Friday, August 13, 2021

Sy Grudko (1927-2011)





Selma and Sy Grudko, circa 1952

Back in the early 1990's I finally began a long-planned Timely/Atlas indexing project that had been on my mind for years. This was before there was a viable internet (I got online in 1995) and there were very few places anyone could go for comic book creator credit data. I realized, well after the fact, that others were doing the exact same thing (and had been for decades), primarily for me, the great Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr., the father of Atlas collectors and indexers. But at that time, I was not in that particular loop of fandom. I didn't contribute to the great APA's that had been produced in the 1970's and 1980's, where data and info made the rounds among select researchers and contributors. No, I was starting out all alone, from scratch. My interest in silver-age Marvel had been waning since the early 1980's, and instead the deeper history of the company, a history no one seemingly had really tackled, began to ignite a fire in me. 

Timely at that time primarily meant hero books, and even back then their costs made a sizable or even moderate (or small) collection prohibitive. So I instead focused on their non-hero books, as well as their next iteration, Atlas. These books could be had back then for anywhere from $5 to $20, depending on condition. And my focus was to acquire as many as possible, hopefully (wishfully) all of them! First I had to figure out exactly how many titles there were and I spent several days going through every single entry in what was probably the 1989 Overstreet guide, compiling a list of every single comic title published by Martin Goodman in the 1940's and 1950's, a list I could find no place else, and may not even had ever been compiled up to that time. Many of the titles had to be figured out as the listings often had one of Goodman's innumerable sub-publishing companies down as the de facto publisher, not "Marvel, "Timely" or "Atlas," but instead something like Bard Publishing Corp., Animirth Comics or Select Publications, Inc., etc.

The end result was mind boggling! I had no idea! Hero books? forget it! They didn't even rate on the scale of volume of titles, especially past the Second World War.  The Atlas horror books were the most well known, obviously because their stories were reprinted all over the early to mid 1970's, so I was most  familiar with much of them. But the Westerns? The Crime, The Romance? The War! The Humor? The Funny-Animals? The titles were endless! By about 1991 I had acquired a sizable collection of Atlas comics in all genres, and knew to an issue, exactly what I was still missing.

Deciding I might never actually acquire them all (although over the next 25 years I mostly did), as I said, by the early 1990's I began to index the creator credits, which I immediately realized would consist of primarily artist credits. And that job was also difficult, fueled by only about half of the stories being signed in the 1950's. So in addition to recording signed credits, I also began a photocopy database of unsigned stories, a database cleaned up when I could match a style to a signed story in another book, or even at another company. The result was a 10 volume collection of 5 inch binders housing a literal Timely/Atlas art encyclopedia. 



*** [Later on, I sought help from Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr., and he took me into his small two-man circle of art spotter projects (along with the great Hames Ware) and the three of us spent the early part of the new millennium poring through non-hero Timely humor runs, art spotting the creators for possibly the first time in history. What I learned from those two giants of the field I can never repay, and I will be eternally grateful. We used that knowledge when we art spotted and did the credits for the runs of Timely hero books for Marvel's Golden-Age Masterworks volumes 15 years ago.] ***

Writer credits were a different matter and were almost non-existent at that time, except for the occasional Stan Lee credit plastered on the splash page. (In the ensuing 25 years, writer credits from the records of several/many of the original writers "did" surface, and were added to the database. These include Carl Wessler, Paul S. Newman, Don Rico and Clayton Martin). 

So I started my early 1990's indexing with long complete runs of horror/fantasy, specifically my complete runs of Mystic (61 issues) and Uncanny Tales (56 issues). The data was recorded in spiral notebooks, in pencil (to be able to correct errors and allow updates in knowledge, which happened every single week) and each genre received its own notebook. 

