Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Allen Bellman : Timely Revisited - 2018 Interview

The following interview ran in the September, 2018 issue of Alter Ego, #154, featuring a cover penciled by Allen himself and retro-style inks by Dan Davis. While the printed interview had a bit of editing, the one below is the unedited, original version. My original introduction is included, setting the interview up. I hope you enjoy it as Allen opens up a bit more about Timely and various personal matters. The interview was conducted over 4 sessions, on January 7, 21, 31 & February 13, 2018.

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!

And he still hasn’t slowed down. His story has been filmed by a documentary company for a future release, last year he threw out the first ball at a Miami Marlins baseball game, and as I write these words, Allen’s autobiography, Timely Confidential has been released by Bold Adventure Press I had the wonderful pleasure of editing the book (Allen knows where the bodies are buried!) and I recommend it to all interested in hearing a first-hand account of what it was like to work on staff at Timely Comics.

As he has reached the youthful age of 93, I thought now would be a good time to catch up with Allen and re-visit his life since our last interview. I called Allen at his home and he was more than happy to oblige, catching his breath between convention appearances.

Doc V: Happy New Year, Allen!

AB: Thank you, Michael. I wish you an even happier one! You and your family.

Doc V: Roz is well?

AB: Yes, thank God. Where would I be without her? She takes care of me, orders my medication.. everything is in order in my life because of her. I’m very blessed.

Doc V: Allen, it’s been almost 15 years, if you can believe it, since our interview was published in Alter Ego.

AB: I don’t know where the time has gone.

Doc V: It has flown by. In fact, it’s now 19 years since I first called you up way back in 1998.

AB: It still seems like yesterday to me.

Doc V: A lot has happened to you since that interview. I recall in one of our very early talks, you mentioned how it bothered you that no one believed you’d ever worked for Stan Lee long  ago.

AB: It was very frustrating, mostly because I couldn’t tell them what I did. I had no copies and barely remembered.

Doc V: And now there’s almost no one who doesn’t know you. You’re a major convention draw. You have thousands of Facebook friends... you’ve walked the Red Carpet!

AB: Thanks to you.

Doc V: I did nothing, Allen. I just told your story.

AB: It wasn’t nothing. I’m convinced I’m still around and kicking because of this second life you’ve given me. You changed my entire life, man! You gave me the life! I’d probably be dead right now if it wasn’t for you!

Doc V: (probably turning red) … Well, for whatever small part I’ve played, Allen, I’m extremely happy. And it’s been reciprocated many times over. I’ve had a window to Timely I couldn’t have found anywhere else. And I say this truthfully, I’ve spoken to many people from the Timely era, most of them you’d know. Not everyone was as gracious as you’ve been. Many have been wonderful but others were very suspicious of my motives. Well maybe “suspicious” is too strong a word, let me say “they were “cautious” about what they wanted to tell me. I honestly couldn’t understand why. Some couldn’t even believe I was even interested in that old stuff, that they’d gone to bigger and better things.  One of those was Valerie Barclay, who I know you knew well.

AB: I did know her. We went to school together.

Doc V: I had lunch with her one afternoon near my office and that story has not been told yet. This was before I called you for the first time, in the mid 1990's. She allowed me to tape record our lunch but later that night I was horrified to find out that the tape was near ruined because we were sitting near the kitchen and the loud sounds drowned out nearly everything spoken. I still want to try to forensically transcribe that tape. David Gantz was another. I spoke to him a few years before his Alter Ego interview. He finally warmed up to me but the first time I spoke to him he thought I was nuts worrying about Timely history and the junk art (his words) he did back then.  Ha! I just recalled something.  I told Valerie that I had spoken to Gantz and she wanted to know everything he told me. She insisted on knowing whether Gantz had told me anything about George Klein! I’m not making this up! Like schoolyard antics! This is 50 years after the fact!

AB: They were an item back then, Klein and Valerie, who I knew then as Violet.

Doc V: Well they were an item behind Mike Sekowsky’s back it seems, and she still wanted to dish dirt 50 years later! But we’re getting off track here, so let’s just say it’s all worked out wonderfully for the both of us.

AB: People like myself didn’t understand all this. It’s because of you guys that we’re finally being recognized for the work we did.

Doc V: There are a lot of folks like myself, Allen. There’s an entire industry now devoted to comics history, shedding light on creators of the past. John Morrow’s company, Fantagraphics Publishing, and many close friends and researchers online, all do the stuff I do and have now for years.

AB: Well it’s a wonderful thing and I’m very appreciative.

Doc V: Let’s talk about your post-interview life. I still want to revisit some old Timely matters, but a lot of the focus will be on the “new”.

AB: Ok.

Doc V: The last time I formally interviewed you, and jeez, it seems so long ago, we covered your early life and your comic book career, both on staff and as a freelancer, at Timely quite well. Within a few years, the floodgates opened and you became one of the most sought after convention guests in the country.

AB: Someone offered to put up a website for me, which further got me noticed.

Doc V: Well, I watched from afar, Allen, as you became so in-demand.

AB: You know what I remember? What I really don’t think I ever told you?

Doc V: What?

AB: I remember that you came to visit me when I was up in New Jersey.

Doc V: That was shortly after I first contacted you. You were up from Florida in New Jersey for a family function and invited my family to dinner.

AB: I honestly couldn’t believe you actually came. It meant so much to me.

Doc V: So much to you?  Do you have any idea what it meant to me? I track down a heretofore long unknown Timely comic book artist who drew superheroes during the war years and he invites my family out to dinner!

AB: But you don’t understand, Michael. All I had were my memories. You sent me all my stories and now people would believe me when I told them I drew comic books in the 1940’s. And you wanted to talk to me about them. I’d never had that before. No one to talk to who knew what I was even talking about. This was like an opening into my past, a past long buried and forgotten. I couldn’t wait to meet you in person, someone to talk to me about things no one believed. You drove all the way to just see me.

Doc V: Well we had a wonderful time. In the photos we took, my children were so small!

AB: They’re adults now.

Doc V: They are. My daughter was 8 she’s 26 now.

AB: 26? I’m getting old! (laughs).

Doc V: Some photos from that visit are in the book.

AB: That beautiful photo of Roz and I.

Doc V. My wife Maggie took that photo. After ten years now of almost non-stop convention appearances, do you still get as much enjoyment out of it all?

AB: Oh they’ve been my life saver!  I’d be in a rocking chair if I didn’t have places to go. But I am starting to cut down now. I guess I’m getting a little old. (laughs).

Doc V: That’s certainly understandable. I’ve always wondered how you’ve been able to maintain the schedule you maintain. It seems like every month you’re in a different city.

AB: I was even going back-to-back on successive weekends. The promoters who’ve used me before call me every year now. Sometimes there are even conventions in different cities scheduled on the same day! The way I handle it is I honor whoever calls me first.

Doc V: I think that’s fair. First come, first serve. Tell me a good convention story.

AB: I have one. A lot of the young kids at shows don’t know who I am. One year I was in San Diego. I had Captain America’s shield painted on my finger by Roz’s manicurist. Marvel kept me in their signing booth with Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, you know, the guys from the Marvel movies.

Doc V: Wow! I know them well from the films.

