Sunday, December 26, 2010

Marion Sitton : The Interview

Well folks, I've decided to add a blog to my Yahoo group Timely-Atlas-Comics:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Timely-Atlas-Comics/

A handful of my list member pals there have successfully done so already and I hope to be able to add to their great content. Please check out their wonderful venues for comics history listed below.

Ken Quattro's "The Comics Detective":
http://thecomicsdetective.blogspot.com/

Ger Apeldorn's "The Fabulous Fifties":
http://www.allthingsger.blogspot.com/

While time constraints will limit posts for the time being as I work on a book about Atlas great Joe Maneely, I want to start this blog off by closing out the year 2010 with a series of blog posts highlighting Timely-Atlas artist Marion Sitton, something I've been wanting to do for a long time as I believe his interesting life and career deserves a large audience. Starting in the new year I'll move on to other things and interests.  

To begin, I've put up an interview I did with Marion back in January of 2004. The interview below was originally published in the #78, June 2008 issue of Roy Thomas' ALTER EGO magazine published by TwoMorrows. What I've posted below is the original, unedited version of the published interview. It may not read as well as the published version but it certainly will demonstrate the back and forth conversational approach we had during the interview. This will be the first of several posts about Marion as there is a lot to cover and I don't want to place it in one long single installment, thereby cluttering his career. Subsequent installments will showcase his artwork itself, much of which I refrained using here in the interview, opting to let photos, the occasional art panel and most importantly, his words paint the picture.

Marion is only one of untold hundreds of little-known comic book artists who entered the industry during the 1940's or 1950's, putting their time in for a few years, having a recognizable art style and then vanishing off the comic book landscape never to return. If I can shed a little light onto their accomplishments and place their often short-lived comic book work into into the perspective of their entire art careers, then I'm doing my job correctly.


INTRODUCTION:

Marion “who”, you may ask?  Why, Marion Sitton, of course.  Aficionados of Timely’s early 1950’s crime books will immediately recognize the last name “Sitton” only because it was one of the scarce signatures seen in the earliest period of Timely freelancing following the closing of the Timely bullpen in early 1950. 

The story behind how I found Marion after all these years is another reason why I cherish all my friends in fandom.  I’d seen the tiny signature “Sitton” for years on a score of Timely crime stories.  The artwork was very identifiable, clean and readily lent itself to depicting the gritty crime dramas of the pre-code period.  I always wondered exactly who this artists was, coming up with nothing for years.  I failed even in coming up with a first name for this artist who seemingly vanished from the comic book scene around 1953, never to be seen again and pretty much chalked the "Sitton" mystery up to one of many still unsolvable mysteries of the 1940 and 1950’s comic book industry and a person probably lost to history.

Then one day in 1996, my pal Don Mangus rang me up.  Don is a well know collector, writer, and enthusiast in comic fandom circles.   Completely out of the blue, Don asked me whether I’d ever heard of a Timely artist who went by the name of “Marion” Sitton.  I almost fell out of my seat!  Not only did he mention an artist I didn’t think anyone but a handful of people even heard of, but he actually gave me a first name!  I told him I knew a “Sitton” who drew for Timely but never had a first name for the artist.  Well, it turns out that an older gentleman had recently walked into a Dallas comic book store looking for copies of his old comic book work and had a business card with the name Marion Sitton on it.  The fellow said he worked for Timely but for obvious reasons, no one there had ever heard of him and passed over the info to Don who then immediately contacted me about it, figuring if anyone had ever heard of him, I would have.

Now I had a name and a telephone number and excitedly called Marion up, identifying myself as a Timely researcher and historian who had been searching for him for 10 years.  Marion laughed and told that if he’d known I was searching that long, he’d have contacted me sooner!

As it usually happens, I became close friends with Marion over the last 14 years, learning all about his history in the comic book business, the art world and recently decided to make his tale a formal one for others to learn.  Marion has a wonderful story to tell about his Timely staff years of 1947-1950 and his years as a freelancer up through 1953 where he got out of the business and picked up his art career. The story was a revelation as it allowed me to assign a name to Timely romance stories he penciled, stories that would have likely forever gone unidentified.

Following his years as a comic book artist, Marion went on to do syndicated and commercial work as well as becoming the world’s greatest crayon artist whose portraits in crayon adorn the mantelpieces of many a celebrity.  While many comic book artists went on to other artistic venues, never looking back with nostalgia on their days of toiling, often in obscurity, Marion reflects on his time at Timely with much fondness, recalling it as one of the happiest times of his life. The interview below was conducted on January 18-19, 2004.

MV:     As usual, there is so much material to cover so let’s start at the very beginning.  When and where were you born, Marion?

MS:      I was born near Hale Center, Texas, in a farm house.  My family was living on a farm.  The date was April 1, 1920.

MV:     April Fool’s day!

MS:      Yes sir.  I think my parents were expecting something unusual, I presume! (laughs).

MV:     Any brothers or sisters?

MS:      Two brothers.  I was the youngest boy in the family.

MV:     What kind of work did your father do?

MS:      He was a farmer by trade.  He had lived in another part of Texas before he moved to what they call the “panhandle”.  He was a dyed-in-the-wool farmer and did well at it.  Like all farmers, it was a family affair.  It was very hard work.  We were reasonably poor but we never thought so or even realized it because all you did was work!  It was also fun in many ways as I think back on it. 

MV:     What was your education like?

MS:      I went to a small brick country school.  Not a log cabin like Lincoln may have gone to, but a brick one.  We had to walk about two miles to get there.

MV:     Barefooted in the snow? (laughing)

MS:      No, we at least had shoes! (also laughing)

MV:     What was the earliest inclination you had towards art?  How did that manifest itself?

 MS:     I recall that I was very interested in art because I would watch my two older brothers draw cars, horses, etc.  That fascinated me a great deal.  I wanted to be able to do that also.  We had a living room with a wood and coal burning fireplace in the middle of the room.  We would sit around on the floor and draw and read.  I recall drawing right there on the floor.  I would take my little tablet and drew everything I could see.  The mailman would bring newspapers and I remember the comic strips…Maggie and Jiggs, Washtubbs and Captain Easy, Moon Mullins, all the early ones.  I also remember a very early Milton Caniff panel strip for NEA Services.  They were securing newspapers then for features.  The feature was called Mr. Horsefeathers.

MV:     I’m not familiar with that feature at all.

[What Marion actually meant was Mr. Gilfeather, a feature that at one time or another featured the art of a young Al Capp and Milt Caniff]

MS:      I haven’t heard about it since then either, nor do I have a clue where he came up with that name or where he got it from.  But it was funny and comical and I’ve never read about it in any references I’ve seen about Milton Caniff.  There was another feature right next to it and I cannot remember who did that one.  I’m thinking it was Al Capp but I’m not certain.

MV:     Approximately what year are we talking about now?  The early 1930’s?

MS:      The late 1920’s, early 1930’s.

MV:     The strips back then, especially the Sunday strips, were huge full-page features.

MS:      It was the favorite part of the newspaper!

MV:     It certainly was.  As a youngster, did you read the fantastic literature of the time, for example, in the pulps like WEIRD TALES, AMAZING STORIES and the like, or the mystery pulps?

MS:      Oh yes.  My parents would buy some of those pulp magazines.  I remember the detective magazines, TRUE DETECTIVE and similar titles.  Back then we didn’t even have a radio in the house.  Sometimes we would go to a neighbor’s house to listen to the radio on the weekends.  That rather dates me! (laughs).  You tried to entertain yourself with anything you could get your hands on.  But back to comic strips, I loved them from the very beginning.  I remember reading them in 1927,1928 and 1929 when I was 7, 8, and 9 years old.  I was already drawing and admiring those strips and looking forward to seeing any new edition of whatever came out.

MV:     As you got older into high school, how did you progress with your interest in art and drawing?

MS:      We moved from near Plainview to Longview, Texas.  That’s where I started Junior High School.  I was already drawing and was very adept in biology class drawing frogs, etc.  I could draw the human heart better than anyone else in the class.  I prided myself in that.  We moved from what was the “country” into what was the “city”.  It was a step up.  I remember being apprehensive in a new school but was surprised I could draw better than all the others.  This encouraged me to keep at it.  Next I remember I got a part-time job as a paperboy.  I began drawing some things for a local newspaper, the Longview Morning News and entering county fair art contests.  After high school, junior college, being in the service and going on to New York and finally getting syndicated, my little “Nature Was First” series that I was penciling and inking in New York came out in the Longview News. I remember the paper had an article that said “Former newsboy now in New York”. (laughs). 

MV:     You told me once that you did something for the post office in Longview.  What exactly was that?