*** [ For historical note, those spiral notebooks were purchased while on vacation visiting my parents in the upstate New York Adirondack town of Hague, at the northern end of Lake George, in the small town of Ticonderoga, at the now defunct department store, Ames. Each book had a different Warner Bros. cartoon character on the cover, allowing me to quickly identify the Atlas genre I needed in a particular notebook by the Warner Bros. character on the cover. The notebooks below, from left to right, housed Horror/Fantasy, Western, Romance, War, and Crime credits. But I digress....] ***



The indexing revealed that many stalwarts of the Marvel silver age had earlier toiled for its predecessor, Timely/Atlas. Bill Everett, Steve Ditko, Joe Sinnott, Dick Ayers, John Romita, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Paul Reinman, even Jack Kirby, had all contributed to Atlas comics of the 1950's. A score or more of others had a Marvel Age "cup of coffee", and did a lot of Atlas work, including Bob Powell, Carl Burgos, Al Williamson, Sol Brodsky, Stan Goldberg, Sam Kweskin, etc.. But the vast, vast majority of the names were completely new by Marvel sensibilities, often having worked all over the industry and never again for Marvel. And then there were the names I had never, ever, heard of before, names like Bob Bean, Chick Winter, Ed Ashe, Mike Becker, Sam Cooper, Chu Hing, Marion Sitton, Ed Goldfarb, Howard O'Donnell, Allen Bellman, Sy Grudko ..... The list was endless.

Simultaneously to all this, I was considering the fact that a sizable amount of lesser know creators had never had their stories told in interviews. The comic-related press and publications had published tons of interviews with the giants and icons of the industry, both present and past. But the less-knowns and little-knowns were ignored (mostly because they were, well, ... less known and little known). In 1997 this all came to a head when I acquired one of the very early CD-Roms, a disc containing the entire white pages of the United States. I immediately began to search some of those more obscure comic artist names I mentioned I had come across. I started with Sy Grudko.

Grudko's name stood out to me because of the simple fact that in over 1000 books I looked through, I had only seen his name a handful of times in 1951-54, and never again. I first saw his name years earlier in Strange Tales #6 (Apr/52), "The Eyes of March." As I began to index my run of Uncanny Tales (Apr/54), I came across his 4-page story "Timber!"

The story was signed on the splash, "Sy Grudko," and the name fascinated me. There wasn't another single story by him in the entire 56 issue run of the title! Who was this person? What else did he do? Was he still alive? I had no idea, but I felt I had to find out. Searching the CD-Rom database, I was thrilled to discover that there was a single man with the name Sy Grudko in the entire country, and he was living out on Long Island, at the very time I was searching for him!  In early 1998, I finally placed a call to the number. I introduced myself to his wife who answered the phone, apologized for bothering them, and had a brief chat about who I was and why I called. My memory of the short conversation was that Sy sounded a bit guarded, but nevertheless was interested in my call, and that it was a bad time and could I call back at a better time. A few days later, on February 23, I did, and spent 30 minutes talking to Sy about his career. The questions were general and his answers were astute. In my mind, this was a warm up interview to a much longer interview that I wanted to do, possibly in person, as it was only an hour's drive from where I lived in Westchester to his home on Long Island. The biggest surprise of all, as you will read below, was the fact that Sy's work for Timely/Atlas had predated these handful of Atlas stories, and he had been in fact employed on staff at Timely in the post-war period! An incredible revelation for me!

But sadly, that longer interview I was planning was not to be. Following that phone call, I sent Sy copies of his work that I had as well as a stack of comics history magazines to show him that readers today were very much interested in comics history. I put my home phone number in the note and waited to hear back from him but never did. We exchanged Christmas cards for a few years, one of his to me containing a nice sketch of Sy and his wife Selma. 


But time moved on. I began to track down other lesser-known creators, some of which I've shown on this blog, like artists like Marion Sitton and Allen Bellman. Others I still haven't written about, including Vince FagoDavid Gantz and Violet Barclay. In the new millennium I sent Sy a copy of the very first Strange Tales Masterworks containing his story "The Eyes of March!" (in issue #6, Apr/52), but still didn't hear back. My memory also tells me that at some point his phone number was no longer in service, and even later word came through a comic strip history group that the artist on the strip "So It Seems," Sy Grudko, had passed away in 2011. And that was pretty much that. Somewhat crestfallen, I felt I had lost a chance to get his full story, but at least I had spoken to him and had a rough comic book career outline. 