AB: Anyway, they called me on stage first. The audience started cheering me! I looked around for Stan Lee, thinking he must have walked into the place and that’s why they were cheering. Stan wasn’t anywhere and I realized they were cheering me!  They knew who I was! There had been hundreds and hundreds on line at the signing booth, waiting to meet me and get a signature or a handshake. And now on stage they were cheering me. So I’m on the stage and I want to show the crowd my shield fingernail so I slowly raise my hand into the air and someone at Marvel yells out, “he’s giving them the finger!” The crowd was both cheering and laughing at the same time. I certainly wasn’t giving them the finger. It’s a shield, I was trying to say! So then later at the booth I’m getting a poster autographed by all the actors and Samuel Jackson says to me, “I want to take a photo of that finger.” He takes out his phone and begins fumbling with the camera. He says, “how do you use this thing?” (laughter).

Doc V: That’s a great story, Allen. What about walking the red carpet at the first Captain America movie.

AB: I was sitting in the back, in a kind of loge area, where people who walk by can see you. A man comes by, comes over to me, and says, “I’m Chris Evan’s grandfather. You look important.” I was caught off guard and I jokingly replied, “that’s because I am important.” He walked away from me. I felt terrible. You know me, I don’t want to offend anyone. I thought I offended him. A year later or so, I’m in San Diego and Marvel’s movie guys were there, same show as the fingernail incident. I’m at the signing booth with Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada. I go over to Chris Evans. I asked if his grandfather was still with us and he said yes. I told him about the red carpet incident with his grandfather and told Chris to tell his grandfather that I apologize from my heart for speaking flippant to him. I wanted him to know I was caught off guard.

Doc V: Allen, I’m sure it didn’t come off flippant at all. It sounded just like a joke to me.

AB: I don’t care. I don’t want to offend anyone and I thought he was offended by my remark.

Doc V: You’re too good, Allen. What was that like, the long line of people swarming the booth for autographs?

AB: It was crazy! Everyone’s yelling for an autograph, people are taking pictures ….. it was like the paparazzi! I couldn’t ever imagine experiencing anything like that. Especially at my age. Behind me was the big bronze statue of Captain America that was being sent to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

Doc V: That’s when I came buy, remember? I walked all the way to the front, the con folks tried to stop me from jumping the line, and you told them I was with you. Roz was there and it was a crazy scene. I’m pretty sure I have some video from that scene.  I hugged you and Roz and you immediately introduced me to those two guys making that documentary about you.

AB: Yes! I remember that. I will never forget that day, how honored I felt there to be, with Roz next to me, at the Marvel booth signing autographs with Joe Quesada. I also spent a lot of time in front of that documentary camera.

Doc V: I did also, Allen. The film crew asked me to come back to your hotel room where they had a video room set up. They interviewed quite a few folks and wanted my thoughts about you also.

AB: I told them all about you.

Doc V: When they met me at the Marvel booth, they were surprised and happy I was there, wanting to film me. How did that whole documentary film come about?

AB: I’ll explain it. I hope I can remember it all correctly. I have a fan who I’ve known for many years. He has connections with Arc Media in Seattle, Washington. He asked me if I’d be interested in having a documentary done about me and my career. I said I’d be thrilled. So they came all the way from Seattle with a crew of four or five people. They brought boxes of film equipment, lights, everything. Roz fed them. She put out bagels and lox, danish and coffee all day long. It took a year to make. They followed me everywhere. They followed me to Denver where they interviewed a lot of people. Then they came out to San Diego. Getting them in there was difficult, as they didn’t have tickets, but the fine folks there helped a great deal and let them in with me. They interviewed so many people in San Diego.

Doc V: Including me.

AB: Yes, including you. There was one artist in San Diego who didn’t want to be interviewed, I can’t remember his name, but that was about the only one. Everyone was wonderful. Steve Black, that’s the fan, put a lot of money into this. I think the film company is a family business. They paid for hotels everywhere they followed me.

Doc V: What stage is it at now?

AB: Well I spoke to him recently and they still don’t have a date for it being finished. That’s the best I can offer right now. I’m hoping they can find a distributor and a way to show it, as they certainly invested in it.
Doc V: It could always end up on YouTube.

AB: Yes it could.

Doc V: The filmmakers were very nice to me in San Diego. They asked me to come up to your hotel room at whatever time was best for me. I arrived as they were interviewing another artist in your room. They walked me through the entire process and then they interviewed me.

AB: Well they had to interview you! If not for you, I don’t know where I’d be right now.

Doc V: You’d be right where you are right now, in Florida, enjoying your family and your retirement.

AB: No, I could be dead!

Doc V: Dead? Why?

AB: You still don’t understand, Michael. You have to have a focus in life. You gave me a focus. And Roz is a celebrity also. Fans take “her” photo and walk away from me! (laughs).

Doc V: I know she is. That Wonder Woman costume has become her trademark. She’s adorable in it. How does Roz feel about all this? Did she know how much work you did in the 1940’s and 1950’s?

AB: Not until you sent me all those pages.

Doc V: I sent you over 500 pages of your work.

AB: No, she had no idea. We got married after I left comics. You know what? When I married my first wife, Roz was 10 years old! I was 20. A lot of people ask me why I didn’t marry Roz first? My answer is, she was only 10 years old! (laughs). They ask how we met. I say I was trying to cross the street and I heard a small voice asking, “Mister, can you help me across the street?” And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

Doc V: That’s very funny.

AB: But seriously, as you know, I lost whatever stuff I had years before that. My first wife threw most of it out. The rest was stolen from me. I’m a fatalist. I had a tough time in life back then. I had a miserable first marriage and even though I loved my job at Timely, there were people there who were often tough on you.

Doc V: Like who, for instance?

AB: Robby Solomon. He really would take it out on me. I had a lot of problems with Robbie Solomon. He knocked the crap out of me. He made me feel extremely inferior. Not only me, he was on everybody’s back, but it seemed he picked on me the most. Nobody really knew what Robbie did at Timely. He’d walk around being critical, telling artists to draw like so and so, often guys at other companies like Mac Raboy or Lou Fine. Martin Goodman’s books were outselling everybody and yet Solomon was telling us to draw like artists from other companies.  The artists thought he was a spy for Martin Goodman, that he’d report what was going on among the artists. He’d come over to me and let me have it, in front of everybody. Instead of giving encouragement, he berated. I was so young. I took it personally. It affected me a great deal, I think. And the funny thing of it all, I’m sure he knew absolutely nothing about what made artwork good or bad.

Doc V: I’m sorry to hear that, even after all these years. It didn’t help that you were also so young at that time.

AB: We were all young and we were all developing. Even Stan Lee. In the early days he didn’t recognize good work as well as he did a few years later. Editors get better also. But Robbie Solomon, I’ll never forget. You know, back in 2007 I was invited as a guest to attend the opening of the Montclair Art Museum’s comic art show gallery. You were there too.

Doc V: I was indeed! Maggie and I.

AB: There were about 7 or 8 artists there, Gene Colan, Joe Simon, Irwin Hasen, Joe Kubert and his two sons, I’m forgetting the others.

Doc V: Murphy Anderson and Greg Hildebrandt.

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: (laughs). He was a lady’s hat salesman! Goodman gave him a job because he was his brother-in-law! What did he know about comic art? The answer is probably NOTHING! But he enjoyed lording it over us. He was a short man, like Napoleon. Maybe he had his own inferiority complex, who knows.