MS:      That was 1940.  They had built a new post office.  On the inaugural day James Farley, the Postmaster General, came down for the dedication and opening.  On that day only they had a stamp, they called it a cache or something and they stamped mail that one day only.  I was able to design and draw it.  I was the youngest artist at that time to do that. It showed a little building in a circle and James Farley the P.G. is in an oval in the center.




Longview, TX Post Office Dedication Day April 5, 1940



I was awarded the first art scholarship to Killgore Jr. College.  It was a new college and my attendance there was my first “formal” art training.  I had a real nice Hungarian artist as a teacher, named Gustav Ivan.


Outdoor sketching assignment - Kilgore Jr. College 1938

MV:     How long was the art program?

MS:      I was there two years.  I became his assistant because I was the only one who drew well enough to satisfy his needs and desires as a helper.  We laid out murals in the new college’s library using scaffolds up there.  We did a painting called “The Landing of the Pilgrims” that I laid out with the rest of the class painting it in.  I got the honor of laying it out and sketching it on the wall.

MV:     Is it still there?

MS:      I don’t believe so.  I had a picture of it.  I knew a fellow in school who was going to send me another photo but never did.  I believe it was changed years later and went by the wayside.  But it was a great experience.  After that we moved to Houston and I got my first actual art job at the Parker Uniform Company, helping draw and design catalogs.  We actually mimeographed the pages and filled in the color by hand and with airbrushes.  We’d cut a little template and color in the uniform.  It was a crude operation but the result was nice.  The reason it was done that way was because they were trying to save money.  They only put out about 30 catalogs and these were for the salesmen to take out on the road to sell uniforms to doctors, nurses, waiters, waitresses and carhops around the country.  I also lettered ice-cream store windows.  There was a chain of ice-cream stores in Houston called The Phoenix Dairy and I worked re-lettering new flavors, specials, etc.  I worked for printers also.

MV:     Up to this point how old were you?

MS:      This is me up to about 19 or 20 years old.

First job at Parker Uniform Company (with Vic Green)

MV:     That brings us up to 1939-40.  By this time Superman had already appeared on the scene and was a huge hit.  Numerous other similar features were following suit and comic books featuring superheroes were flooding the newsstands across America.  At age 20 you were above the age of what the average comic book reader would be in 1940.  Were you aware at all about these new-fangled types of publications called comic books?  They had actually first appeared in the mid 1930’s featuring newspaper strip reprints.

MS:      Oh yes!  In fact, I was following very closely whatever was being written about comic books and the artists who were involved with them.  I was following the newspaper comic strips also and always had it in my mind that that was where I might try my luck one day.


MV:     Do you remember when Superman first appeared in 1938?  That was something completely different from what had been appearing in those early comic books. Before Superman, comic books were almost all compilations of newspaper strip reprints repackaged in pamphlet form.  There was some new material but it was more in the adventure and detective vein.

MS:      Superman was “very” different!  It was unbelievable!  To kids of the 1930’s, who could have thought that a man could fly?  It was radical and revolutionary.  Also important to me at that time was the fact that my oldest brother had bought a newsstand in Longview.  He sold used and new magazines of all kinds.  I was able to look at tons of pulp magazines and see all the black and white illustrations inside.  We had all the pulp westerns, detective and fantasy like WEIRD TALES. It was unbelievable.  I was fascinated by that art.  Some of the pulp artists I saw later became illustrators in the better class magazines and of course many also did comic books.

MV:     Yes, many did.  They often did this concurrently in the 1940’s, working for a comic book shop or on staff, while moonlighting for the pulps.  By this time I assume art would be your career in one way or the other, correct?

MS:      Yes, but I felt that all the way, from the time I was in the first grade. 

MV:     Did your family encourage this?

MS:      They did, especially my oldest brother Bill who was fascinated by how I could draw.  He always encouraged and pushed me.

MV:     You had two brothers?

MS:      Yes, William Barney Sitton and Robert Simpson Sitton.  Bill was 10 years older than I was.  Robert was only two years older.  I was the youngest and I think that helped as we all know, the youngest always gets all the attention! (laughs).

MV:     That’s true; I’m the oldest of three also.

MS:      Back then we got hand-me-down clothes from relatives in town and I was always glad none of them were girls. (laughs).

MV:     As long as they were warm!

MS:      That’s right.

MV:     Comic books really took off after Pearl Harbor.  The war had a large effect on comic book sales and companies did their patriotic (and fiscal) duty in pushing patriotic heroes and pitting them against Axis villains. What were you doing at this time?

MS:      I was working at the Phoenix Dairy doing illustrated comic cartoons for their newsletter.  I was doing signs also.  I remember walking that Sunday morning into the office and the radio was on.  The report of the attack came over the radio.  I just put down everything and went out to the local bar with friends.  We were pretty much dumbfounded and knew we were going to get into the war now.

MV:     Were you drafted right away?

MS:      No.  My brother and I volunteered together.  He was two years older and was accepted while I wasn’t.  I volunteered later on and got accepted into the air force as a “limited service” because I had very flat feet.  Once there I worked out at Ellington Field, which wasn’t too far from Houston.

MV:     This is early 1942?

MS:      Yes.  Everyone was trying to join up.  There was a lot of patriotism.  I worked at the Houston shipyard before leaving to make a little more money.  I also did a monthly feature in OUR ARMY magazine.  This magazine was in the day room and PX’s and was a well known and established publication.  There was a local newspaper for the base and there was an artist who was already pretty well established there.  I followed after him getting his crumbs.  I had an idea for an army character called Private Gooch.  I thought the name was unique and later I found out other people did have the name.  He was a character always with a beautiful girl.  She had the caption and he never spoke.  It was a different approach.  I had a lot of fun doing that.  I did it for a year and a half.  At first I had a full page in the magazine and then they cut it down to a quarter page.  I’m not sure when or why I stopped doing it but it just faded out.  I remember that I also got requests from people in the officer’s club and such, requests to do originals for them, so I occasionally did those.  I guess he became pretty popular during the time I did it.

MV:     Do you have any copies of it?

MS:      I don’t, I’m sorry to say.  It was one of the things I lost in a fire along with all my comic books.  Maybe the Library of Congress has old copies on file, I don’t know. 

MV:     I’ll turn up some.

MS:      If you do, please send me copies.  I’d love to see them again.

[A year after the this interview was conducted, I turned up 3 installments of Private Gooch in OUR ARMY MAGAZINE from 1944 and sent them on to Marion for his archives. Marion had not seen them in 50 or more years.]

OUR ARMY (Mar/44)


MV:     How often did the magazine come out?

MS:      Monthly.

MV:     What else were you doing at this time?

MS:      I released a collection of service cartoons called “At Ease”. 

MV:     What was that about?

MS:      I was working with a printer in Houston and there was also an artist there.  He was trying to sell cartoons of that nature. He was a general commercial artist.  I had the idea to put out a little book with nothing but cartoons in it about people in the service. We got it out and got it printed.

MV:     Was it a single printing or an ongoing publication?

MS:      It was a single printing.  At the same time we published it, the war ended.  It was distributed but only that one time.  There was never a second issue or a reprinting. It was one of those things that you put out back then, depending on what it was, it could stay on the newsstands for months.  Not everything was pulled off every month.  They had more laxity in the way they handled things then as compared to now.  It had no date.

MV:     What size was it?

MS:      It was a digest-sized publication, about the size of a Reader’s Digest, slightly smaller than a pulp magazine.  We certainly had a lot of fun doing it.

MV:     Any existing copies?

MS:      Sadly, no on that one also.

MV:     Were you sent overseas at all?

MS:      No.  I spent my entire service in Texas.  I was also over at Randolph Field in Shrevesport.  I’ll also mention that I entered two paintings in an art show.  The Houston Museum of Fine Arts had a show for men in the service.  They called it the “8th Service Command” down on the gulf coast.  This included the army, navy, coast guard, etc.  I entered two paintings.  One was titled “On God’s Side”.  I had this soldier in a foxhole with a rifle sticking up above his shoulder.  It had a bayonet on it and there was a glint of moonlight off it.  He was praying.  Another one showed a Russian tank in a snowstorm.  American soldiers surrounded the tank and blew it up.  He was surrendering and the title was “Comrades”.  I won first prize with “On God’s Side” and received a $100 war bond.

MV:     One of the most famous, if not “the” most famous of the war period cartoonists was Bill Maudlin.  He drew for Stars and Stripes.  Were you aware of him?

MS:      Oh very much so.  He drew the dog-faced soldier.  I remember he blossomed overnight and was able to depict the regular soldier better than anyone else.  He was very well loved and popular among us.  It was encouraging to me to see how great he was and how successful.  I tried to study everything he did.  He went on to become a political cartoonist in Arizona, I believe. 

MV:     Yes he did, he had a long career as a political cartoonist.  Following the end of the war, what was your next move?