A few years ago, out of the blue, I was contacted by Sy's daughter, Diane. She had been going through her dad's stuff and came across all the material I sent him that Sy had kept. She was extremely interested in her dad's artist career, researching it on her own, and planning a book on his life.  I filled her in on the Atlas portion, which was finite, and what I knew of his Timely years, which was unsigned, inked by someone else, and mostly undiscovered and anonymous. I also informed her that I had an old interview with her father that I had recorded and never transcribed, mostly because I recalled accidentally erasing a 10 minute segment. I had not seen the tape in decades but knew where it was, in a box with many different interviews I had conducted over the years. Diane prevailed upon me to dig it out, digitize it and transcribe it, and I was happy to find I was completely wrong about the accidental erasure! The entire 30 minute discussion was intact (meaning that someone else's contemporary conducted interview 10 minute segment was accidentally erased ... David Gantz? Vince Fago? Violet Barclay? I don't know, but that's a problem for another time.) 


Below is probably the only interview Sy Grudko ever gave on his comic book career. It's a little weak in my directing the flow, and the depth of the questions, but as I said, this wasn't meant to be definitive at this time, only a chat, a prelude to a more expansive talk that never happened.


February 23, 1998

Vassallo: Good Evening, Mr. Grudko. 

Grudko: How are you? You know I have to tell you something, maybe it's my age. I really fouled up by not getting your name and address the last time you called.

V: That's ok. I also have some copies I want to send you, so I'll need your address also. I have some of your old stories you can have to look at. I don't know whether you have anything from those days.

G: From the 1950's?

V: Yes, from the 1950's.

G: I've saved some scraps, some of the work.

V: Good. I've talked to some people who don't have anything from their past and that fact has always bothered me. 

G: One thing my children used to do was play with them, so they're sort of tattered, even my originals. They used to draw on top of them, and I didn't think much of it, until I got a book from Sotheby's, which evaluated the comic books. They had some auctions, and I'm amazed how much stuff the kids ruined.

V: In the old days, did the publishers give the artwork back to you?

G: No, in fact, I have a newspaper article here that goes back 10 or 12 years, with the story of the man who did Captain America..

V: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby?

                                                         (Joe Simon & Jack Kirby)

G: Kirby, yes. Simon, I don't know, might have been the story man. Kirby was the artist. Simon might have inked for him at one time. But the story was about Kirby. He and Stan Lee had quite a dispute, maybe 15, 20 years ago, about the originals. Kirby could never get them back. Stan Lee kept them for Timely Comics, and then sold them off or something, I don't know what he did with them. I don't know if he still has them.

V: Well, what I believe actually happened was that it was not so much Stan Lee, who was gone from running the company in New York at that time, but instead the company that owned Marvel years after Martin Goodman sold the company. Historically, it was just policy that they would not return any of the artwork.

G: Let me go back a little bit further. I was there in the 1950's. They never gave it back then either. Stan Lee kept a lot of it. The printing houses kept it, stored them, and then threw them out. So I know a little bit better than that, it wasn't just the policy that took over Marvel or Timely, that policy preceded that. When I did my syndicated strip, I asked the Post Syndicate for my originals back each week, and I did get them back. I have all the originals of that work.

V: That's great! What a heritage for your family.

G: Well, they don't think much of it. (laughs).

V: I want to start at the very beginning, Sy. How did you break into the comic book business?

G: Let me go back. I got out of the army in 1946. I took the G.I. Bill and went to art school, the Art Student's League on 57th street in Manhattan. I studied illustration, anatomy ... I always wanted to be an illustrator.  I was living on what they used to call 52/20. You got 20 bucks a week, for 52 weeks. That's when you got out of World War 2. That was it. The G.I. Bill was paying my tuition at the Art's Student's League. It was difficult getting along, and then somebody mentioned to me at the League, that there could be an apprenticeship opening at Timely Comics, at that time located on the 14th floor of the Empire State Building. I went over there, taking along a few samples of my work.