Doc V: Well, most bullies do.

AB: Most of the artists ignored him. I was just too sensitive. It bothered me. He put a damper on my enthusiasm, or how I looked at my own ability. I was probably 19 years old at the time. If I was good enough to be hired in the first place, why be critical? You should be constructive, not destructive.

Doc V: Allen, I know your work better than anyone alive, probably even including you. You grew artistically throughout the 1940’s. Recall, you were 18 when you broke in. You had no real training, you were talented but learning came on the job. You were about 26 when the Timely staff was let go. So all the Timely staff work was done from the age of 18 to 26. And it was buried by inkers, anyway. Now the freelance work you did for Stan Lee from 1951 to 1953 was the best work you ever did artistically, in my opinion. It was very stylized and unique, and I loved it. Those were your pencils and inks.

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: It was your best work.

AB: I know it was. You know, around the same time, I went up to the Associated Press and was given the chance to take over Scorchy Smith during a time the feature was changing hands. The man in charge, a Mr. Wing, loved my work. I had all kinds of samples from my freelance work. He wanted to see a week of continuity. Even at that time, at the top of my game, I couldn’t do it because of my situation at home with my failing marriage. I had no support at home. A combination of a bad marriage and lack of confidence in my own work, wrecked it for me. I had to turn it down.

Doc V: That’s very unfortunate. All comic book artists dreamed of getting a big syndicated strip.

AB: It was, because I really felt I could have done it. Another time, it was probably in the early 1950’s while I was freelancing, I turned down a job at DC. Stan was feeding me a lot of work, so I was busy. Henry Boltinoff’s brother, what’s his name…

Doc V: Murray Boltinoff. He was an editor at DC.

AB: Murray! That was him. Murray Boltinoff gave me a love story script to draw. I was a good friend of his brother, Henry, a gag cartoonist for magazines. That’s probably why Murray called out of the blue. I was living in Long Island, freelancing. I didn’t have to travel to work or anything. But I chickened out.

Doc V: Chickened out?

AB: I was petrified of losing work from Stan Lee. Let's say I took it. I’m not that fast so it would take me a week or 10 days to pencil and ink a story. During that time, if Stan called me, I’d be stuck. The DC story was likely a one-time thing. Stan was my full-time freelance job. So I didn’t want to have to turn Stan down and I didn’t want him to find out, either. So I gave back the script. Was it the right decision? Who knows? All I know is my life worked out for the best.

Doc V: Didn’t something like that also happen at E.C. Comics?

AB: No, not the exact same thing.  Al Feldstein called me one time, wanting me to come down and pick up a script. I was working on a story for Stan and told him I couldn’t come right then, but would as soon as I was finished. The difference with the DC story was I wanted to do the story he was offering. This went back and forth a bit over a day or two and he finally said ok, that he’d hold it for me. As soon as I finished the story for Stan I headed down to the E.C. offices to get the script. When I arrived Feldstein told me he had already given it away. I was kind of miffed because he told me he was holding it for me and to come down when I was done with the work I was doing. He could have called me to tell me he was giving it away, but he didn’t. I just showed up and walked out empty-handed.

Doc V: That’s too bad. Do you know what kind of script it was? What year?

AB: I don’t know. I don’t think I ever knew what type.

Doc V: It must have been a Pre-Trend story. By the time E.C. kicked into high gear with their New Trend, they were set with a small stable of regulars that never varied. But prior to that there were a lot of artists working for them that didn’t work in the classic E.C. books we know. So I’m guessing it must have been no later than early 1950, possibly even in 1949. I don't know if Feldstein even was an editor that early on.

AB: Those years sound about right. I think the Timely staff had just closed and I was freelancing. I just cannot remember for certain.

Doc V: Tell me about Henry Boltinoff. He seems to have been one of the most prolific gag cartoonists of all time. He was everywhere, in every single magazine on the newsstands and at DC comics also.

AB: Henry was the one who brought me into the National Cartoonists Society. I attended the Reuben Awards with him that time. Ha! That was the incident my hero Milton Caniff snubbed me coming out of the men’s room!

Doc V: I remember you mentioning that.

AB: I was waiting for my date outside the rest rooms and Milton comes out. I extend my hand wanting to tell him of my admiration of his work and he plows right past me like I was a fan looking for an autograph. We were both members of the National Cartoonist Society! Boy was I crushed. Later on Henry and I had lunch at the Pen and Pencil restaurant.  

Doc V: It’s funny Allen, but it seems like you were fighting uphill a lot during your career.

AB: I was. You know Michael, it could be all in my head, but what I’ve always felt was that Stan Lee looked at me through the eyes of Robbie Solomon.

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.

AB: It did.  Robbie was management and part of the boss’s family. Stan, although a kid himself, was also family through marriage.  But Stan was very friendly, both then and now, and could be extremely endearing. One time Stan was on the local radio here in Florida. He was being interviewed. I called in and told the guy on the telephone at the radio station that I had worked for Stan decades ago. He put my call through; we had a three-way call going on the air. Stan hears my voice and yells out Allen Bellman!!!  It was great. He made me feel special. He does that today also. He makes people like him.

Doc V: Sometimes people have to wear two hats.

AB: I know it sounds silly, it’s just this unconscious feeling Stan still sees me by how his uncle would berate me. But it all lifted when Joe Simon told me he did the same thing to him. I’ve always wanted to talk about his uncle with Stan. I’ve brought it up a few times but he won’t go backwards into the past. I even was in touch with him years ago, before you brought me back in 1999. I saw him at a show in Florida. We were like old friends. But when I bring up his uncle, he turns it off. So I suppose you can’t look back.

Doc V: I’m going to look back right now… whatever happened to the famous Bellman Bakery?

AB: After my mother passed away, my father gave it up. He moved to New Jersey, where he had a sister. He was alone like I was alone, I was divorced.  He never remarried even though my mother was young when she passed away. She was 60. My father was a severe diabetic.

Doc V: What street was the bakery on?

AB: Well originally, it was the Bellman Brothers Bakery, my father with his brothers. It was on the lower east side, Avenue C maybe... I was too young to really remember.  I remember an old woman, a Mrs. Lerner, taking me to a park near the bakery. We went to feed the ducks. I was probably four years old. I had a habit of running across the street.  Thank goodness there weren’t many cars then! I remember even earlier knowing where I lived, climbing out of a carriage and running home.  At some point the brothers separated and my father opened up his own bakery in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Mike Tyson’s old neighborhood. There was one on Dumont Avenue and then another on Sutter Avenue. The one on Sutter Avenue was near the Loew’s East Pitkin movie palace. It was the heart of the Jewish mafia neighborhood. They all hung out in the candy stores in the area.  And I had a friend from when I was a kid who became famous years later. Al Lewis.

Doc V: Grandpa Munster?

AB: Yes. I didn’t see him ever again after we grew up but I remember his face like it was yesterday. His name was Albert. He was raised by a single mother, a red-headed woman. I never saw a father. The very last time I ever saw him he was playing a pinball machine in a candy store. I know it was him.

Doc V: Did you go to school with him?

AB: No. He was just a kid I knew in the neighborhood, we palled around together, got into hijinks. Like that. I was about 11 or 12 years old. If Al Lewis came from the Brownsville area, it was him. They filmed a movie on that street once. Paul Muni played a doctor.