MS:      I headed to New York after the war ended.  I was told that in New York you didn’t need a car and at that time I had a Pontiac convertible.  My wife and I discussed the idea and we decided to travel light and head north.

MV:     When did you get married?

MS:      Helen and I got married in the service and we didn’t have any children.  She was a bit anxious to go since she had never been out of Texas.  We really were looking forward to this as we were waiting for the war to be over so we could get on with our lives.

MV:     Was the idea to get into the comic book business at the very start?

MS:      Well, comics or cartooning.  I knew all that was based in New York and I knew that I had to give it a shot.  Long distance was not an option.  I wanted to talk to the syndicates and know all about the syndicate business.  King Features, United Features, etc, were all in New York City.  I think the Des Moines Register and Tribune had a pretty good sized syndicate but that was the exception.  The rest were all in New York.

MV:     You were thinking syndicated newspaper strips over comic books at the time?

MS:      Yes, primarily because I didn’t know very much about the workings and chances to land work in the comic book business.  I learned more about that after I got to New York.

MV:     Did you carry with you strip ideas to show the syndicates or were you going in just trying to land work?

MS:      I carried copies of everything I’d ever done.  Most of that was commercial art.  I had lettering samples also.  I was mostly interested in getting a foothold and a job.  I had met a fellow in the service that had worked in New York and he told me about the McGraw Hill Publishing Company and that at the time they put out a lot of different types of publications and used a lot of artwork.  That’s where I planned on heading when I arrived.

MV:     Did you drive to New York?

MS:      No, believe it or not, we took a bus.  It took two days and three nights.  There were organizations for servicemen that helped you find a place to stay, an apartment, things like that.

MV:     So you actually arrived without a place to stay?

MS:      We had the name of a Jewish organization and they helped us find a room for the first week, and later an apartment.

MV:     Do you recall where it was?

MS:      It was a little walk-up down on 21st street between 7th and 8th avenues.

MV:     What were the rents were in those days?

MS:      Around $80-$90 a month.  The apartment was built like a shotgun.  It was just straight.  You walked in the front door and could see the back window.


"New York City at Last!" Marion on right, wife Helen on left
MV:     Was the McGraw Hill Company your very first stop?

MS:      Yes.  I went over there and got on their trade magazines.  If you knew one end of the pencil from the other, they’d put you on.  It worked out real well.  We were doing simple layouts, paste-ups and some retouching.  I had some airbrush experience so that helped me also.  There was a lot of black and white retouching on photos.  In the art world you were kind of a jack of all trades, doing this one day and something else the next day.

MV:     Did your wife work?

MS:      Yes, she went out and found work very easily.  She had bookkeeping experience and clerical talents that women back then usually possessed.  She got on with the Reynolds Tobacco people.  I think they put out Old Gold cigarettes.  So we had two incomes and could pay our way pretty well.  After a while I used the GI Bill to go to school. Also, I’d met an artist friend at McGraw Hill who knew someone who was looking for an artist to work on a feature for a newspaper.  I was very interested.  The writer was Walter Fabel.  We got together and I told him I was interested in syndication.  We decided to work together and after a while came up with a feature called “Nature Was First” that we tried to sell as a Sunday feature.

NATURE WAS FIRST daily March, 1948

We showed what “man” did and then switched it to show how nature did it first.  You know, like how airplanes fly in a “V” formation.  But geese did it first!  We had a million of them!  Believe it or not, we finally got syndicated with a very small syndicate, the George Matthew Adams Syndicate.  You don’t ever really hear about them.
 
Marion and Walter Fabel in NY just before landing at Timely
MV:     How long did it run?

MS:      I drew it for a year and a half and finally gave it up when I began school.  As soon as we got it going, I knew I couldn’t make a living off it.  It just wasn’t a big enough feature.  At its best, it ran in only about 39 papers.

MV:     Did it run in any New York papers?

MS:      I don’t think so.  It ran in Des Moines, Iowa, it ran in some papers in Texas and I forget the rest.  I had a scrapbook with all of the strips but they burned with the rest of my stuff years ago.  I could probably find some on microfilm in the libraries.


Longview News Journal Feb 12, 1948



I was very excited when we started but as I say, I knew I needed more so I enrolled in the Cartoonists and Illustrators School on the GI Bill.  That’s where Burne Hogarth was one of the teachers and one of the owners.

MV:     What year was this?

MS:      I’m thinking 1947.

MV:     We can backtrack.  The war ended, you came to New York in 1946.

MS:      Yes and it was another year before I entered the school.  It was 1947.  So I began my studies and was still drawing “Nature Was First”.  At that time when I signed a contract as an artist drawing “Nature Was First” I was told I was the youngest male artist drawing a syndicated feature.  There was a girl doing a panel who was younger than I was. I’ve forgotten what her name was but she was doing a panel feature.  Like I mentioned, I wanted to move up and I began to hear about the comic book business while in school.  Everyone was talking about it and I was excited to try to get into that part of the comic art business.  Now I don’t recall their names but the school had teachers that specialized in teaching comic book writing.  I remember Tom Gill was there.

MV:     Tom Gill lives right here near me, about 15 minutes away.  Was he a teacher or a student?

MS:      He was one of the teachers and he was doing some work in the business but I can’t recall too much about what he did.  We all looked up to him as “hey, you’re one of those that know more than we do”.  It was quite interesting but everyone everyday was talking about the comic book business so I began working on comic book samples. We began to hear rumors about who was doing what and who was hiring who and things like that.  Then I heard that Timely might be interested in new artists so that excited me a great deal.

MV:     Timely started their staff in the early 1940’s, originally getting their material packaged from comic shops, primarily Lloyd Jacquet’s Funnies Inc. shop.  Timely’s owner, Martin Goodman, finally realized it would be better to produce much of the work in-house and began building a staff.  The staff grew as the demand for books grew.  It got very large by the mid to late 1940’s.  Do you remember how you heard about Timely’s interest?  Did they advertise or was it word of mouth? Timely artist Allen Bellman told me he answered an advertisement for a background artist for Captain America in the New York Times.

MS:      It was word of mouth.  I had decided to try out for this thing over at Timely.  They were now in the Empire State Building. 

MV:     Originally they were in the McGraw Hill Building.

MS:      That’s what I’d heard.  I went to work on a sample and I was told that you had to do something original, not to copy anyone else’s work and not to try to copy a page out of some other book.  They wanted you to do something they could look at and ask you questions about.  I decided to pencil and ink the whole page and I think it was called “The Tarantula of Tombstone.”

MV:     It was just the one page thing?

MS:      Yes, I just did a one-page, a splash page they called it and I think I remember you could get by doing a splash page for them to judge what you could do. And that’s how I auditioned at Timely. 

MV:     You took the page over there from home?

MS:      I did, and I was very nervous about it.

MV:     Describe the scene to me.  Who was there? Who greeted you?  Think back now as I want to imagine this scene.

MS:      Well, I was told to see Stan Lee.  So I went over there and I said that I wanted to see Stan.  The girl told me that I would have to wait and took my name and all that.  She also took what I had and I showed her the cover I had done over the splash page sample, trying to be neat and clean.  She read the title and mispronounced it calling it “tarant tula”. I thought, well, I’m doomed now because nobody here in New York knows what a tarantula is! (laughs).

MV:     That’s because there are no tarantulas in New York! (laughs)

MS:      I really thought “well you blew it there, fellow”.  But anyway, she took it with her and went behind the door somewhere and it was a while before she came back out.  When she finally did she said that Stan would see me and she ushered me into his office.  After a while he came in from somewhere although I didn’t see him enter.  He was very friendly, smiled and talked to me.  He was very nice.

MV:     What do you recall about the conversation?

MS:      He asked me just normal questions about what I had done, where I was presently, etc.  I told him I was from Texas, thinking it might impress him! (laughs).  I told him I had been an artist all my life and that I was interested in getting into the comic book field and “that” was the reason I had been going to the Cartoonist and Illustration school.  I told him I had been studying there for some months and that I was working on a little syndicated feature but it wasn’t proving to be very successful.  I think he was a little bit impressed by that or at least I hope he was (laughs).  I do remember telling him that.  So he looked over my samples and he asked a question or two like “why” I did this or that.  I thought he was very interested and he was very relaxed with me.  He was very friendly and I remember being a little surprised that he actually looked “younger” than I did!  But overall he was very friendly and made me feel welcome.

MV:     He wasn’t an overbearing type of boss who intimidated the interview candidates?

MS:      No.  He was friendly and warm.  I felt very good about that interview.   Stan made some remarks; he said “Well I see you can draw hands and feet. We have people coming up here with samples that can’t do that. You’d be amazed at the people that try to get into this business and can’t draw.”  I felt really good about myself after he said that. He then told me he’d give me a try and I couldn’t believe it.  I think I went for two or three days where I didn’t breathe, I was so taken back by getting offered a chance.