Timely Time clock, 14th floor of Empire State Building
Leon Lazarus and Pete Tumlinson (December 15, 1948)

V: Now what year was this?

G: 1947. I'm trying to think, I want to be more accurate... the end of 1947, somewhere around that time. I had an interview with Stan Lee. He looked at my work and said, "I'm sorry, I can't use you as an apprentice or anything, but I can use you on staff." I looked at him in shock. "I'd like to hire you as an artist, not as a clean-up man." I staggered out of there, and he said, "Before you go, I want to give you what we call a filler. You'll have to do this at home, on a freelance basis." It was a Human Torch filler, one or two pages, I don't remember. He said, "You just do the penciling on it, just give me the layout, I'll give you a script." So he gave me a script. I went home and I did it. My father walked into the bedroom and saw me with a drawing board, saying, "How can you make a living out of this? They're just pictures. I said, "I don't know pop, I'm just trying out for a job. I brought it up two days later, and Stan Lee gave me the magnificent check of $75.


*** [Note- The Human Torch filler above was published in Human Torch Comics #32 (Sept/48). In addition to Sy's pencils and inks, I've ascertained that George Klein has likely done some background work that I see in several panels, sprucing it up a bit more for publication. ]***

V: Wow!

G: It was because I had penciled "and" I had inked it. I went against what he said. I just left the balloons open because I didn't know how to letter. So he put me on staff. 

V: Now was that introductory filler piece ever published?

G: Yes, and I think I might have it. I'd have to look through my files, but it's sort of weather-beaten!

V: I'd love to know what book it appeared in.

G: I swear to you I don't know the name of the magazine because I didn't read comic books in those days. So I don't know, but I still have scraps of my work, some of them are signed, some of them are not signed. I wasn't allowed to sign for Timely, but there were other places like Ace Comics. I knew the editor and he let me sneak my name in.

V: I believe you worked for Ace in 1949. 

G: Yes. I don't know if you ever heard of a man by the name of Wertham.

V: Oh sure, Dr. Fredric Wertham


                                                                                                      
                   

G: He came along around the end of 1948 and caused quite a commotion in the comic book industry. And at that time, Timely decided to let go all their staff artists.



Dr. Fredric Wertham in Saturday Review of Literature - May 29, 1948


V: What year would this be? Timely fired their staff at the end of 1949.

G: About 1948-49, somewhere around there. They closed up shop, not completely, they cut it down to a bare minimum. 

V: They had a bullpen set-up....

G: Right! In fact, I sat in front of Syd Shores


                           Syd Shores middle back staring into camera, Artie Simek lower right, David 
                                               Jaffee, Al's younger brother is next to Syd on right


V: Syd sort of ran that bullpen, didn't he? Did he have a supervisory position?

G: Yes, in fact, the last time I was with him, I did some undercover work, some ghosting for him when he was living out here in Bethpage, Long Island. He and I were still very friendly. I admired him so much. Before he died, I did some work penciling for him. Along the way, while I was on staff at Timely, I met a man by the name of Carl Burgos.

Carl Burgos

V: The creator of the Human Torch.

G: Yes. And Al Jaffee was also in that bullpen.

V: Was Chris Rule there?

G: Yes, and there was Gene Colan also. He was about my age, maybe a  year younger. He was in that bullpen. 

V: Gene Colan was great!

G: Oh yes. He still is. He was a nice kid.

V: What about John Buscema? Was he there at the time you were t          there?



G: I don't remember. You have to understand, my memory is only with the guys I had an association with. Then I went out freelancing, I met a guy by the name of Lou Cameron. He was doing a strip called "So it Seems," which was a syndicated strip. I met him up where I was showing my work somewhere. He said to me one day, "Would you like to ghost for me?" 