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: Before all this, Roz knew what I had told her, about the comics and Timely. But she’s the same person and our personal life is the same. Outside of that, other family, friends, etc., they look at us differently. A little bit like being famous. I feel blessed. I’m not terribly religious, and I don’t hear voices, but I never thought I’d reach the age of 93 and see all this.  I just want to give back. I always give you the credit.

Doc V: Not that again.

AB: I believe in giving credit where credit is due. My late friend, the artist Sam Burlockoff, always gave me credit in getting him into comics. I give you credit for getting me back in.

Doc V: Ok, I’ll accept that.  How is the book doing?

AB: Fantastic! I’m hearing from comic shop owners that they’re ordering them from the publisher and selling out immediately. We’re trying to get Diamond to pick it up. It can be ordered through the publisher, Bold Adventure press, and of course, through Amazon.

Doc V: That’s great! There’s an enormous built-in audience for this book, especially since you have such a large social-media following. But Diamond is tough on small press publishers. They lose a lot of profit going the Diamond route.

AB: Fans contact me all the time from all over the country. They make me very happy. While I don’t need this book “to eat”, knowing it’s selling so well is heart-warming. People tell me it reads like a novel.

Doc V: Have you gotten feedback from fans yet?

AB: Yes. They tell me they enjoyed it a great deal. My Facebook page is filled with comments from fans.

Doc V: I saw the first review of it online recently, an Entertainment column on The Sports Page Weekly website.

AB: He wrote a very nice review. I didn’t know that a sports website had an “entertainment” page!

Doc V: Gotta diversify, Allen. Stockbrokers have been saying that for years! (laughter). Talk to me a little bit about how this book came about. I recall several years ago you told me you had an idea for a “Timely Confidential” type book, where you told stories about Timely and wanted me to write it for you. I was then in the midst of several projects and didn’t really have the time to devote to it properly, perhaps even feeling I couldn’t do it justice.

AB: That was quite alright, Michael. You don’t have to apologize, I know how busy you are.

Doc V: I felt really bad about that but the point I want to make is that I think it turned out even better. As it ended up, it became your autobiography rather than my biography of you, under the same title, and the publisher asked me to edit it anyway, which I was more than happy to do. So rather than my interpretation of your life and career, which would have been data and detail heavy, pertaining to the comic books, instead we have your story in your own words. My talking on and on about Jet Dixon, who came before and who came after, would have been boring to your fans!

AB: The publisher, Audrey Parente and Richard did a wonderful job putting this together.

Doc V: They did. How exactly did you write it?

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: Well that’s the way I am. I don’t really hold anything back. What you see is what you get with me.

Doc V: Well there’s an honesty there that you don’t see very often. You weren’t trying to put a gloss or sheen over your life. It was basically, here I am, warts and all.  In case you are wondering exactly what I did, I can tell you. I corrected all factual data that needed correcting and I put things into a more chronological order. You tended to jump around a bit. Oh, and I deleted duplicate sequences, which I found a few times.

AB: How am I supposed to remember what I said on tape the week before? (laughs).

Doc V: Audrey and I decided to trim a few things just to make room for all the rest. I didn’t want to trim anything, but in the end, nothing disturbed the flow of the book.

AB: I left it in your hands, Michael. You know my career better than I do.

Doc V: Only with the factual details of the books and the company you worked for. And that was the least important part of the book. One part I did spend a lot of time on though was the bibliography. I worked so hard on it that I included a paragraph of context explanation in the back of the book. Your original bibliography on your website was compiled by the website designer from online databases that were rife with errors. Over the years I’ve been correcting the databases as I could, but this book allowed me to actually look at nearly every single story you were purported to have done in the 1940’s. What I found was not surprising. There were a lot of errors. Not only did I have to delete many entries, but you weren’t even given credit for stories I did find, particularly Atlas stories! So to everyone reading this, including your webmaster, use the bibliography in the back of the book to update the website. My only goal is accuracy.

AB: Thank you for all this hard work.

Doc V: It was my pleasure, Allen!  Do you ever think back, in a quiet time between show appearances, about those Timely days? Are the recollections still vivid for you?

AB: At Timely, I have incredibly clear recollections. But only at Timely. After I was let go I worked on staff at Lev Gleason and I have no recollections at all of what I did. I never even saw Lev Gleason!

Doc V: Well you were only there for a very short time. A year or less.

AB: I did a lot of work in that year. They were very nice. A friendly, relaxed atmosphere. I remember Bob Wood. I remember Bob coming in on a Monday morning with black and blues over his eyes. He would get drunk on weekends and get into fights all the time. And you know the story about him killing a woman while drunk.

Doc V: I sure do. It’s a sad story and he had a brutal end.

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.

Doc V: You did covers for Lev Gleason?

AB: Yes, not many. One or two, and not in their entirety. I think I inked one and I recall finishing one when there was a deadline and the artist had something that came up. I don’t know what they were. Charlie Biro I never got to know. He’d come in, never say hello to anyone. He was usually delivering something to Bob Wood, and then he was gone. We called him “The Flash”! In and out.

Doc V: What about Lev Gleason himself?

AB: Never saw him! I don’t know how you can run a company and never be there! I was there nearly a year and have no recollection of ever seeing him. Martin Goodman at Timely we saw all the time. He didn’t say much, but his presence was felt. Gleason was a phantom.

Doc V: Let’s run through a bunch of Lev Gleason staffers…

AB: If I can remember them.

Doc V: Bill Walton?

AB: I remember Bill from Timely, where he was on staff with me there. When the staff was let go we both ended up at Lev Gleason.

Doc V: Abe Simon?

AB: Abe was a big husky guy who may have inked. He was always joking around with me.

Doc V: Simon did ink and pencil. Later he inked Don Perlin on many stories, including one of my favorite pre-code horror stories of all, “The Tin Cup.”  Irving Watanabe?

AB: He was a letterer. Nice man.

Doc V: He later worked at Marvel also. How did your tenure end?

AB: They gave up the staff. Just like Timely, earlier. Later I had a freelance story and Irv Spector became the editor.

Doc V: That was in 1954. You mean you continued to freelance for Gleason after the staff was let go?

AB: Yes.  Do you know Irv Spector?

Doc V: Yes, I do.  He later got into animation and had a long career there.

AB: Correct, but he was in comics before that. And he was in animation before the comics! He worked for Max Fleischer in the late 1930’s.

Doc V: I can also say that I discovered a story he did for Timely in 1945 that his son once told me was the very first thing his father did when he got out of the service. It was a funny-animal story called “Little Lionel”.

AB: That I didn’t know. Timely too?

Doc V: It was only a one-off or two-off job as a freelancer. No reason you’d have known that. He was never on the staff. As it ended up, we reprinted several stories of yours for Lev Gleason in the book.

AB: I have not seen that in years and have no conscious memory of it. Like I said, for some reason, the work I did there is a huge blank to me. I can’t believe you found a lot of it.

Doc V: You’re pretty distinctive, and a lot of it was signed, anyway. The problem was finding long runs of Lev Gleason titles to research.