MV:     What did that exactly entail, giving you a try?  Did he say you were hired right there on the spot?

MS:      Yeah.  He said “Well, we’re going to try you out.  I’ll take you back and show you where you can sit.  We’ll just let you work and see how you can get used to this type of work we’re doing.”  He then introduced me to Syd Shores and told me that Syd would help me with anything I needed and with any questions I had.  Syd gave me a script to start on.  You read the instructions and the dialogue.  It was all spelled out back then pretty much so I basically just got started working.

Celebrating landing a job at Timely

Christmas in New York while at Timely

First TV in NY - Bought with Timely Paycheck!


MV:     Did you come back a different day to start or did you start right then and there/

MS:      I actually came back the next day to start.  They had a vacant desk seat in the back and I was about an arm’s length from where Syd Shores sat.  He was slightly behind me and over on the next aisle where he had a window behind him.

MV:     How was the room set up?

MS:      We had two rows of desks of artists.  You could walk between the two rows.  I was next to the wall.  There was a window there but you couldn’t see out of it.

MV:     Did Syd Shores have a supervisory position there?  I know he was an artist working also but I get the impression he was above the grunts.

MS:      Yes he did.  He helped out younger artists and sort of unofficially seemed to be of a higher position than the other artists.

MV:     Like he had seniority?

MS:      Yes.  He was very calm and sort of cool.  He would just sit back there and draw away.  He was a really fine artist and very nice.  If you asked him questions, which I frequently did, he was very helpful, but very brief.  In fact, at one time, Stan had Syd draw up a sample page of men in action and women in action and different poses and had copies made and distributed to all the artists.  He was trying to get some of us to see how Syd did it and wanted us to copy his dynamics.  They were sort of model sheets for generic characters.

MV:   Syd was a great artist.

MS:      Even then I was just amazed.  I’d look at that copy and see all these figures and different poses and different actions.  I was enthralled with it.  Syd was so good. I noticed that one of the illustrators in the latest issue of Alter Ego in an interview says some illustration there was by Syd Shores and I looked at the legs and the action of the figure and said “yep’, that’s Syd Shores. (laughs).  You can always recognize him easily.

MV:     I agree.  I love Syd Shores’ artwork and his style is easily identified and his pencils very lush.

MS:      Yes they were.

MV:     I’m going to back-up a minute.  What year are we pinpointing this down to?  Is this the tail-end of 1947 or early 1948?

MS:      It would be 1948. I became a penciller there on staff.  I didn’t get to do any of the inking.

MV:     Why was that?  Was it because you had art experience?  Did they feel you were good enough to pencil instead of breaking you in as an inker?

MS:      Probably.  My penciling was fairly tight and they figured that anyone could ink my work. (laughs).  You turned in the best you could do and the inkers took it from there. I recall that they had some inkers on my work that I didn’t particularly like.

MV:     Can you pinpoint the month in 1948 when you started at Timely or at least what season it was?

MS:      I believe I started penciling in March of 1948.

MV:     March of 1948.  That would mean that your first work would have started appearing in September with a December cover date. There was usually a 3 month difference between cover month and real time and up to six months between creation and publication.

MS:      Yes that was true.  I recall that Vince Alascia sat right in front of me and he was turning out work by the ton.

MV:     Vince was on staff since the early 1940’s. He was a staff inker and a main inker of Syd Shores’ pencils.

MS:      That’s right. They conversed back and forth and I would listen to everything they said because I was trying to learn.  I wanted to pick up any tips I could from more veteran artists.

MV:     What other artists from 1948 do you remember?  You spoke about Syd Shores and Vince Alascia, who else?

MS:      There was a fellow named Bill I remember.

MV:     That wasn’t Bill Everett, was it?

MS:      I don’t know.  Dan DeCarlo was there.  He would come in from the other room.

MV:     Was that where the humor artists worked?

MS:      Yes.  He would come into our room and talk and I was aghast over how many pages he used to tell us he was turning out on those Millie books. 

MV:     Yes, he drew Millie the Model.

MS:      He would tell us how many pages he did a day and I found it hard to believe (laughs).  I remember one guy had glasses and sat up near the front door and talked constantly.  I don’t recall his name.  I read that Al Bellman referred to himself as a joker at that time but I don’t think this was Bellman.  This talkative guy was not one of the better artists or inkers but he was there and he did a lot of talking.  He kept us entertained because we had to listen to him.  He just rambled on and on.

MV:     Allen Bellman is a good friend of mine.  From what I’ve learned from talking to him about Timely history for 7 years now is that while he referred to himself as someone who joked around at Timely on occasion, the truth is that he was in no way one of the Timely pranksters and in fact told me stories about pranks by the likes of Mike Sekowsky, Al Jaffee and others.  Many of these fellows went to elaborate extremes to pull pranks in the office.  Jim Amash’s interview with Jaffee goes into more detail.

MS:      I heard the stories about some of those pranks!

MV:     Do you remember Al Jaffee at Timely?

MS:      I remember his name but can’t seem to place his face.  He worked over with the funny artists, I believe.

MV:     Yes he did.  He was the main Patsy Walker artist during the time you were at Timely.

MS:      Right.  I remember him now very well.

MV:     He later went on to a long and wonderful career at Mad Magazine.  He created and did the Mad Fold-In for over 40 years!

MS:      Yes, I know that feature well.

MV:     Let’s return to your debut on the Timely staff.  They started you off as a penciller.  Do you recall what some of your very first features were?  I ask because thanks to you I’ve tracked down some of this earliest Timely work you did and just about all of it was in the romance comics.

MS:      Yes you did find it for me and you were right on in identifying it, although I’m astonished you could.  For some reason, I did pencil mostly romance comics in the beginning.  We called it “love stuff” with titles like “My Heart was a Football for too Many Men”. 

MV:     I found that story for you!  What a great story title! 

MS:      I’ve remembered that story title for 54 years!  I didn’t think I’d ever actually see that story again but you found it for me.  I remember that story as if I drew it yesterday.

MV:     As soon as you told me the title I immediately remembered coming across it as I made my way through indexing the Timely romance line.  Then once I found it I instantly saw your pencils under whoever inked it. 

MS:      I have no idea who inked it.

MV:     Your work had a particular style and flair.  I’ve become very familiar with it. 

MS:      The rest of the romance stories I penciled around that time you found on your own so I agree that you know my work pretty well.

MV:     I feel I do but I really learned it when I was finding all those freelanced stories where you inked yourself.  That Sitton trademark style still shows through under the inks by other hands, particularly in the faces.  I would guess you were used primarily on romance stories because Timely at that exact time, early 1949, had just flooded the market with romance titles and romance story art was in heavy demand.  Many different companies were doing the same thing but Timely had the most titles, although many only lasted one or two issues before being canceled. Then shortly thereafter the fad passed and most titles were gone.

MS:      I recall the love books coming and going very quickly.

MV:     They didn’t vanish altogether, the market just became over saturated and the companies cut way back.  Let’s talk about some Timely staff contemporaries.  Do you remember Mike Sekowsky?

MS:      Oh sure.  Mike was a bit of a character.  None of the newer artists, like I was, wanted to go near him.  I always wanted to look at his work on his desk and marveled at his pencils.  They were fantastic.  He was so fast and so fluid.  Nobody there could turn it out like he could.  Not even Syd Shores who was a fabulous artist.  Mike was in a league of his own.

MV:     What about Gene Colan?  Colan was there about a year before you were.

MS:      When I started Gene Colan was there and John Buscema was also there.  I spoke to Gene the first day or two I started working.  He told me that he had talked with Stan Lee about working for him and they didn’t quite get together and had a “little misunderstanding”.  He ended up going to DC and was working over there until Stan asked him to come back.  Gene Colan had been in the business about 7 or 8 months before I got in and he was back when I arrived.

MV:     Colan and Buscema started at about the same time in 1948.  Colan’s work from the very beginning was beautiful.  His figure work was very strong and this showed no matter who ended up inking him, and he was saddled with some poor inkers in these days.

MS:      Well many of the inkers were not as good artists as the pencillers.  There were exceptions like Vince Alascia and George Klein.

MV:     Yes.  Many inkers did nothing “but” ink.

MS:      That’s because they weren’t very good! (laughs).

MV:     John Buscema’s Timely work was not as strong as Colan’s, in my opinion.  Buscema became a master artist but the Timely stuff appeared stiff at times and the inking often awful.

MS:      Not everyone matures at the same rate as an artist.  Buscema became an incredible artist.  I always thought he was pretty good even back then, though.  He was a young, good-looking kid back then who kept about 6 or 7 pencils in his hand all the time (laughs) and the girls just loved to talk to him, I remember.

MV:     I’ve heard that before!  A real lady’s man.