"So It Seems" by Lou Cameron

V: "So it Seems?

G: Yes, "So it Seems". I said, "ok." I undertook that. A few weeks later he said to me, "I can't do this strip any more, I've go other things to do. Take it over." So I did.

V: How long did that last?

G: That ran for about a year. It was in The Brooklyn Eagle, The Enquirer, it was in about 32 papers but didn't pay much.


V: Would that have been in 1953?

G: Yes, you're right, because one of the strips had my daughter in it. I put her in it when she was born in 1952. So it ran from about 1952 to 1953. That's about what I remember.



                                                     "So It Seems" by Sy Grudko



                               "So It Seems" by Sy Grudko featuring Sy, Selma and Diane


V: Getting back to when you just started working for Timely, after you handed in that initial Human Torch filler, do you recall what other features you might have worked on at that time in the late 1940's? 

G: You got me. I recall doing crime stories. There was a crime book.


V: The crime books started cover dated in the Fall of 1947 at Timely.

G: That might have been it. About then. I remember doing some penciling, Stan didn't let me ink, I wasn't much of an inker. I didn't have the technique then. 

V: At that time you weren't signing the work, right?

G: No, nobody was.

V: Why do you think that was, Sy?

G: I have an idea that Goodman and Lee decided that's it's their business, and they had a staff to do it. If they owned the Human Torch, or Captain America, and one guy wanted to quit, they would just have someone else do it.

V: But some guys like Burgos did sign their work. Bill Everett also.

G: Very early on. You usually won't find it in their later work. When Lee came to Goodman, he took over complete control of Timely. He was the master boss. He was the editor and decided on what goes. I like him. He was a nice guy, but he was no one to monkey with. Or else he could fire you on the spot.

V: Now the material that I found your work in which I first became affiliated with it, was published in the early 1950's. I've come across... (doorbell rings!).

G: Wait a minute, I have a doorbell to answer.

V: Sure!

G: We can still talk, I have a portable phone.

V: I said, in books of the early 1950's, I first came across about 6 stories, and I'm sure there are more, mostly in 1952, one of them in 1954. I guess after Timely fired the bullpen, you began to again freelance for them.

G: Where is this from?

V: Timely turned into Atlas in the early 1950's. They published so many books at this time. When the horror books began, they had over 20 different titles. The first time I ever saw your name was a story called "The Eyes of March," which was published in Strange Tales #6, cover dated April, 1952, and I looked at the little signature at the bottom, "S. Grudko," and I had never heard that name before. 

G: I think I may have a copy of that.

V: It's a wonderful story with a great splash page! There are two big eyes at the top of the splash panel there. It's just perfect pre-code horror artwork for that period. 

G: This is Atlas?

V: Yes.

G: Atlas owned by Timely?

V: Yes, it was the same company. Timely stopped calling itself Timely after the staff was fired and soon a small globe appeared on the cover, the Atlas Globe. It was initially a distribution mark.

G: I remember now, that I was freelancing for Timely, well, ... now Atlas. 

V: How did it work? Did you go into the office to get a script and then went back home to draw it?

G: Yes, that's the way it was done. 

V: I had been indexing the contents of those books as part of a historical credit accounting project. I have about 2000 of these books and have been trying to compile a database to identify and give credit to every person who may have drawn any of these stories, whether they signed the material or not. I saw your name early on, maybe 7 years ago, and had never heard of you before.

G: Well I didn't last long. After I had my children, I needed something a little more secure, so I went into business. But while I was there, I had a wonderful time. I enjoyed it. 

V: Your style back then was perfect for the horror books. I really did like it. Do you remember who actually scripted some of those stories?

G: No, I don't.

V: You were just given a script and that was it?

G: Yes. But I was told by someone that Stan Lee wrote a lot of them.

V: Well he signed all the stories he wrote. They would often say. "By Stan Lee." There was a writer by the name of Hank Chapman, who also signed most of his stories. But besides those two, almost no other names appear as writers. 