AB: I haven’t seen that stuff in nearly 70 years. But Timely is different. I remember the characters. I remember the sourpuss expression of Martin Goodman whenever he made an appearance where the artists were. He never seemed to smile. He never came out and said, “Hi Guys, how ya doing?”  Never. But he was a good man to work for. He was generous. He gave us off on Wednesdays during the summer. There were bonuses. Financially, the artists on staff did very well.

Doc V: A lot of people have said that. While the later image you get from some of the people who worked at Magazine Management in the 1960’s was one of almost cruel indifference, during the Timely years, everyone from yourself to Vince Fago and many others interviewed, have said he was much more cordial, gave bonuses, watched stag films with the artists, etc.

AB: Like you said before, I guess people wore different hats.  My memories are distinct. I can still see Don Rico come out to greet me on the very first day I was there. I’m just a kid and had my samples with me. I was about 18 years old.

(Don Rico)
Syd Shores was there, Vince Alascia…. Two guys sitting by the window. This was in the McGraw Hill Building, not the Empire State Building. We moved a few years later.  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.

Doc V: Camps? You mean like mini “gangs” inside Timely?

AB: Not gangs like you think of the word, but mini power structures. Don Rico had a position there, I don’t know what it was. He was reviewing my portfolio. But Syd Shores was sort of the art director. He was older than everyone else. Well, except for Chris Rule. So they butted heads with respect to authority in the trenches. Syd was the guy who usually broke new artists in. We went to him for help. We ended up becoming very close friends.

Doc V: You’re not the first person to tell me that about Syd. Gene Colan has spoken extensively about Syd Shores and his mentorship. Syd helped Gene out a lot when Gene started at Timely in 1947. Gene thought Syd was one of the best artists in comics. Marion Sitton told me the exact same thing. When he had a problem in a story, some concern about how to stage a scene, etc., he went to Syd for help.

AB: He was a mentor. I don’t hear him spoken about enough in all these magazines and histories. I don’t feel Syd gets the recognition or respect he deserves. He was probably Timely’s best artist. Not the fastest, that award goes to Mike Sekowsky, who also was fantastic. But Syd was absolutely stellar. And he passed away very young. His lovely wife Selma was over our house as a guest after he died.

(Syd and Selma Shores)

Doc V: I’ve become good friends with his daughter Nancy.

AB: Nancy is a sweetheart. When she comes to Florida, she visits me.  I remember when she was born. I also remember when her sister Linda was born! That’s how old I am!

Doc V: Syd and Sol Brodsky both missed this whole celebration of the history of comics and its permeation into popular culture. Well maybe not Sol Brodsky, who worked at Marvel into the 1980’s, but certainly Syd Shores, who died a long time ago at the too young age of 59.

AB: I attended Syd’s funeral. I think it was in Morristown, NJ. Stan Lee and Martin Goodman were there. I recall that I had just had a big cast taken off my leg at that time, from a bad automobile accident. I took a bus to New York City, then another bus to Morristown, NJ to attend the funeral. After the service, I asked Stan to give me a lift back to the city. From there I could get the bus back home to the Asbury Park area.

Doc V: Was Stan driving?

AB: Oh no, he had a chauffeur. I just sat there quietly. Made a little small talk. That’s all.

Doc V: Isn’t that a bit odd? To get from one place in NJ to another place in NJ, you had to take a bus from NJ to NY to get another bus to NJ?

AB: That’s the only way via public transportation it could be done at that time. All the busses to all the towns in NJ were in NYC.

Doc V: What do you think Syd would say today about the enormous success commercially that his signature character has become?

AB: Syd was a #1 artist. I’m repeating myself now. He was one of Timely’s best, probably “the” best. Now I wasn’t there in the 1960’s, but when Syd came back to comics, Jack Kirby was there and was now Marvel’s #1 artist.

Doc V: When you really think about it, Simon & Kirby created the character and imbued it with all their talents, especially the incredible action choreography of Jack Kirby, but they left after 10 issues. While other fine artists handled the feature in different titles in the 1940’s, Al Avison, Don Rico, others, including yourself, no one drew more Cap stories than Syd Shores. He was “the” definitive Cap artist of the decade. People forget this fact. And then when he finally returned to comics in the late 1960’s, Marvel just didn’t have room for him until they expanded their line after the old restrictive distribution deal with Independent News ended in 1968.  So he had a tough time breaking in and then when he did, couldn’t get into the top characters. Stan had him instead penciling lesser ones and inking Kirby on Captain America, inking I absolutely love, by the way. And then he got ill and passed away.

AB: I wouldn’t have known that, as I was long out of comics.  I think he was frustrated by not returning to the top again.

Doc V: I can understand that Allen, but like I mentioned, the comic line was much smaller in 1968 and there were only so many open spots. Stan always tried to keep artists working. He kept feeding Syd work on secondary and tertiary features. But he did put him back inking Captain America. My memory is reading that fans thought his inking style was a bit old fashioned, which was nonsense. But compared to the “cosmic” inks of a Joe Sinnott or wonderful work by Frank Giacoia, Stan may have felt it took the power out of Jack’s pencils.

Kirby/Shores (original art)

AB: That’s a shame.  Knowing Syd like I did, he’d be thrilled by the celebration of comics by the public today.

Doc V: Syd really hadn’t missed a beat. His work was excellent and it’s a shame he passed away before he could have taken on more notable work, which I think would have happened.

AB: You know, I’ve become friends with Jim Shooter. We see each other a lot at cons. Gene Colan was my dear friend. Colan hated Shooter.

Doc V: (Laughing) Yes, I know. Gene and his wife Adrienne were my friends also. Shooter gave Gene a very hard time.

(Gene & Adrienne Colan)

AB: Well I know why Gene hated Shooter. Gene told me. But I like Jim. We get along great. One time, Jim asked me for a sketch, or a commission. I don’t remember exactly. Well, boy did I sweat that drawing out! I knew what a hard critic he was from Gene.

Doc V: (Laughing) Wait a minute, you mean you were afraid Jim Shooter would go hard on you over the sketch? A convention sketch? Like he would have as an editor?

AB: Absolutely. I wanted it to be just perfect.

Doc V: I can’t believe that! So what happened?

AB: He loved it! I was so flattered he even asked me. We’re great friends. I just wish people would get along better. Any problem can usually be worked out.

Doc V: Talking about Gene Colan, you know both Gene and John Buscema started at Timely within a couple of months of each other. Well maybe a bit more than a couple of months, about 9 months.

AB: Gene was great from the start.

Doc V: He was! I’ve tracked all his earliest work back to the crime books of early 1948 and he was nearly fully formed at the outset, though he had different inkers.

Human Torch Comics #31 (July/48)
Captain America Comics #72 (May/49)

AB: You know he once included me as a character in one of his stories.

Doc V: Really? I’d love to find it! Do you know what story?

AB: No, he just drew me into the story. He drew me real well! I think he made me a villain.

Doc V: It was probably in a crime story.

AB: I think it was. I remember Gene back then with curly hair and a big smile. And then over 50 years later we met again and re-established our friendship down in Orlando, when he was living in Florida.

Doc V: What about John Buscema?

AB: John had thick black hair back then.

Doc V: Surprisingly, Buscema’s work at Timely appeared, to me, much cruder than Gene’s. And I feel he was saddled with terrible inkers that muddied it further.

  Crimefighters #4 (Nov/48) - John Buscema (p)
AB: Everyone develops at their own pace.

