DON PERLIN


DANIEL BEST:  What are your current projects these days?
DON PERLIN:  I’m semi-retired.  I do some re-creations and commissions.  I just finished a full- page colour illustration for the cover of a special sports section for the Jacksonville newspaper.  I’ve been doing t-shirt designs and various projects, keeping myself busy and learning how to do artwork on the computer.

DB:  And how is that going?
DP:  I love it.  The computer is great. You can colour pictures and paint and you don’t get your hands dirty, you don’t have to smell the turpentine - you don’t have to worry about cleaning brushes.  It’s great. 
Another recent project my wife and I have been involved with was a fund raising event for the Tourette Syndrome Association. My grandson has Tourette Syndrome.

DB: Where did you get started?
DP:  Where?  How did I start my interest in comics?  Well, my father was what they called a “Sunday painter”, he had always wanted to be an artist but circumstances hadn’t allowed it.  When I showed up being able to hold a pencil the right way he was thrilled.  So it was always planned for me to be an artist.  We never figured out what kind of an artist I was going to be. I loved comic books.  I would read comic books, I would collect them, trade them.  In those days kids didn’t save them like now, you’d read one and trade with friends so you didn’t have to buy all the different ones. I was about fourteen when Burne Hogarth put an ad in some of the high school papers in New York City.  He was going to open a class on Saturday morning for students who were interested in cartooning. I showed the ad to my father, he called Hogarth and we went to see him and I was accepted as a student.  Then I knew comic books was the thing I wanted to do and everything then was focused to that goal.

DB:  Dick Ayers also studied at the Hogarth School.
DP:  Well, when I went to the Hogarth School it wasn’t exactly a school. Hogarth had rented a loft in a small building up on upper Broadway in Manhattan and on Saturday mornings we had about half a dozen students. Then he got involved with the Stevenson School and then from the Stevenson School he opened up the Cartoonists and Illustrators School.  Now that happened when I was about eighteen and had graduated from high school. That’s when Dick Ayers, Mike Esposito, Roy Krenkel, Ross Andru were there. When I was in high school I would go out with my samples, but I wasn’t ready for professional work and all the editors would give me free comic books to encourage me. So, there I was fourteen years old and getting free comic books.

DB:  It’s a pity you can’t do that now.  <laughs>
DP:  No, I don’t think they’d give me free comic books anymore.  <laughs> 
My first job was for a company called Fox Features.  It was one of those cops and robbers stories. I pencilled it, Pete Morisi inked it.  I had a bad time with those people because they were kind of not on the up and up. 

DB:  And how far back was that?
DP:  Let’s see -  it had to be around ‘48, the late ‘40s.

DB:  I’d always believed that you were an artist that came along in the early 1970s, but you’ve been around for a lot longer than that.  You go back to Timely, you go all the way back.
DP:  Yeah, I go back to Timely. I worked for Timely, I worked for St John, and I did a couple of things for Hillman. I also worked for Harvey; I did a lot of work for them. I even spent three weeks working for Will Eisner around‚ ‘53.  I did the Spirit. He had a weekly insert for newspapers, seven pages or so, and I pencilled three of those.  Then I did odds and ends, as things were getting pretty bad in the comic book industry.  That was about when the psychiatrist Wertham came into the picture, and I was drafted.  I went into the army and for a few months in the army I was doing stuff for Stan Lee, but things in comics got worse and I couldn’t get any more work. When I came back out of the army I started getting a few things from Timely and then they went under.  I wound up doing technical illustrating for five years, and working at night for Charlton Comics.  Then after the technical illustrating I got a job doing box and package designing. I worked at that for about eight years.  I also did comics on the side. I was working for DC doing Weird War and other horror stories; Murray Boltinoff was the editor.

DB:  Did you ever do any superhero for DC at that time?
DP:  I have never done any superhero for DC.  The closest to a superhero for DC that I did was Scooby Doo. <laughs> Roy Thomas had seen my work for DC and called me.  He said there were two books available; one was Werewolf By Night and the other was Mobius The Living Vampire.  Mobius was bi-monthly and the other was monthly, so I took the monthly book.  After that it’s just history.  I started working steadily for Marvel until I went over to Acclaim.

DB:  When you worked at Marvel you worked on pretty much everything.
DP:  I started with the Werewolf, I had family and you get paid per page, the more pages you can do the more you earn. When I started with the Werewolf I was going to pencil and ink it.  After I did the first issue, they came up with this great idea that they were going to do a double sized quarterly. A double sized quarterly meant eight more books, plus the twelve I was doing so that’s twenty books a year that I had to pencil, so they decided to get an inker for me.  They put Vinnie Colletta on it.

DB:  I’ve heard mixed stories about Vinnie.
DP:  Vinnie was a very nice guy and Vinnie could do great work. Some people were complaining about the books after I stopped inking them and I got all kinds of nasty letters.  Then finally they decided to discontinue the quarterly so I went back to pencilling and inking the monthly. Then all the fan mail started turning around.  I even got a couple of guys who said they were sorry they wrote me nasty letters, which was nice.  And while I was doing Werewolf I would pick up extra pencil or ink jobs, so I could increase my income. Then after about two or three years, in 1976, they dropped the Werewolf and I was doing fillers until they decided to give me Ghost Rider.