MS:      Yes but a nice, friendly fellow.  Gene was just as friendly and could clown around.  He was always smiling and always had something funny to say.  And he could draw like a demon! (laughs).  But you are correct in saying that Buscema’s work at this time wasn’t near the caliber of Gene Colan’s.  And Buscema did go on to become a great, great talent.  In this business first all you’d be interested in is getting in and getting a paying job.  After that you’d want to get to a point where they’d let you do some penciling or signing your name.  I think they kept me penciling for at least 8 or 9 months.

MV:     At that time “nobody” was signing their work at Timely. I think maybe this was because they weren’t doing the complete job themselves. You’d have more of a tendency to sign your name if you penciled “and’ inked it. 

MS:      That’s true but some guys did get to sign, I recall.

MV:     I’ve seen Carl Burgos crime stories in 1948 signed by both Lee and Burgos. There were signatures occasionally in the humor books also.

MS:      I don’t remember Burgos being on staff but he would certainly have some kind of seniority there so I could see him signing his work.

MV:     He goes back to the dawn of the company in 1939. 

MS:      He drew the Human Torch, didn’t he?

MV:     Yes. He came out of the Funnies Inc. shop and Martin Goodman bought one of his shop features for the very first Timely comic, MARVEL COMICS #1.  His feature rated a cover spot although he didn’t draw the cover.

MS:      I remember the Torch but by the time I got there those hero books were just about gone.

MV:     They were on a downward fadeout since the war ended but took until 1949 to finally vanish from the newsstands.  Who else sticks out in your memory?

MS:      I remember two letterers, Artie Simek and Mario Acquaviva. 

MV:     I believe they were Timely’s main letterers at that time.

MS:      I remember George Klein.

MV:     He was primarily an inker but did pencil also.

MS:      He was a bit of an exception.  Most guys did one or the other.

MV:     Both Klein and Christopher Rule did both. Do you recall an inker named Violet Barclay?

MS:      Yeah.  She was Mike Sekowsky’s girlfriend.  She was very good looking.

MV:     That’s certainly what everyone says. A real knockout.  I did meet her in person a few years ago and she’s still very attractive.  She didn’t really want to talk about her work at Timely, preferring to gossip about the artists instead.  But she was very nice and gave me another take on the Timely bullpen.

MS:      I’m sure she did.  I also recall names like Dick Ayers, John Romita and Tom Gill.  Gill I knew from school, as I mentioned.  The others I may be confusing as later freelancers.

MV:     Romita and Ayers were later freelancers.  Gill did freelance work also.  Joe Sinnott’s earliest work was working for Tom Gill on stories Gill was freelancing for Timely.  In fact, some of these are signed by Gill and 100% Sinnott.

MS:      Artists often worked for other artists, especially when they were trying to break in.

MV:     Dick Ayers, while a later freelancer, “did” pencil a single crime story for Timely in 1949.  He went there looking for work and was paid for an 8 pager.  I’ve never been able to find it for him.  What about Christopher Rule?

MS:      I remember that he worked in the same room as I did.  He kinda looked like Santa Claus.

MV:     That’s what everyone says.  He was older than most of the artists there, having been a fashion artist with the Hearst newspapers and a children’s book illustrator since the late 1920’s.

MS:      I never knew that. When you were as young as I was back then you didn’t pay much attention to the history of the other fellows, especially the older gentlemen.

MV:     Pierce Rice?

MS:      I don’t recall the name.  He may have been a freelancer.

MV:     Pierce Rice drew a lot of westerns in 1949.  I don’t know for sure whether he was on staff or a freelancer.  What about Joe Maneely?  I’m guessing you wouldn’t have known him as he began freelancing in 1949 but really didn’t blossom at Timely until 1950 and beyond. 

MS:      I missed him as far as being associated with him.  I do remember the long piece you wrote about him last year and they printed a lot of examples of his artwork.  I do remember that style and do remember that he was in an awfully lot of those Timely books in 1950 and 1951.

MV:     He was fast, versatile and possibly the most prolific artist of the 1950’s.

MS:      Artists like him were paid attention to by the other artists.  Anyone who was “good” and “fast” were valued more by management.  Mike Sekowsky was like that.  Good and very fast.  I also remember that any artist who Stan Lee spent a lot of time with were better artists. Sekowsky and Syd Shores I remember. Stan rarely even said good morning to us. (laughs).

MV:     Well Maneely and Stan became very close and good friends over the years, later working on tons of features together and some syndicated strips also.

MS:      That’s what I meant.  When Stan spent more time with an artist they were apt to be more important artists to him.  Anyone who got a “good morning” was one of his favorites! (laughs).

MV:     Another name from that period that I’m sure was a staffer was Pete Tumlinson.  He drew romance stories in the bullpen and was all over the western books on features like KID COLT.

MS:      Oh I knew Pete Tumlinson very well.  Pete was from Texas like me.  When I started I was under Syd Shores’ watch and Stan told me to check with Pete Tumlinson if I ever needed any help.  Pete was a good artist and we became good acquaintances.  He would come over to me while I was working and see how I was doing.  He was a small fellow and if I remember correctly, he was there throughout the bullpen break-up.  I heard he eventually went back to Texas to work on his family’s ranch.  That’s the last I ever heard about him.

MV:     He did freelance for quite a while up through 1955 on mostly horror stories and then he vanishes.  Not many stories, though.

MS:      He possibly freelanced long distance after he moved back home.  From a curiosity standpoint, I looked him up here in Texas years later but never had any luck.  There were a lot of Tomlinsons but no Tumlinsons. 

MV:     Vince Alascia?

MS:      I sat right behind him!  He worked very steadily and had very little to say.  I remember he had a dry sense of humor, though.  He seemed withdrawn and upset most of the time because he was so quiet but every now and then he would make a small, dry crack and then we knew he was still alive.  (laughs).  He “did” talk quite a bit with Syd Shores, sitting near him and always extremely busy inking.  He worked very hard with his head down, always intently concentrating on the work.  He was definitely one of Timely’s busiest inkers.  I’ll bet he was Timely’s “busiest” inker.   Speaking of inkers, I remember one inker who inked with a white glove.  I can’t remember his name.  I’d never seen that before and I remember thinking that perhaps that was the mark of a real professional! (laughs).  What did I know?  The white-glove fellow was an inker-letterer.

MV:     I’ve never heard anyone mention such a characteristic but maybe I can ask around and see who may remember.

MS:      I’m sure someone would.  It was a real stand-out and we all made comment about it.

MV:     Now Bill Everett was a freelancer for Timely throughout the earlier 1940’s.  He went off to war and came back in the late 1940’s, late 1948/early 1949.  Did you know him and/or do you have any recollections of him around the Timely offices in 1949?  He would have been one of those artists you mention that Stan would have probably spent a lot of time talking to.

MS:      I don’t have a specific recollection of him but then again I was way in the back of the room.  I didn’t really ever see what went on in the offices or in the hallways. But I’ll tell you who I do remember.  I saw a picture of Al Bellman in the issue of ALTER EGO where you interviewed him and I remember him clear as a bell.  He was up front and very friendly.  A happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He’d sit down and work hard and kid around with John Buscema during lunch.  Probably kidding him about all the girls around John! (laughs).  Things like that we used to break up the monotony.

MV:     Did the artists socialize outside the workplace?

MS:      The only person I ever really socialized with outside the workplace, as I remember, was Pete Tumlinson.  I was quite taken with Gene Colan’s work and got to know him well also.  He was a real nice man.  We always spoke quite a bit.  Either he was engaged at the time or newly married, I can’t remember.  My wife and I went out with them for dinner on one occasion.  I recall he told me that his father didn’t want him to get into the comic book business and predicted he wouldn’t make it, or something like that.  I read somewhere, an interview, where Gene said he started up in 1946 with John Buscema but that isn’t true.  I remember Gene telling me when I got there in 1948 that both him and John Buscema were newcomers and both were recently there before me. I think Gene had worked for Stan Lee first on a freelance basis, then left and returned.  He and Stan were playing a game of chicken to see who was going to pay enough to keep him there.  He ended up staying at Timely.

MV:     That’s an interesting story.  I’ve spoken to Gene about when he started and based on the evidence of the actual books themselves, early 1948 is where I placed him.

MS:      Gene might not remember that but I do very clearly.  I was very attentive when people spoke and my memory is still sharp.

MV:     Once when we spoke before you mentioned to me that you lived outside Manhattan while on staff.

MS:      After we got settled in and after the bullpen closed, I moved out to Sheepshead Bay.

MV:     In Brooklyn.

MS:      Yes, a small two-story house built against all the others in a row.

MV:     Sure, I know those types of homes.  They’re throughout Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.  But your mention of the closure of the bullpen now leads to my asking what you actually remember about that exact event. What were the circumstances leading up to the decision to close the Timely bullpen as you remember it? Were staffers let go all at once or a little at a time?