Doc V: That’s true, but John Buscema eventually became one of the top talents the industry ever saw and juxtaposed against his Timely work, it’s remarkable. Now I know why John never wanted to look at that work again in later years, when it was discussed or brought up!  What about Carmine Infantino? He and Frank Giacoia tried to get work while still in high school. Joe Simon gave them a Jack Frost story that was later finished up by the staff, I think George Klein went over the entire thing.

AB: Oh do I remember Carmine Infantino.

Doc V: He wasn’t there that long. Frank Giacoia joined the staff but Carmine’s father wanted him to finish school first! Carmine came on about 1943.

AB: Carmine told me one time about a new young singer appearing at the New York Paramount Theater. He told me the singer was going to be one of the greatest of all time.

Doc V: Frank Sinatra!

AB: Yes, Frank Sinatra. Carmine with a full head of hair told me all about Frank Sinatra. He was crazy about him! And then later Sinatra pulled me through a tough divorce. I listened to his music as a way to get through a tough time in my life. I used to cry in my Pablum! You know what Pablum is?

Doc V: Baby food!

AB: Yeah! (laughs).

Doc V: I know you were close friends with Sol Brodsky.

AB: We were very good friends.

Doc V: How far back in the 1940’s was Sol on staff at Timely? My estimate was about 1947, although I found an early humor story signed “Sol” back in Comedy Comics in 1942.

AB: Sol was there earlier than 1947, I think. He was basically an inker back then. We hit it off right away. I remember even collaborating on several stories with him, one of them may even have been a long Human Torch story, 18 pages or so.

Doc V: He became a penciler when the staff was let go. He drew a lot of crime, western and war stories in the early 1950’s. Even became a cover artist on a lot of books.

AB: He drew covers?

Doc V: Oh yeah, even a bunch of fantasy type covers in the post-code period.
(Sol Brodsky)
AB: I never knew that. You know, we once attempted to start a little syndicate for ourselves.

Doc V: A syndicate? What was that about?

AB: I created a character called “Bill Pade”. It was a take on “bill paid”. We were going to sell this to businesses. I went to my uncle in Long Island who still had a bakery where there were a lot of trucks, to try it out. It was advertising art for business collections. I even had metal printing plates made up. Sol and I thought it up, planned it, but like a lot of ideas, it went nowhere.

Doc V: When Atlas lost their distributor and nearly closed down in 1957, Sol became an agent of sorts, getting artists work at Charlton and then helped launch Cracked magazine in 1958. Sol, of course, came back in the early 1960’s to Stan and inked some early issues of the new Fantastic Four title, becoming Production Manager and Stan’s right hand man at the company.

AB: That I do know.

Doc V: Were you still in contact with Sol in the early 1960’s when he was back at Marvel?

AB: Well he used to visit me out in New Jersey, he and his wife. Then we drifted apart. Eventually I moved to Florida and never was in contact with him again until he passed away.

Doc V: Marvel’s #1 letterer in the 1960’s was Artie Simek. With few exceptions, he and Sam Rosen basically did it all themselves. Artie even lettered the iconic logos on the early Marvel titles. Both had histories pre-dating silver-age Marvel.

AB: I remember the very first day Artie Simek came to work at Timely! At lunchtime, when we all sat down with sandwiches, he took out a harmonica and began to play it! He was a good, down to earth guy. Really nice guy. And a great letterer.

Timely (1948) - Syd Shores (middle), Artie Simek (front right)

Doc V: Before his lettering, Artie was also contributing cartoons to Goodman’s girly humor magazines as far back as 1944.

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.

AB: Something like that happened with Michael Uslan and I. We lived in the same neighborhood. I knew his father. We were in the Lion’s Club together. And I never knew about his son Michael, how much he loved comic books. When he found out I worked at Timely, he had to talk to me. He was so happy to meet me.

Doc V: Talk about George Klein a little bit.

AB: George Klein was a true gentleman. He was well dressed, debonair, a nice looking guy. I’ll never forget the Homburg hat he always wore.  He sat next to Violet Barclay and the thing that went on between him and Mike Sekowsky, we already talked about. I remember Mike had a scar on his face. And a chip on his shoulder.

Doc V: I’ve heard that.

AB: But boy was he talented. He used to sit back with his hands behind his head in the middle of the day, already done with all his assignments. I never understood how he could finish so fast! And yet, thinking back, I have no recollection of seeing his finished artwork.

Doc V: Really? That could be because he never, ever, inked his own work. After he finished a story it went to a variety of inkers .… George Klein and Chris Rule were probably his most used inkers. You were a penciler so you’d not likely come across his penciled work. You probably did at some point, and just don’t remember.

AB: He did “Millie the Model” and “Nellie the Nurse”.

Doc V: Some of their early teen covers. He did “Tessie the Typist” that ran in Joker Comics, Georgie, and funny-animal comics. He also did hero stories and when the romance line was launched he probably drew more romance stories in two years than anyone in the industry. There were even a couple of book-length romance stories Timely was experimenting with. Sekowsky penciled all 30 or so pages.

AB: I didn’t even know he was doing that much work! Well we weren’t friends, but we were friendly. And I didn’t get a chance to learn all the artists’ styles like you do. I was busy working on my own stories. I remember Russ Heath at Timely.

Doc V: He showed up about 1948.

AB: Heath was always doing westerns.

Doc V: He did! In 1948 Timely began their western comics line. They started characters like Kid Colt, Two-Gun Kid, Black Rider
AB: I drew some westerns in the 1950’s. I hated to draw horses. I always made sure I had a picture of a horse nearby to draw!

Doc V: Well that’s ironic, considering the fame your twin granddaughters have drawing posters for The Kentucky Derby!

(Artwork by Doreen and Jeaneen Barnhart)

AB: They’re showing me up! I’m so proud of them. One is a designer who also does a lot of commercial work. In fact, when Stan Lee and his crew were in Louisville, I spoke to Tony Carroll, Stan’s man, and recommended a restaurant there that my granddaughter Doreen does design work for. So Stan ate there.

Doc V: We mentioned Christopher Rule. Rule and Klein were very friendly, I hear. Rule was probably the oldest artist on staff.

AB: He looked like Santa Claus. A roly-poly man. He was an inker.

Doc V: He did ink, but he also penciled a lot. He drew Patsy Walker in Miss America Magazine before Al Jaffee. He also worked on the Miss America strip that ran in Marvel Mystery Comics. Well, at times it looked like he was only drawing the faces for Pauline Loth!

AB: He was an old-time artist.

Doc V: He was! He was a children’s book illustrator in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He also worked as a Hearst newspaper fashion artist. His style was illustrative and dainty, perfect for romance and teen comics, but very stiff for hero books.

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: Which is probably why they used him to make the Miss America faces prettier.

Doc V: Well Pauline Loth was a terrific action artist. She trained in the animation industry. She worked for Max Fleischer. She was brought over by Vince Fago.

AB: I remember her well. Didn’t she also work with Bessie Little?

Doc V: She did! She moved over to the new Miss America Magazine that Goodman started for teen-age girls  in 1944 and was the fashion editor under the name, Pauline O’Sullivan. I don’t think I ever saw her in comics again.

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: Pauline did contribute to those titles, like Krazy Komics. I think she may have penciled “Super Baby”.

