strictures of Marvel and DC. It was like the difference between writing for network or for HBO. But I wrote an awful lot of short fiction back then as well as novels and most of them had little to do with sexual situations. To me it was just one more legitimate theme to be mined. As John Updike said: “Everybody’s interested in sex.”
RA: Your story ‘Banjo Lessons’ in Twisted Tales #5 was obviously an attempt at an EC-style Shocksuspense Story. It actually worked fairly well in that respect, but you and April also included an editorial defending the story before anyone had actually had a chance to read it. I thought at the time—and I suspect a number of other people did as well, judging by the letter’s page—that the editorial undercut the story, giving an air of timidity that I don’t think was intended at all. In retrospect, do you thing that editorial was a mistake?
BJ: Actually I did everything I could to avoid writing EC type stories as I knew the comparisons were likely inevitable. Every time someone mentioned how our stories were like the old EC material I just rolled my eyes and walked away. I wasn’t interested in nostalgia. I saw Twisted and Alien and our other books as a way to continue the kind of adult-oriented stories I’d been doing all along. Sounds crazy, but I really wanted adults to read comics, too. If it came off as pandering it wasn’t intentional. Manga is the closest thing now that comes to what I was attempting at that time and even that is mostly for an adolescent audience. But at least it’s a step away from traditional superhero fare.
‘Banjo Lessons’. Let’s see. That was quite a little adventure—actually quite a headache. After I wrote ‘Banjo Lessons’ (in long hand in those days) I handed it to April and she said, “This is one of the best things you’ve ever written.” I thought no more of it until Steve Schanes called. He said “…uh, we have to talk.” His parents helped fund the company and his mother, at least, was offended by some of the elements in ‘Banjo Lessons’ To this day I don’t know how anyone could find the least racist thing about the story. [The story concerns a group of racist rednecks who are trapped in a cabin during a snowstorm who decided to eat their black servant and the subsequence mental breakdown and massive guilt of one of the rednecksp–RA] But Steve wanted some kind of editorial to appear after the story assuring readers we weren’t the KKK and to also to eliminate the last panel showing the rednecks cooking the black guy. I thought doing either would both ruin the plot and make us appear defensive. I finally elected to pull the story. I think it was April who insisted “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” She suggested moving the editorial to the front of the book to look more like our regular letters page and less like a clumsy apology. I agreed. For all I knew people weren’t even reading the letters page. I think she also came up with the idea of putting a dark Zip-a-Tone dot pattern over the last panel to lessen (cloak) the visual impact. I agreed to that too. Problem was, the heavy-handed dot pattern of Zip-a-Tone called attention to itself and made the art look even more salacious that everyone was worried about. I think I talked to Steve and tore the Zip-a-Tone off the art at the last minute. I don’t recall. We weren’t really obligated to answer to Pacific contractually but they’d been good to us and kept their word up to then about a hands off approach regarding our books, and I didn’t want to create a climate of mistrust or hard feelings. Pacific and Warren (under Louise Jones) were the two most freely creative places I ever worked and I appreciated the freedom, believe me. Anyway, there was little gray area among readers when it came to their reaction to the published story. People either derided it out of hand or applauded our efforts at pushing the envelope. I never promised anyone Twisted Tales would be a pleasant read, just an entertaining and sometimes, hopefully, an insightful one. I mean, what the hell was I apologizing about? It was a horror comic. Personally, I’m just glad ‘Banjo Lessons’ saw the light of day. In some ways it made up for all that hard work on Dime Novel and Vampira that never did come out except as promotional ads or brochures. Those two books were some of the best unfinished work I ever did. Kind of a shame.