MS:      To start, the rumors were rampant for a while before it actually happened.  We got wind of what was going on.  Some of us got nervous wondering what was going to happen.

MV:     What were the rumors?

MS:      I recall that they, management, decided to cut back.  Sales were slowing up and the staff was turning out more artwork than they could actually print.  They were overloaded and wanted to reel it back in.  I remember we were wondering who would go first.  I don’t remember the details but Al Bellman was correct in that someone would be called up to the front and the next day he wouldn’t be there.  What I began to do when I first heard the rumor, but before anyone was let go, was to scout around in my time off and seek other places looking for work.  I was able to pick up one or two jobs before the very end. And what the end entailed was simply that you stopped working at the office and began to work at home instead, on a freelance basis.  My work never really stopped for Timely.  They were changing some of their titles, some were canceled, others were added, and you did a job not knowing where it would appear and usually it would be printed in a magazine different to where you expected it to appear.  That was confusing to me because I didn’t know “why” they were doing that.

MV:     Well there was a mini-implosion of the line-up of titles in 1949.  Timely had flooded the market with books, especially romance titles, causing a glut, and in a short time they were nearly all canceled after 2 issues. There was a lot of flux with more artwork than could be used and declining sales.  It was a real transitional period in the company’s history.  And in the middle of it all was the firing of the staff.  Can you pinpoint exactly when you were let go?  Were you one of the earlier casualties?

MS:      I wasn’t let go early on.  It was probably right in the middle.

MV:     Was this late 1949?

MS:      No, it was early 1950.  I remember when it began to happen we all asked Syd Shores what was going on.  He was the eyes and ears to the world to us.  We figured that if there was any information to get we would most likely get it from him. Though if I remember correctly, he would tell us almost nothing.  I’m sure he was told to keep quiet.  It was a nervous time but I weathered it ok.  I got outside work and still continued to pick up freelance stories from Timely.

MV:     Was Martin Goodman around the offices much? Did the artists ever see him?

MS:      I remember seeing him twice.  That’s it in about a year and a half on staff and it was at a distance.  He was rarely seen.  Stan Lee was always going in to see him.  He didn’t come to see Stan.  I always knew “who” he was but rarely saw him.

MV:     What about your recollection of you being let go?

MS:      Stan just told me as I was turning in a story.  It was kind of like “Oh by the way, Sitton” (laughs).  It wasn’t “clear right out and leave your pencil”, but more like “don’t worry, we’ll still have work for you”.  “Stay in touch.” “I’ll call you next week.”  That kind of stuff.

MV:     So Stan tempered the firing by mentioning the offer of continued work on a freelance basis?

MS:      Yes.  It was supposed to be a thinning out.  Let a bunch go and even the boat out a bit.  But it turned out to be much more.  They didn’t let everyone go.  They needed a production staff to make corrections, paste-ups, etc.  The thought was that things would eventually settle down and we’d possibly be re-hired. They made us think it was temporary and only a few would go.  But it wasn’t so. The business of producing comic books was still ongoing and from an artist’s point of view, Timely always had  freelancers in addition to the staff, so it didn’t necessarily seem like that big a deal at first.  But we didn’t have our finger on the actual pulse of the industry, at least I didn’t.  Many of us were ignorant of the financial aspect of the industry.  But we did seek out new accounts from other companies.  Older guys who knew better would tell us to stay away from Fox because he wouldn’t always pay! (laughs).

MV:     That was a well known story.

MS:      (Laughs).  That story got around to everyone!  It makes me wonder how Fox got anyone to work for him!  Believe it or not, I did end up doing some work for Fox.


SPECTACULAR STORIES MAGAZINE
 #4 (July/50) [Fox]


MV:     Did you get paid?

MS:      Yes. He beat others out of money sometimes but I got paid.

MV:     Outside of Timely, who else did you work for?

MS:      I worked for Avon, Fox, Quality, Hillman and Fawcett also.

MV:     One of the most famous books where one of your stories appeared in was in Avon’s FAMOUS GANGSTERS #1 in early 1951.

MS:      I did the Dutch Schultz story in that issue.



FAMOUS GANGSTERS #1 (Apr/51) [Avon]


MV:     How long did it take for you to return to Stan Lee as a freelancer?  Was there a gap between Timely, the work you did at Avon, Fawcett, etc, and your return?  Or were you juggling all the different accounts at once?

FAMOUS GANGSTERS #1 (Apr/51)
p.1 [Avon]

MS:      It actually was only a few weeks that I was gone from Timely.  Stan told me to stay in touch and almost immediately I had a freelance story from him.  So I really did all this work concurrently.  I was learning to hustle and getting much more confident in my ability.  I was doing the pencils and inks now while on the Timely staff, I only penciled.

MV:     Looking over the freelance work you did for Stan, it becomes obvious that your forte` was crime stories.  You did more of that type of story than any other.  Yet Timely was publishing more horror type books than any other type and you are nowhere to be found.  Why didn’t you draw any horror stories for Stan Lee?  Were you just pegged as a crime artist?

MS:      That may be the reason.  I really don’t know.  I never tried horror stories or maybe they saw I was best suited for crime stories.  It’s hard to say.




MV:     But there were so many horror titles with stories drawn by artists I would “never” associate with horror stories, artists like Chris Rule, George Klein, even John Tartaglione and Al Hartley,.  You would have fit in just as well as they did and if I may say so, even better.

MS:      Thank you for saying that but the answer is that I really don’t know.  I never thought about the fact that I wasn’t drawing horror stories.  I must have been better in the realistic stories rather than in the supernatural.

MV:     One of your earliest freelance stories was a sports story in the Atlas title SPORTS ACTION, drawn in late 1950.  After that it was all crime in titles like  ALL-TRUE CRIME, AMAZING DETECTIVE CASES, CRIME CAN’T WIN, CRIME CASES COMICS, CRIME EXPOSED, CRIME MUST LOSE, SPY CASES  and JUSTICE COMICS.  You also did quite a few western stories and I think you excelled in them.  They were extremely realistic.  Did you like the westerns? They certainly were popular in the movies of the time and you’re from out west yourself.

SPORTS ACTION #6 (Mar/51) [Atlas]

MS:      In all honesty, I liked crime stories better than the westerns, but as far as what I “thought” I would have liked, I should have liked the westerns better because I grew up with horses and farms.  They just didn't appeal to me as much.  I tried real hard to do the crime stories as realistic as possible.  Stan must have liked them and kept me on crime stories over anything else.  Looking back, I put a lot of effort into those crime stories.

MV:     You did westerns in titles like ARIZONA KID, THE GUNHAWK and WESTERN OUTLAWS AND SHERIFFS but one real nice story you did was a Ringo Kid story.    This story actually predated every other Ringo Kid story and was a different take on the character, actually a villain in the story who dies at the end.  The Ringo Kid was later the domain of Joe Maneely, John Severin and Syd Shores.  Do you remember anything about this story?



WESTERN OUTLAWS and Sheriffs #73 (June/52) [Atlas]
MS:      Not really.  It was just luck I was handed the script, I’m certain.  With all the “Kids” Stan Lee used I’m not surprised they’d re-use the name after this villain died at the end.  It’s a great name for a western character so why let it go to waste? (laughs).

MV:     That’s as good an explanation as any.  It is a great name and it became a great western character throughout the 1950’s.

MS:      Like I said, it was probably a spare filler story and they cannibalized the name!

MV:     It’s a neat little story and you did a wonderful job with it.  You had a natural flair for western settings but didn’t do too many for Stan Lee for some reason.

 MS:      I did do others for Quality in RANGE ROMANCES and Avon in KIT CARSON,  some were even western romance stories, I recall.  I think I did more westerns away from Timely. But yes, the Ringo Kid story was a nice job and I’m proud of it.


KIT CARSON (nn) (1950) [Avon]

MV:     One of the things I’ve discovered since we last spoke was that the scriptor on many of your crime stories for Timely was a prolific writer named Carl Wessler.  Do you have any recollections of Carl?  He would have been freelancing scripts while you were freelancing art.

MS:      I remember his name but I don’t have any real recollections.  The only writer I really remember was named Chapman, and of course Stan Lee.

MV:     That would be Hank Chapman.  Besides Stan Lee, Chapman was about the only writer to sign his name to his stories.  He was primarily a war scripter for all the Timely war titles but did write horror and others also. 

MS:      I met Hank Chapman coming out of the Timely offices after he had been in to see Stan Lee.  He was bringing in a story and there was a deadline.  He wanted to speak to the artist in person because there was something he wanted done a certain way.  This must have been towards the end of my staff days because Stan allowed him to come back and talk to me at my desk.  Most of the time an artist can handle the written descriptions in a script and interpret it anyway we’d like.  On this particular script Chapman wanted something done a certain way, as I remember it, and I did it the way he wanted, his interpretation.