AB: Some guys did both, the funny stuff and the adventure books. Mike Sekowsky did both.

Doc V: He was extremely versatile. Allen, how were inker assignments handed out at Timely. There were regular pairing like Syd Shores and Vince Alascia…

AB: Well that was a duo. They were a defacto pair. Syd penciled and Vince inked. That’s all. Anything else was just assigned by Stan. I’m sure there were favorites.

Doc V: There were. Sekowsky/Klein and Sekowsky/Rule were common pairings. I’ve even seen Rule/Klein and Klein/Rule! Chu Hing inked a lot of stories in 1948-49, frequently over Pierce Rice.

AB: I don’t know how you see all that. Later on after the war so many hands worked on stories.

Doc V: Practice, Allen. Years of practice and not enough sunshine! And I agree about the post war year stories at Timely. By 1948 and 1949 it becomes very difficult to definitively tell who is working on a story. I’ve seen two or three different pencilers and the same amount of inkers on a single story!

AB: It was a way to get things done fast. I recall there were more books than ever before and the only way to fill them was by an assembly line style of production, even more so than earlier. After the war so many new faces were showing up. I recall Marty Nodell worked on staff also.

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.

AB: I’m remembering Vince Alascia inked one of my stories. At the end a plane goes into a volcano.

Doc V: I’ve seen that. But it wasn’t at Timely, it was years later at Charlton in the mid 1950’s. I didn’t even know you ever worked for Charlton.

AB: I did that through Vince Fago’s brother, Al Fago. I’m not sure what his connection was to Charlton, I thought he was an agent or something. He actually brought the script to my house in Long Island.

Doc V: Al Fago did a lot of work for Charlton in the 1950’s, penciling and inking.  I suppose he could have had an editorial capacity of sorts also. That might explain it.

AB: I think it was only the one story for Charlton, but who knows. It’s been so many years.

Doc V: I know from talking to you in the past that you never met Bill Everett, who was never on staff in the 1940’s. But you did know Carl Burgos, who did join the staff after he came out of the service in 1946.

AB: Carl Burgos created one of the most original characters of all time with the Human Torch. Goodman loved the Torch!

Doc V: I know. That’s why he put him on so many covers. He felt the Torch on the cover sold more comic books.

AB: Carl sat right in back of me. He was as quiet as anything. Never seemed to say a word. All he did was draw by himself, quietly. Two years ago in San Diego his two daughters came over to me and said hello.

Doc V: Yes! I brought Susan to your panel discussion. I got to know her after I wrote a long 100th birthday retrospective of her dad’s life and career on my blog back in April of that year.

AB: She is a sweetheart.

Doc V: Did you know Bill Finger?

AB: No. He wrote a few stories in the mid 1940’s for Timely but I didn’t see or know him. I am friends with his granddaughter, Athena.

Doc V: I am also. In fact, I met her for the first time several years ago at your table at the NY Comicon. It’s so wonderful her grandfather has finally gotten the recognition he deserves. He’s even received a street named after him in the Bronx this year.

AB: I have to call her to have lunch with her. You know, I need a staff to help me! I have so many things going on, convention appearances, commissions, you name it. I’m busier now than at any other time in my life. Roz helps a great deal but I could use a personal assistant!

Doc V: And you are big on social media also. Your Facebook page has thousands of friends.

AB: I enjoy the direct connection with my fans. But there is one thing about that I do not like.

Doc V: What’s that?

AB: I want to say that maybe it’s because I’m an old guy, but I’m often shocked by behavior I see on social media.

Doc V: Well I agree with that. And it has nothing to do with age. It has to do with decency.

AB: Social media, and by that I really mean Facebook, which is all I do, seems to bring out the best and the worst in people. So many people conduct themselves wonderfully. They are kind, friendly, respectful. Other people, and I don’t really mean against me, just what I see, can be so cruel, so vindictive.

Doc V: Well that’s the dual-edged sword, Allen. With social media, all the filters are off. People can be emboldened to act in a way they would never act in public. Especially in our current political climate.

AB: Politics! That’s mostly want I mean. Do you know I was cancelled from a golden age charity benefit for autism appearance because of politics?

Doc V: That’s terrible, Allen. The country is very polarized now and it has seeped into everything. The division is palpable. But I’m going to make a decision here and move away from politics and on to something else.

AB: That’s fine, Michael. All I want is for everyone to get along. Nothing else matters.

Doc V: Do you remember what your salary was at Timely?

AB: $25 a week, at first.

Doc V: Did it increase over time?

AB: It did. I don’t recall exactly, maybe up to $60, then $75.

Doc V: How did that compare to an average salary of the time? Was that a decent salary to run a middle class lifestyle?

AB: Well let me put it this way, at that time, if a man made $35 or $40 a week, he was doing good. If he made $75 a week, that was really good. $100 a week put you at the top of the list! Boy, times have changed.

Doc V: So the artists on staff at Timely were really making a good living.

AB: We were. And many also freelanced at the same time, adding to their income. You basically could earn as much as you wanted.  I wrote and drew my filler “Let’s Play Detective” as a freelancer while on staff. I received $9 for the script and $35 for the finished 2 pages of art.

(Kid Komics #4 (Spring/44))

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! 

AB: I never knew what other artists were making. It was never discussed. But yes, artists like Mike Sekowsky were living high on the hog.

Doc V: Let’s talk again about Stan Lee.

AB: Well I spoke about Stan Lee quite a bit in the book. You may recall one of the stories I told there, how back in the day I had completed a story called “The Spider of Paris” for one of the crime books.

Doc V: I know that one, yes. I loved the splash panel!

AB: Well, after I drew that story, believe it or not, and I swear to you Michael that this is true, I worked up a logo with the words “Spiderman”. No image, or maybe there was an image, a doodle of someone wearing spats, but mostly, just the name. I showed it to Stan and he gave me a sort of a dismissive look and kept on walking. And it was thrown away. Boy was I surprised years later to hear about a Spider-Man comic book!

Doc V: That’s some story. It shows that there is synchronicity in the creative arts at times. The idea for Spider-Man as we know him is a bit of a convoluted story, even pre-dating the hero we know by Stan and Steve Ditko. There was an earlier Jack Kirby drawn version that was never used that, according to Steve Ditko, was a derivation of Simon & Kirby’s The Fly for Archie Comics in 1959. There was even a logo for the character that came from Joe Simon that Jack Kirby stated he brought to Stan Lee.

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: I doubt he would, Allen.

AB: A couple of years back I was at a comic book show in Miami with Al Plastino. We did an act onstage where we needled each other. I think it was even videotaped. Surprisingly, Al told me he didn’t get along with Stan. I couldn’t find out why.

Doc V: I have no idea. In fact, Al never even worked for Stan, doing a bit of Timely work through Funnies Inc. in 1942-43, I believe. That’s it.

AB: Shortly after that, Al passed way. A very sweet man whom I miss a great deal.

Doc V: Stan will always be a controversial figure.

AB: Nowadays we’re 20 blocks apart.

Doc V: Really? How do you mean? Do you want to explain?

AB: Sure. I don’t care. I think he purposely snubbed me one time.

Doc V: You? He snubbed you? What happened?

AB: A few years ago on I was at the Boston Comic Con and there was a 95th birthday for Ken Bald, who I knew well at Timely. Well I wasn’t invited. I stayed in my hotel room. I wasn’t going to crash the party uninvited.