G: I'm going to dig up that newspaper article I mentioned earlier, about Kirby and Lee. I have the clipping. I didn't throw it out. It may have been in The Village Voice. 

V: Well that was a big story at that time. I can fill you in also what happened. From what I've heard, Marvel sent Jack Kirby a release to be signed that was different from the release sent to all the other artists, which was a simple one page form, I believe. Kirby's release was multi-paged document designed to squelch his claim of ownership to the characters. So he refused to sign it and that's where the big problem started. All the other artist's received their artwork and Jack didn't. Finally, they did right by him and sent him the shorter form release but in the end the returned a small percentage of his overall work for them, claiming that's all they had. Unfortunately, a great deal of his most important work was missing.

G: While we were talking, I just pulled something off a shelf.  I wasn't happy with adventure stories, and I liked more humorous drawing. I don't know if you've ever head of Monty Hale Western? Bill Boyd Western? (names a few other inaudible western titles). I'm just running off titles. I have scraps of pages of stories I did there. They didn't permit me to sign. I freelanced these. It must be going back to the 1952-53-54 period. They were 4 or 5 pagers. I didn't write them, just drew them. I'm just now looking at them and cannot believe how much of that junk I did (laughs). It was real junk. 

V: I see that there's a reference that you did some sports comics in the 1950's. Do you recall that?                                                                                                                       


G: I don't remember sports comics. I did do a series called Buffalo Bull, and that appeared in the Tex Ritter comic, Tex Ritter Western. I also did Bob's (?), I'm looking at it now. You just opened up my whole life again! Anyhow, I didn't stay with the comics for very long. I had my fun and I got out. That's about it. I did write some of my freelance stuff. I used to write fillers forStrange Tales of the Supernatural, something like that. Those type of stories. 

V: Ok, I see.

G: There was a guy, an editor, named Al Sulman. What do you know about him?

V: He was an associate editor and also a writer at Timely. I do know he wrote a feature called Blonde Phantom in the late 1940's. I'm sure he wrote more than that. 

G: Do you know whatever happened to him?

V: No, I don't.

G: He went on to become an editor of a comic book house that was on 47th Street, in the diamond district, in Manhattan. It was between 6th or 7th Avenue, I don't remember. 

V: What was the name of the company?

G: I can't remember. I don't know if it was Ace or something else. I'm trying my best to remember because I did something like True Tales of the Supernatural for him as a filler. I wrote it and drew it. And he and I became close friends. He used to come over the house for dinner and he and my wife and I had some lovely times together. Then I lost track of him. 

V: You don't know if he's still living, do you?

G: Well if he was, he'd be in his mid 70's somewhere. But I just don't know. To be very frank with you, he had a boyfriend, and they sort of popped out of our lives, when we moved out to the Island. So I never heard from him again. 

V: Were you born in New York, Sy?

G: Yes. Brooklyn, New York.

V: That's where my roots are also.

G: Yeah, the old Brownsville section. Murder, Inc.

V: My grandparents are from Greenpoint.

G: Ah! I know the area. 

V: What year were you born?

G: 1927. October 3.

V: The year of the '27 Yankees!

G: That's right. And Lindbergh.

V: And Lindbergh! I'm thinking if there's anything else I can drag out of your memory about those times.... Did you ever draw any covers?

Mystery Tales #40 (Burgos)

G: No. Covers were a specialty. Not even Burgos was drawing covers then.

V: In the 1950's he did a lot of covers. 

Actually, it leads to another question that perhaps you could extemporize on a little bit. I noticed that with the thousands of books Timely and Atlas published in the 1940's and 1950's, it seems that only a handful of artists actually drew the covers. In the 1950's you had Sol Brodsky, Russ Heath...





                                                                                                                 

G: Oh, I knew Russ Heath! He also drew the insides of the books. Westerns! He was a very fast penciler. I knew him on staff at Timely.

