Alter Ego (Sept/18) :
Where has the time gone? It’s hard to believe that it’s been 14 years since my interview with Allen Bellman was originally published here in Alter Ego #32 (Jan/04). When I tracked down Allen in 1998 my intentions were to speak to one of Timely’s early unknown links, get his story for posterity and in the process shed some well-deserved light on a career long forgotten by comics history. I knew of his accomplishments but for the most part, very few others did. What I got instead, was a life-long friend.
In he ensuing years, the interview was uploaded to my Timely-Atlas blog, the wider world was exposed to his story, and quite simply, to use the parlance of the digital age ... Allen went viral! Like an explosion, Allen (and his lovely wife Roz) became one of the most popular guests on the national convention circuit, bringing his memories and stories of working in the Empire State Building in the 1940's for a young Stan Lee to fans everywhere. Allen may be able to lay claim to the fact that he is the last man left standing who drew Captain America during the war years of the golden age. This fact has has not gone unnoticed by fandom and Marvel in particular. When the first Captain America film opened in Hollywood in 2011 (Captain America: The First Avenger), Allen walked the Red Carpet!
AB: Thank you, Michael. I wish you an even happier one! You and your family.
AB: They were an item back then, Klein and Valerie, who I knew then as Violet.
AB: Right. It was also the first and only time I ever had the opportunity to meet Joe Simon, who left the year before I arrived at Timely. So I’m sitting next to Joe Simon and I ask him, “do you remember Robbie Solomon?” Simon answered, “that son of a bitch!” I told him about how Robbie rode me so hard at Timely, and Simon said, “he did the exact same thing to me! Telling me how to draw!” You know, that made me feel fantastic. If the great Joe Simon, co-creator of one of the greatest comic book characters of all time, was ridiculed by Robbie Solomon, I now felt honored to have been likewise ridiculed.
Doc V: It really brings it full circle. The entire thing is an interesting psychological situation, the different ways harsh treatment … look, let’s call it the way it sounds, “bullying” … the ways bullying affects young people. Some can shrug it off, others cannot. Sadly, it only took 65 years to put this to rest.
AB: I think it was the best also. I look at some of those stories today and really can see how much I improved from the 1940’s into the 1950’s. But it took a lot of time for me to have confidence in myself. When you are knocked down at a young age, like I was, depending on your personality, it can affect you. It affected me for years.
Doc V: Now that’s an interesting observation. And I’m sorry to hear that it was something that you’ve carried for so many years, whether it’s true or not. It’s remarkable how seemingly insignificant things that people say or how they treat others, and I’m talking about Robbie Solomon here, do in fact occasionally leave lasting scars. I suppose the fact that they were both management of sorts, and related also, made it worse.
Doc V: What does Roz think about the last 10 years? Before I called you, you had a normal life. Now your life is perpetual comic book craziness.
AB: The publisher, Audrey Parente and Richard did a wonderful job putting this together.
AB: Audrey was promoting a small pulp magazine convention and asked me to be a guest. While we were talking I brought up the fact that I was trying to find someone to help me with my biography. Audrey had a small publishing company, had worked as a reporter for a newspaper, and she offered her services. Audrey spent a lot of time with me and a tape recorder I bought. We met at my house, we met at restaurants, and I basically spilled my guts on tape for hours and hours on end over several different sessions. It probably took about a year to get it all done. She then transcribed the tapes, put things in order as best she could, and then sent it all to you.
Doc V: I had a lot of fun with it, Allen. Much of it I was familiar with and everything dovetailed perfectly with what we spoke about in the past. But there were so many more personal stories. Stories about your family, your children, your struggles in early life … things only you could put down properly into words. Some of it I thought was too personal for public consumption. Audrey and Rich spend a few hours with me in my office going over the book with me. Just wonderful people.
AB: I left it in your hands, Michael. You know my career better than I do.
AB: He did. He was working as a short-order cook in a diner in New Jersey and I think the mob got him. Maybe he owed them money, I don’t know. It was a tragedy, an end like that, when a few years earlier he was a talented and creative guy. What alcohol did to him was unbelievable. In the office he was soft spoken, polite … “Allen, could you ink this cover, we’re in a bind.” Like that. I loved the guy.
I know I’ve said this before, but there were two “camps” there. In one camp was Don Rico, Frank Giacoia and a few others. The other Camp was Syd Shores and a few others.
I remember when she was born. I also remember when her sister Linda was born! That’s how old I am!
AB: That’s a shame. Knowing Syd like I did, he’d be thrilled by the celebration of comics by the public today.
(Gene & Adrienne Colan)
|Human Torch Comics #31 (July/48)|
|Captain America Comics #72 (May/49)|
Crimefighters #4 (Nov/48) - John Buscema (p)
AB: He drew covers?
You know, I grew up within walking distance of his home and never knew it. Somewhere along the line, after he passed away, I saw he lived in Jackson Heights, where I lived. I could have theoretically walked over, knocked on his door and reminisced about his comics career.
Doc V: He did! In 1948 Timely began their western comics line. They started characters like Kid Colt, Two-Gun Kid, Black Rider…
Al Jaffee told me that Stan pulled Rule off Patsy Walker in Miss America Magazine and replaced him with himself, telling Jaffee that Rule’s work was too “old fashioned”, and wanting Jaffee to spruce up the feature.
According to Jaffee, Rule was furious at Stan but soon found work in the myriad romance titles. Rule drew beautiful women but they looked like frozen fashion models in the panels.
AB: Well for a while she worked in the animator’s room. That’s what we called the group who drew the funny-animal comics.
Doc V: That was in 1948-49. What you say actually corresponds with the love glut of 1949 and it’s no coincidence that’s where the most bizarre mash-ups occur.
Doc V: Well then artists who were phenomenally fast and prolific, I’ll use Mike Sekowsky as an example, were doing fabulous from a financial standpoint. Sekowsky was probably the most prolific Timely artist of all. He was everywhere, turning out tons of penciled pages. He once re-did a lost art job overnight!
But at Atlas, there was an even earlier “Spider Man” as a monster spider villain in a pre-code horror story by Ed Winiarski in 1954. It got the cover feature of the issue, drawn by Joe Maneely.
AB: I’ve seen that. This was 10 seconds of time around 1950 or so. But I’ve always wondered if Stan ever remembered it.
Doc V: That makes no sense, Allen. All you folks are to be celebrated. You should all be together any time you can, especially if you are all attending the same show. Stan wouldn’t even have been in charge of doing the inviting. I’m betting it was a low-level gopher that missed the opportunity to invite you. That is the only real possibility.
AB: Another time there was a convention in Rhode Island where Stan was on stage with a golden-age/silver-age panel with Joe Sinnott, etc. I was the last one asked to come up on the stage. I said a few nice words about Stan. I mentioned how I recalled Robbie Solomon and how Stan walked behind him when he first started working at Timely, as Robbie broke him in. I mentioned that when he came back from the war and Robbie later passed away, he never walked behind anyone again. It couldn’t have been sweeter. Then later I again said a few words and said, “Let’s make America great again”, and Stan kept saying, “He’s a Trump man! He’s a Trump man!”
Allen Bellman passed away on March 9, 2020, at the age of 95. Although we will not have the opportunity to check in on Allen again 5 years after the above interview, I did interview Allen for my book coming out in June of 2020, Atlas At War. Allen talks about his work in war comics and the piece will appear online upon the book's publication.
Rest in peace, my friend. You will always be the model for a life well-lived.