(Ken Bald, Allen Bellman - March 31, 2012)

Doc V: Why weren’t you invited?

AB: I don’t know. I’ve always felt it was because of Stan Lee, who was also in attendance. Stan and Ken were close friends.

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!” 

Doc V: (laughing furiously!)

AB: I’m telling you! I later heard from fans who were there and they thought the entire thing was wonderful theater. The audience was laughing so hard.

Doc V: I wish I’d have been there! We’d have some video to accompany this article!

AB: So I think I get under his skin.

Doc V: Oh I doubt it, Allen. I’m telling you, the simplest answer is just that somebody forgot to invite you.

AB: Maybe you’re right. I certainly don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade. I have my fans and I’m a happy camper. I was just a bit hurt. Who knows if I’ll ever see Ken again. With so little time left, every meeting is precious to me nowadays. So I really don’t care any longer whose feathers I ruffle. You know it’s funny, talking about Stan has me remembering a young woman he dated before he got married. She worked in the company, I think on Miss America Magazine.

Doc V: Not Bessie Little?

AB: No. Bessie was the editor of all the movie mags and such. This was a staffer. A cartoonist. I can’t think of her name right now. Very beautiful woman. Let me ask Roz…

Doc V: How would Roz know? This was before you even met her.

AB: We had her here several years ago in Florida, with her grandson. He’s in the film industry now and I helped him out by introducing him to Michael Uslan.

Doc V: Wait a minute …. Is her name Marion?

AB: Marion! That’s it! Marion Cohen. How did you know that?

Doc V: Allen, you are not going to believe this but several years ago, when the book I wrote with my friend Blake Bell, “The Secret History of Marvel Comics” came out, we had a book launch at The Society of Illustrators in New York, during the NY Comicon. The event was advertised in the New York Post newspaper, so the turnout was very large in spite of most people being at the con at the Javits Center. We had a panel discussion about the book and a slide show. Al Jaffee and Stan Goldberg were our guests. Two days later, I’m waiting for my daughter in Grand Central Station; a young man comes up to me and asks if I was Michael Vassallo. I reply in the positive and he says he had attended the book launch after reading about it in the newspaper. He then says his grandmother worked for Martin Goodman in the 1940’s. I asked her name and whether she was still with us, the answer was Marion Cohen and yes, she was still with us. In a week’s time, we were having lunch together at The Society of Illustrators, where she was a member, and telling me all about her years working at Magazine Management of the 1940’s.

Marion Cohen (Gerrick) - October 29, 2013

AB: I don’t believe it!

Doc V: I don’t either. And here’s the backstory, Allen. I’d actually been searching for her for years! I indexed the 1940’s run of Miss America Magazine and cataloged scores and scores of illustrations signed by “Marion”, “MG” and “Gerrick”. I finally made the connection “MG” was in fact Marion Gerrick, which now I know was her maiden name. The only data I could find on her was later as a painter who had a lot of success in the fine art world, then the trail ran cold. And I wasn’t even certain it was the same artist. So I put it aside for a few years, with her then falling into my lap through her grandson Adam. And now “you” mention her to me also! This is a one-in-a-million coincidence.

AB: Stick with me, Kid! (laughs)

Doc V: She is a lovely woman. I’m going to interview her again. I did so in 2013 but I want to revisit it.

AB: Tell her I say hello.

Doc V: I will.  But how did you come to meet her? You said she visited you down in Florida?

AB: Yes. I was at a one-day show in New York several years ago. A Mike Carbonaro show, at the Hotel Pennsylvania.

Doc V: Really? Why didn’t I know about that? I would have definitely come by to see you. He runs shows there every year. Sometimes I go with my friends, other times I don’t.

AB: I think it was a last-minute thing. It wasn’t the greatest experience and I doubt I’d ever do it again. Anyway, her grandson came to my table and we chatted. He told me his grandmother worked for Magazine Management and it went from there. Eventually they both came by our place here in Florida as she also wintered in Florida. They were very nice and she told me she dated Stan Lee before he was married.

Doc V: Wow! That’s some story.

AB: You’ll have to get it from her! (laughs)

Doc V: Now I’m a big baseball fan, Allen. As a matter of fact, I pitched in high school and wanted to play in college but never really got the chance. So imagine my surprise when I see you throw out the first ball at a Miami Marlins baseball game! How the heck did that come about?

AB: Mike Broder runs a busy comicon in Miami. He called me up one day when the Panthers wanted me to do something for them, I forget exactly what. I couldn’t go. Then more recently, he calls me and asks me whether I’d like to throw out the first pitch for the Florida Marlins. I told him it was a dream come true.

Doc V: I’ll say it is!

AB: And sure enough, it was arranged. What a long trip to Miami, though. He drove us and it seemed to take forever. When we got there, we got the royal treatment. Kids everywhere dressed in Marvel costumes. I still have the ball signed by the manager. I went out to the mound and saw myself on the big screen.  Audrey was there with us taking a ton of photos. Later we had a private box and were treated like royalty.

Doc V: Did you practice a bit? Warm up or anything? Practice throws?

AB: Nothing at all. Now listen to this. I put my cane on the ground and threw the ball. I then accidentally stepped on the silver part of the handle and I turned around like a merry-go-round. But I never fell down. The ball dropped about 10 feet right in front of the catcher.

Doc V: You short-hopped it!

AB: It was perfectly in line, just short. But they still wouldn’t sign me up!

Doc V: When was the last time you threw a baseball, Allen?

AB: To answer that honestly, I never threw a baseball. When the kids were out playing stickball in the streets, I was up in the house drawing.

Doc V: Never?

AB: Never!

Doc V: What about when your son was a kid? Didn’t you play catch with him?

AB: Never. I’ll tell you another baseball incident. I was at Ebbets field the last year the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, in 1957.  I was with a beautiful girl, half Italian, half Jewish. Somebody hits a foul ball right at us. I tried to protect myself by covering my head with my hands and the ball fell right at my feet. I bent down and picked up the ball. The guy next to me was yelling, “I had it! I had it!” I replied, “That’s the way the ball bounces!” I don’t know what made me say that to the guy. He gave me a look and that was the end of it. I signed the ball to the girl in India ink.

Doc V: What became of her?

AB: Oh, I don’t know. We parted soon after. She wasn’t the one I wanted to marry. I wish I still had that ball! She probably threw it out.

Doc V: A ball from Ebbets Field would be nice to have! It was a foul ball, right? Not a home run ball?

AB: A foul ball. Where do you think I was sitting? In the bleachers? I got us good seats down front! I knew how to treat a date. The ball had my name on it. It was coming right for my head like a bullet.  I’m very religious, a devout coward! Someone else would try to catch it. I ducked!

Doc V: You should have thrown yourself in front of your date. Prove you’d take a bullet for her.

AB: I got the ball anyway! (laughs)

Doc V: Well all that was the warm-up for your night at Marlin’s Stadium (laughs). I saw the video. It was fantastic. It’s a good thing you didn’t fall, Allen.

AB: I was worried I would. I wanted to look like a pitcher! I’m telling you, God won’t let me do anything wrong.

Doc V: And that’s a good note to end on. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you, Allen. Let’s plan to update readers again in about 5 years!

AB: I’ll be ready.


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.