War Comics #11 (Russ Heath)

V: Another artist, one of my favorites, Joe Maneely.

G: Oh yeah, these were all guys from my time. The thing is, you had to have a more illustrative style and a good color sense to do covers. It really had to come out of the page. You had to be a more accomplished illustrator, more than a cartoonist.

V: Well I'll tell you, I'm looking at some of the covers and I see that many of the guys drawing interior stories were just as good, or even better than some of the cover artists.

G: The covers were the most important part of the book. They caused the books to jump out from the magazine rack and get sold. So that was a specialty. 

V: What about Mike Sekowsky? Do you remember him at Timely?



(HUMAN TORCH #31 (July48)  Mike Sekowsky pencils)




G: Oh yes! I still remember Sekowsky! He was in the room next to me! 

V: He was a great artist for Timely! One of the fastest!

G: Yes, he was! 

V: He was one of the top artists there.

G: I told you the story about George Tuska, didn't I?

V: No, you didn't. I loved Tuska's work.




G: Yes. About 25 years ago, 1970 1972 or 1973, around there, Stan Lee was lecturing on the North Shore of Long Island. He was giving a lecture. I had a day off from my business, and I took my youngest son. He was about 5 or 6 years old, who never knew I was an artist. I never let him mess around with my books or anything. I said to him, "Let's go, you want to see this comic book man?" He said he did. Now remember one thing, I hadn't seen Stan Lee in 20 years, by this time. So the lecture was over, he walks down the aisle and he sees me, and he throws his arms around me, calling me by my name. Which shocked the hell out of me. And all the kids gathered around me, wanting my autograph, because Stan Lee said, "Here's one of my great cartoonists!", which I wasn't, but he was building me up. And everybody was asking for my autograph. And my little guy couldn't believe it! That I had lied to him all these years, that I was a well known artist. And I wasn't. Stan was just putting them on. I still remember that. It had to be around 1973. I still remember it. That was the last time I ever saw Stan. 

V: Wow. But you were saying something about George Tuska?

                (George and Dorothy Tuska (with Mike Gartland) at the 2000 White Plains con)

G: Yes. After the lecture, a woman came over to my wife. She asked her, "Was your husband a cartoonist?" My wife said, yes. They started to talk. She asked my wife, "What's he doing now?" My wife answered, "We have a little business out here on the Island." Mrs. Tuska then asked, "You mean, your husband doesn't do comic books?" My wife replied, "He hasn't done them for many years." And Mrs. Tuska said, quote, "Your the luckiest woman and he's the luckiest man in the world." And my wife couldn't understand it, so she asked, "Why?" She replied, "Well, George was going blind, his eyes were failing because of the work. Also, he never got anywhere. He always got paid his own stipend, a page rate for the work, and never made it big." George Tuska's wife then told my wife, "You're lucky to be out of it." And I agree. Most of the artists suffered. 

V: I can imagine so. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, Marvel and Stan Lee brought George Tuska back again to comics. He worked on the heroes again, did a bit of Captain America and Iron Man. He stayed around a bit and did good work. I always liked George Tuska. He later did some syndicated work. He did a Superman strip with other heroes that ran in the newspapers in the 1980's. And that seems to have been the end of him in the industry.

G: He did a lot of ghosting in the past. You remember Cracked

                                                                            CRACKED #1 (Mar/58)

V: Yes, I do. 

G: I did a lot of ghosting there. Even when I was in business, out of the industry. I enjoyed it and Syd Shores used to say, "Do this, do that." I never signed my name to the work. Just pay me in cash and goodbye! But it wasn't easy work, although it was a lot of fun. The guys were great. I still remember them, even to this day. And Syd Shores was my favorite. He was a wonderful guy.

Syd and Selma Shores

V: Syd did covers quite often for Timely.

All Western Winners #3 (Feb/49)
Syd Shores cover

G: Again, I have to tell you, I wasn't at Timely a very long time. Just a very short period of time. By about 1955 I was gone completely from the industry.