MV:     I wonder what story that was now.  As I mentioned, Chapman always signed his stories as they appeared in 1951-53.  None of your freelanced stories were signed by him and therefore not seemingly written by him.  This might then place his freelance writing   back into the Timely bullpen days, something I didn’t possibly realize.

MS:      Well he came back and spoke to me while I was on staff so what you say must be true.

MV:     What did a script look like?

MS:      They were typed with descriptive matter and dialogue written out.  I could decide if I wanted to do a close-up in a panel.  There was a lot of leeway if I thought it would best illustrate the story.

MV:     What made you stop working for Stan Lee and comics in general?

MS:      My wife and I had been in New York for about five years and we had been back to visit Texas a few times.  For my wife it was getting harder to keep returning to new York.

MV:     Did you plan on continuing to forge a career in comic books or did you make a decision to give something else a try?

MS:      The feeling was that the comic book business was a bit shaky and I decided that with my wife wanting to move back to Texas to be near her mother and father, that maybe I could do it from down here.  I’d heard about other freelancers from outside New York sending their work in from long distance and I thought I could possibly do that also.  I asked Stan and he said “sure, you could do that”.  So I was very happy about that and my wife and I went back home to Texas.  I’m not sure how long I did it for, sending in story art from scripts mailed out to me.  I remember Stan would send me a script, I’d pencil it and air-mail it back to him.  They’d check it, letter it and air-mail it back to me.  I’d then clean it up, ink it and air-mail it back with a bill.  This seemed to be a somewhat inefficient system so when the scripts petered out I knew that Stan preferred to use freelancers close by in the New York area and I looked around for other opportunities here in Dallas.  To see what was available, I went down to the local newspapers.  At that time there were two large newspapers in Dallas and I went to see the art director at one of them.  He was very friendly and happy to see me.  We talked and discussed about what I’d been doing the last few years, working and drawing comics.  My background in commercial art made me a good choice to handle anything they could offer. Layouts, airbrush, etc.  So I asked him about a salary and he told me he could start me out at $60/wk.  I was a bit taken back and told him that I didn’t mean to be insulting but I could make that in a day drawing comics!  (laughs).

MV:     What did he say?

MS:      He told me to stay with comics! (laughs).  Anyhow, so I was feeling out the market at that time and later on when I finally quit comic books I took a job at a commercial art studio in Dallas.  There were 5 or 6 artists, all doing work for different clients… printers, advertising agents and so forth.  That’s how I finally got started in commercial art here in Dallas.

MV:     So by the end of about 1952, early 1953, you were pretty much out of the comic book business?

MS:      Yes.  What happened was it began to get longer and longer between scripts.  I would send in a bill when I returned the art to Stan Lee and put a note in for another script.  It finally petered out.  The handwriting was on the wall.  I accepted it because it was my own fault for leaving New York.  You had to really be there if you wanted the next script.  There was a lot of competition and obviously the New York based artists would get top priority unless they were running over with scripts.  I understood and accepted that.

MV:     This time period, 1952-53 corresponds with the outside attacks against comic books by the media and a psychiatrist named Frederic Wertham.

MS:      Yes, I heard about him and saw what was happening.

MV:     A lot of companies that published the more lurid crime and horror books went out of business.  But Timely responded by toning down the content and actually “increasing” their publishing line, flooding the newsstands with redundant product.  They employed and continued to employ more freelancers than anyone in the business.

MS:      Well that was how Goodman operated throughout my tenure at Timely, as I saw it.

MV:     Ok, let’s move on now.  After you got out of comics, throughout the rest of the 1950’s, what did you do?

MS:      I took a job at the Whaley art studio.  It was the largest commercial art studio south of Chicago.  It was the biggest thing in the southwest.  They had a stable of about 8 or 10 artists.  Everybody could do almost everything or anything.  A lot of small advertising agencies at that time depended on outside art services so we did artwork for everybody…printers, engraving plants and advertising agencies.   I went from there to forming my own little art studio in an existing engraving plant.  It was called Sitton Art Service and it ran for about 3 or 4 years.

MV:     What kind of art did you turn out?

MS:      We did everything and anything.  We did letterheads, photo re-touching, anything at all.  There was a lot of that going on back then.  Someone would bring in a photo of a building and there’d be a telephone line running across the brickwork in front. We’d have to get rid of it! (laughs).  We’d cut overlays for photographs.  Everything is now done with computers but back then it was all done by hand.  I even got into, of all things, designing milk cartons!  We had a big business doing that.  There were one or two big milk carton plants here in Dallas who produced milk cartons for the entire American Southwest.

MV:     Did you and your wife have any children?

MS:      No, my first wife and I adopted a son and I built a home out near Cedar Hill, Texas, which is outside of Dallas.  It was a nice place out there, about 5 acres, and we enjoyed the country life.  I worked in Dallas and it was pretty good for a while. Later she got ill and things were tougher.  But I pressed on.

MV:     Now in addition to your syndicated feature “Nature Was First”, you worked up a bunch of syndicated strips that never went very far, correct?

MS:      Yes.  One was called DOLLY O’DAY.  I thought it was a really good feature.  It was about the first female secretary who worked in an office.  They used to call them type writers.

[Marion probably meant the first female newspaper reporter.]


DOLLY O'DAY daily #2


MV:     What year was this?

MS:      It was about 1955.  The name on the strip with mine, a Bill Fitzgerald, was a friend of mine.  Believe it or not, he went to school with me in New York at the Cartoonist and Illustrators School.  He didn’t get into the comic book business and wasn’t really good enough to do a strip by himself.  He was single and his parents talked him into coming back to Texas.  Then many years later when I came back, he was working in Forth Worth as a commercial artist and we got back together and tried to put out a comic strip.  I worked it up, did about a month of continuity and made photostatic copies of them, mailing the originals to the Los Angeles Sun’s syndicate in California.  I called after a while and they admitted receiving the strips and the proposal.  In fact, the person admitting receiving them was the son of the owner or the editor, I forget which.  After that, they lost them.  Flat out lost all the strips and then wouldn’t admit ever even seeing them!  They had to change their story.  I was very disgusted and after that I felt it wasn’t worth it.  The second strip I did I decided to go a different route.  It was called NULLY FY and it was a modern type humor strip with much simpler artwork, about the space age.  It centered around a professor that taught in a University, Brane University or “Brane U.” (laughs).  His name was Nully Fy and the other characters were his wife Mummy Fy, daughter Misty Fy, son Terry Fy, and Misty’s boyfriend Cy Clone.  Then there were colleagues of Nully Fy at the Brane University like Dr. Koz Mose, Doc Trin, Dr. Mike Krobe and some real cuties, Dr. Anna  List and professor Molly Kule.



NULLY FY press kit

MV:     And the year on this?

MS:      The late 1960’s I believe.  I couldn’t get it out of my system.  I met up with a guy in Dallas that had a few features syndicated with Winford Company  Features.  He was turning them out himself and was a political-minded person and a good idea man.  I think he had 2 or 3 different syndicated features going, one about cars and one about puzzles. He worked out of his house and even had a printing press there, which was against the law.  I talked to a woman down at the Dallas Morning News, a comics editor, and she said to get in touch with him.  So I met him and got details together and he liked it and was going to put it out.  He printed up a promotional booklet to promote the feature for the syndicate, mailed out flyers to the newspapers and everything looked like it was a go but then he had some financial reverses in his family.  He was sued about something and the strip collapsed.  I tried to continue pushing it in my spare time but eventually I gave up on it.  It was a shame because it was a fine feature with artwork that predated the simplistic art seen in today’s comic strips. I analyzed what was out there and came up with something that was unique for it’s time.  I used thick outlines on these characters, what you call “bigfoot” drawing. The art was very clean, simple and only 2 or 3 steps above stick figures.   I still believe it has a lot of potential.

NULLY FY daily

MV:     From the samples you showed me, I liked it a great deal.  In fact I thought both were real good.  Dolly O’Day was an interesting historical strip with clean, crisp realistic artwork.  It resembled, and was a good as, any number of similar syndicated features. 

MS:      I think it was as good as many I saw in the papers.

MV:     For certain.  And Nully Fy had great stylized art and as you say, the art style pre-dated what we see commonly now.  Except that the art is better than much of what now passes for syndicated humor strip art. 

MS:      What I needed and what I should have had was a good push.  I also needed to not have been so involved in other projects at the same time.  I also needed a good agent!  I felt if you threw it out there and if no one grabbed it, you put it back up on the shelf and forgot it.  But that’s not the way you do it.  You have to push, something I never did.

MV:     Do originals exist of NULLY FY?