It’s just about impossible to think up these stories, then commit them to paper, then get the artwork back on them, then see them colored and published (pant-pant) and still retain any kind of distance from them. If readers went through in reading what we went through in creating and manufacturing the comics, it would kill all the fun. Happily it doesn’t work that way. They don’t have to get exposed to all the frustrations and time limits and egos of production. But readers also don’t see the disappointment when, for whatever reasons, something you’ve slaved over and nurtured and think is really exceptional just doesn’t live up to expectations on the printed page, no matter what you do. This happens more often than we like to admit. It’s collaborative like movies and TV—you can’t be everywhere at once, oversee every line and nuance. You just have to live with it and move on to the next thing. Comics and movies and even novels are like trying to control your dreams. You can look like you are to a point, but ultimately, like your children, they go their way. In reality, there is no control. I think knowing this and secretly loathing it is the reason most writers write—to keep trying to exercise a control they don’t find in real life—but with something that just won’t acquiensce. It’s like nailing Jello to a tree. But we keep doing it anyway. We keep doing it. It really makes much more sense to sell insurance for a living.
RA: I very much enjoyed a story called ‘The Inheritors’, which was illustrated and colored beautifully by Scott Hampton. Do you have any anecdotes about Alien Worlds, your science fiction anthology?
BJ: I don’t remember it that well, sorry, except that it was beautifully illustrated by Scott. I seem to remember it had a kind of typical O. Henry twist ending, which is hard to get away from in any form of story, but I do remember that people seemed to like that story a lot.
RA: Why wasn’t the Three-Dimensional Alien Worlds one-shot simply published as Alien Worlds #8? The 3-D effects certainly didn’t seem to do the artwork or stories any favors.
BJ: Alien Worlds 3-D took longer to produce than the average issue so we had to slot it in when it was finally done, hence the “special”. But I think Ray Zone did an exceptional job with the 3-D conversion and some of the artists really took full advantage of the format. It’s generally the most sought after Pacific title we did.
RA: What was your understanding as to the collapse of Pacific Comics? How did Eclipse Comics come into the picture?
BJ: That part of my life is a blur. There were so many things colliding simultaneously I don’t know how we wrapped our minds around it. Somerset Holmes had been sold to Ed Pressman at Warner Brothers so April and I were working on the screenplay and on staff at HBO and trying to move our stuff from San Diego to Thousand Oaks—and then Pacific calls to say they’re throwing in the towel. We took our line of books to Eclipse. They began meddling with the editorial pages and making life more difficult, just not getting the feel of the books at all. There were also some unscrupulous things going on in the background from various parties. April and I ended up paying some of the artists out of our own pockets which was a hell of a drain, especially at the time. Even then, a few people apparently still never got reimbursed for their work, or so I’m told. Let’s just say I learned pretty quickly who my friends were. I prefer to think that the good times and good people of San Diego made up for the bad, and leave it at that.
RA: Transforming your graphic novel Somerset Holmes into a movie in 1984 put you waaaay ahead of the curve of the present day transformation of comics into movies. Since Somerset Holmes doesn’t seem to be very dated and someone like Charlize Theron would be ideal as the lead, are there any plans to represent (and reprint) that graphic novel to the studios?
BJ: Brent and April and I have talked about it over the years but so far nothing has worked out. You never know, though…
RA: During your Hollywood days you kept your hand in the comics world by writing a series for Rich Corben as well as writing and illustrating a dozen or so back-up stories for a number of mini-series he was doing in the late 1980s-early 1990s, all of which I like quite a lot. What prompted this work?
BJ: Money prompted it. Movie scripts are hard to sell and TV jobs are always seasonable, even once you’re in the Guild with a good agency. Hollywood is always a crap shoot. I needed money and I could draw, so that’s what I did. Some of the comics jobs I did for Corben worked out pretty well, I think, and some look a little rushed now. You do your best with what you’ve got.
RA: I haven’t seen your great-looking artwork since the last issue of Andrew Vachss’ ‘Hard Looks’ anthology in 1996. Are there any plans to take up the illustrating side of your talent again? I love your artwork.
BJ: Well, thanks. I was never a fast artist and I had an eye injury in 2002 that’s made drawing harder and produces headaches. But I can still do it. If the right project came along in the right time frame I’d jump back into drawing, sure.
RA: You’ve been working at DC now for a number of years. Can you give us a glimpse of your working future?
BJ: Writing fiction, I imagine. It’s about all I’m good at. And scribbling pictures here and there. Probably remaining rootless. I’m easily bored.
RA: Thank you!