V: Did you ever see the finished product after it was published back then? Would you get a copy of the book where your work was published?

G: No. I'd have to go out and buy it. 

V: Would you know where it was going to be? Did they tell you? Say you went in and got a script. You then went back home to draw it, returning it when you were done. Did they say what title any anthology type story would appear in? So you'd know where to go and find it?

G: Yes, because that's how I kept track of some of the stuff I did. In fact, I still have a box of stuff that I have to go through. I have to go do a little bit more research on myself! 

V: Ok, I'm going to send you these copies that I have of your work. You don't have to return them. They're yours to keep. And when you get them, I'll give you a couple of days to look through them and I'll call you back. Maybe you'll remember some other things about either doing them or anything that comes to mind about them. 

G: Sure. And you can do something for me also.

V: Surely.

G: Find out, if you can, what happened to Al Sulman after he left Timely. 

V: I will see what I can turn up.

G: I'd like to find the name of that publishing house I mentioned, on 47th street. I just can't think of it because I did some weird tales for them. It was my last illustrative type of work, because I went into the more humor type work afterwards. I walked down there a year or two ago with my wife and I couldn't even remember the building, because everything is so changed now down there. 

V: Sy, let me have your mailing address..

G: Sure. 355 South Wellwood Avenue, Lindenhurst, NY. 11754

[TAPE ENDS]



Sy Grudko circa 1952



Sy and Selma circa 1998, the time of my interview



*** [ In a separate post HERE, I will list and show all I've found about Sy Grudko at Timely/Atlas] 



SOURCES:

  1. Photos of Sy Grudko are courtesy of his daughter Diane Schoer.
  2. "So It Seems" artwork scans courtesy of Diane Schoer.
  3. All Timely and Atlas comic scans are courtesy of the author's collection.
  4. Timely Time Clock, George & Dorothy Tuska photos are courtesy of the author.
  5. Carl Burgos photo courtesy of Susan Burgos.
  6. Syd and Selma Shores photo courtesy of  daughter Nancy Karlebach.




12 comments:

  1. This was like hearing stories from an uncle you never met.

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  2. In that Timely bullpen photo, is that possibly long-time letterer Ray Holloway on the left of Syd Shores?

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  3. Yes, it very well could be. I may have the info on some of the others somewhere. I couldn't find it as oflast night.

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  4. Wonderful interview. Thank you for sheading more light on this time period.

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  5. Great stuff. I was surprised to find out that he did more than one piece for Cracked and that he did it for Syd Shores. I just wrote a piece about Syd Shores' work for the Mad imitation and this seems to suggest he ghosted for/worked with Shores. Since I have a list of everything Shores did (including some that are less typical of his style), it would make it easier to point out some possibles. Shores was only an artist at Cracked, Sol Brodsky was the editor in the first ten or eleven issues. By the way, did you know you can see the whole of #10 at the Internet Archive - which includes the Syd Shores article How To Meet Your Neighbour and un uncredited piece I can't place called Tipping?

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  6. As for As It Seems, years a go I gathered what I could from Newspaper.com, both by Cameron and Grudko (and put it on my blog). None of the papers that ran it, had single gags on the same day. Everywhere I found it, it was used on the ad personals rather than the comic page and always very randomly. Some of the doubles I had were published moths apart.

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  7. I just saw that all of the first twenty issues (poosibly more) are on the Internet Archive!

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    1. Ger, I have the first 6 issues of Cracked only. Do you have a link to the archive?

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  8. Excellent scholarship. I really enjoyed reading it. Some of the lesser known artists are quite interesting to read about. They really give you a good idea of the day to day business of the field.

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  9. Thanks for posting that interview with my Dad. I was the one who occasionally doodled over my father's artwork, mostly trying to imitate what he did. We still have a number of his originals as well as some Jack Kirby artwork and a few others (i.e. Terry and the Pirates).

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  10. I really had the coolest Grandpa ever! Thank you for this!

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