MS:      Yes, I have the originals here.  I’d still be interested in pursuing it on any basis.  I just feel it was a good strip and worthy of syndication.  If someone had the business mind to push, it could still be done.  I used to do that when I lived in New York, send to newspapers and such.  I even remember there was a syndicate magazine sent to newspapers that listed all the syndicated features and who was drawing or doing what.  When you are in the business you know all the outlets.  I’m long out of the loop.  But anyone with commercial where-with-all can contact me.  I’d still, at this late date, want to follow this up. I have tons of ideas and concepts.

MV:     What was the Charlie Weaver strip about?

MS:      Someone had put me onto the fact that Charlie Weaver was interested in branching out and getting into syndication.  I whipped up some single panels and also a strip.  On the strip I used a realistic approach.  On the panel, I kept it cartoony.  I sent them to him and we exchanged letters.  He told me he was interested in what I proposed and also that he collected miniature army soldiers and the like.  He was like a big kid.

MV:     What happened?

MS:      Well as I was working it up more definitively he had a heart attack and died.   So that was very unfortunate.  I was really hoping I’d be able to work with him on that project.   The panels I worked up had the writer’s name as Cliff Arquette, which was Charlie Weaver’s real name. I have film negatives of many of the strips but as I mentioned,  the originals were sent to Cliff.  Unfortunately I don’t have the correspondence with him any longer.  I wish I still did.  He was very funny and quite popular.
 

Charlie Weaver daily panel

MV:     I remember him as a mainstay of HOLLYWOOD SQUARES.

MS:      Yes and he was also with Jack Par on The Tonight Show.  And there was one additional syndicated attempt also.  I worked up a feature called SAM SAGE SAYS.  I used a realistic style, it was panel feature and had a philosophical saying written in rhyme.  But that didn’t go anywhere either unfortunately.


SAM SAGE SAYS daily panel

MV:     Let’s talk now about your career as “The World’s Greatest Crayon Artist”. How did that come about? 

MS:      I was playing bridge one night in a bridge club I belonged to with my second wife, and I was bragging about art.  They were asking me questions and I told them that hell, I could draw with anything.   What I meant was that I could turn out something serious like a painting using anything at all.  My second wife then went and got a box of Crayolas and pitched them at me, telling me to do something with them.  So I did and it turned out just like a painting.  But later on I developed the idea and the technique about how to do it.  In fact, as you know, I’ve written a book on the subject, actually a completed manuscript that I haven’t gotten published.  I’ve gotten many write-ups, in the Southeast Airlines magazine and the Morning news wrote about me in their supplement.    I also put out my own Christmas cards with pictures I painted of outdoor scenes.  I worked with a printer and sold them wholesale to people.  I painted geese, deer, pheasants and wood ducks, all in full color.  I made some money on that but didn’t want to repeat it the next year due to being too busy. At that time I was living in Cedar Hill and working as my own art studio.  Then I went to the advertising agencies and worked for four different ones here in Dallas.  I was an art director as well as doing production, creative and idea work.  I won some awards there.

MV:     So when did you get the idea of writing the crayon book?

MS:      It was probably in the early 1970’s.

MV:     The book is completely laid out and ready to go.


The New Crayon Art Book

MS:      Oh yes.  I showed you samples.  I’ve done many crayon portraits over the years and I did one of Marty Ingels’ wife, the actress Shirley Jones. They had a summer musical that came through here and I did her portrait and carried it out to the show and went backstage.


 Shirley Jones in crayon

Marty and Shirley loved it but I wanted to add additional backgrounds and they offered to fly me out to Los Angeles when it was done.  I took them up on it and they insisted on paying me $500 dollars for it.  I have many pictures of the portrait and one time I was at home watching LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS and they did a segment on Shirley Jones and Marty Ingels.  As they were panning the walls showing her photos and awards, what do you think was on the wall??  Right in the middle was my crayon portrait of her!

MV:     Wow!  You must have been shocked and proud.


Marion with Shirley Jones and Marty Ingels in Los Angeles (1970's)



MS:      I certainly was.  Over the years I’ve done many celebrity portraits…Barbara Streisand, John Denver, and Johnny Carson also.  I’ve also done outdoor scenes like Kato Lake where it’s swampy with cypress trees, Spanish moss and water lilies.  I’ve also done a nice sunflower with a hummingbird.  Many, many others

MV:     I really like that hummingbird one. It’s real cute. I’m very impressed with the medium.  I had no idea it could be used this way.



Letter from Shirley Jones and Marty Ingels with photo of framed portrait in their home





MS:      It’s a great medium and if I can find a publisher for this book it would show people what can be done artistically with crayons.  Such a book would be a natural for schools and children. I think it would sell very well to the right audience.

MV:     I agree and I wish you luck with it.  Now I want you to tell me your brush with Elvis history.

MS:      (laughing).   A friend of mine told me a wild story about an early Elvis recording that had been discovered.  The details were unbelievable and as we later found out, “not” believable!  I was asked to do the artwork on the little 45 record jacket and help on promotion and advertising.  I was offered a financial interest in the venture, but I refused.  It was finally released and the press and the public couldn’t “believe it”! And neither did RCA in New York.  They swept down on Dallas, Texas with two record officials and four lawyers.  I had to testify at the trial that I didn’t really know whether it was Elvis on the record, and apparently it wasn’t!  They shut it down and it was over.  I can say now that I did the original art on the only genuine Elvis fake record ever made!


Lost Elvis Presley record later proven to be a fake

Back cover of Record Jacket

MV:     What other kinds of projects were you working on?

MS:      Outside of art and comics, I invented a Texas rocking chair for children.  I made and painted a score of them in 10 years but it was hard to mass-produce.  Later I came up with a new version made up of only five pieces that fit and locked together without nails or screws.



The Texas rocking chair




Sitton Rocker Logo



MV:     I’d like to talk about the photos you sent me.  One is of a group of artists.  Where did that take place?

MS:      That’s taken at The Cartoonist and Illustrator’s School.  Tom Gill is in that picture right in the middle.


At the Cartoonist and Illustrator's School - Marion at far left


MV:     I see him with the bow tie and I see you on the left.

MS:      Bernie Hogarth was there also and at the time he was impressed that I was the only other artist there syndicated.  He would help me sometimes and I would ask him questions about layouts, the best way to present something, etc.  He was very helpful.

MV:     I also have a copy of a letter from Stan Lee to you.  What prompted you to write him in 1971?


Stan Lee letter to Marion dated 7-22-71

MS:      Well even after almost 20 years out of the comic book business, I couldn’t stop wondering whether I could get back in.  It never left my mind so I finally decided to write my old boss.  I wasn’t financially destitute or anything like that, I was working and busy, but I decided to see what was going on in comics and especially since I had told people that I knew Stan Lee and that he originally had hired me.  Now I had to prove I knew him!  (laughs).  So I drew up some samples and I had some photostatic copies made of splash pages I’d done in the past and wrote Stan a letter.  I basically reminded him of my work for Timely and that I was wondering if I could get back in. 

MV:     And what happened?

MS:      He was nice enough to write me back but told me the business was as bad as it was in the old days and that there weren’t enough assignments to keep all the artists busy. He said he’d give my samples to his production man, John Verpoorten to hold.

MV:     John was a well-loved production man and also an artist, an inker. Unfortunately he died at a very young age within a few years.

MS:      I didn’t know that and am sorry to hear that.

MV:     It would have been interesting to see what kind of work you could have done in the 1970’s.  Marvel at that time was trying a lot of new directions.  Most of their output was superhero fare but they began to release a lot of horror and adventure material also, in both color comics and in black and white magazines. I could see you picking up a freelance assignment or two in the horror magazines.  They were occasionally using artists like Sam Kweskin and Jack Katz, fine artists both, who had done most of their work in the 1950’s. They also began to reprint a lot of the old Timely/Atlas horror material.  Unfortunately, a great deal of your work was in the Timely crime books which were never reprinted.

MS:      That figures, a generation that never knew my work! (laughs).  Well I wasn’t there too long compared to other fellows like Gene Colan, John Buscema and Syd Shores.

MV:     But you were important to the line during the years you “were” there.  Is there anything else you’d like to add?

MS:      Only that I thoroughly enjoyed my days at Timely.  Perhaps I pulled out and went home too soon, perhaps not, but I appreciated the camaraderie and learned a great deal. I thank Stan Lee for the opportunity to work there. But taking it back further, I’d like to thank my late brother Bill.  Bill was my mentor and was the one who encouraged me the most. My mother started it all for me by giving me birth.  Since then, I’ve been to a lot of places and experienced many adventures with the best of friends.  We wouldn’t even be doing this interview today if not for you.  Your persistence and insistence found me and my comic book work (that even I had lost).

MV:     No Marion, the pleasure was all mine!

(January 19, 2004)





ODDS and ENDS :







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