DB:  You had an excellent run on Ghost Rider.
DP:  Ghost Rider was a bi-monthly when I got it. After about six months on the book they turned it into a monthly.  I did three years on the Werewolf, I also did about three years on Ghost Rider, and I was also inking Sal Buscema’s Captain America.  When Sal decided he didn’t want to do it anymore I was going to get the pencilling, but they decided I should do the Defenders instead.  So I started pencilling the Defenders and I was pencilling and inking Ghost Rider.  That kept my plate pretty full for a while. I left Ghost Rider because I couldn’t keep up the pace.  I was doing the Defenders and picking up extra jobs now and then. I did the Avengers one time, and a few other things here and there.

DB:  You did a few Team Ups.
DP:  I did some Team-Ups.  Then after the Defenders was discontinued I went on to the Transformers.  I did issues 13 through to 35, then while I was doing the Transformers Jim Shooter asked me to come up there and work as an art director.  The senior art director at the time was John Romita, the executive art director.  I was what you’d call the managing art director. 

DB:  What did that involve?
DP: They’d take three budding young cartoonists, who were a smidgen away from being professionals,  pay them minimum wage, no benefits whatsoever, no sick leave or holidays. When you worked, you got paid.  They stayed for a year to do the changes and corrections in the artwork.  The editors would bring the pages and things that they wanted changed, corrected or fixed or whatever, and it was up to me to see that was done.  I was training these young guys and after about a year they were ready to go out and get work.  That was the primary purpose of that job. I was a teacher more or less. I left there to go over to Shooter when he formed his new company Valiant comics.

DB:  What prompted you to go over to Valiant with Shooter?
DP:  It was a more creative job. At Marvel I’d oversee what somebody else had done, and show them how.  To a guy who had spent most of his lifetime pencilling, inking and drawing and meeting deadlines, working around the clock this was very unsatisfying. When I got the offer, Shooter promised me that there’d be more creativity; I’d be in there creating comic books and characters. I’d get to draw a books, I’d get to edit books and I’d get to do almost everything that needed to be done around a comic book.  And more money.  So I went and it was an adventure.  I’d never been in on the start of a comic book company and I have no regrets.  We did some pretty nice stuff there.

DB:  You'll get no argument here.  Some of the Valiant stuff were, and still is, very good reading.  Good artwork, good stories.
DP:  There was a lot of thought and a lot of work that went into those things.

DB:  There were some good artists and writers there.  You had yourself, John Dixon, Barry Windsor-Smith, Bob Layton.
DP: We brought in a lot of newcomers.  Joe Quesada started there colouring. We had a different way of colouring the comics. We took photo-stats and hand painted them..  We had camera- separated art for those books.

DB:  When you were back in the ‘50s with the Wertham thing going on, what was the climate like to work in?
DP: EC was the leader at that time and everybody else was trying to imitate EC.  No one ever quite reached that point.  Then there were the hearings in the senate where they were trying to figure out why there were so many juvenile delinquents, and this Wertham came up with the brain storm that the comic books were at fault. The publishers figured it wasn’t worthwhile to fight it, so they toned them down and it was a catastrophe, the books failed.  I was there.  That happened in about ‘53 and in the summer of ’53 I was drafted into the army and that took care of two years where I didn’t have to worry.

DB:  So most of it passed you by almost.
DP:  No, because when I got out of the army things were still bad and work was difficult to get.

DB:  Did Stan ever ask you to come back to Marvel in the early ‘60s when they had that explosion going on?
DP: There’s a funny story about that.  I delivered a job to Stan Lee in 1957. He’d send out his assistant, or secretary to take the job into him and you just left.  When I got home I got a call from his secretary saying that Stan liked the job very much, he thought it was one of the best jobs that I’d ever done for him, I said great, can I get another one.  She said we’ll be in touch.  And the next time I saw Stan Lee was eleven years later.  They were trying to start some kind of comic book creators organization called ACBA; Stan, Neal Adams and Carmine Infantino.

DB:  How did you find Stan?
DP:  How did I find him?  What did I think of Stan?

DB:  Yes.
DP:  How I found him, he was always sitting down.  <laughter>  Stan was a nice guy, he still is.   He had a big job there, a lot of people wanted to work for him.  Before I got drafted I was doing quite a bit of work for him.  I had teamed up with an inker for a while and they weren’t too happy about the inker and they withdrew some work, and after he and I split up I kept getting work on my own; I got more work that way.

DB:  You pencilled and you inked other pencillers were there any preference on your side as to what you wanted to do?
DP:  I always preferred to pencil because you got the chance to tell the story.  Pencilling was more fun, was an interesting life and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I worked at least 12 to 14 hours a day, because if you were a freelancer you were your own business and if you wanted to make more money then you’d have to do more work.

DB: Who were some of the people that you’ve met, or worked with, that stand out the most?
DP:  There are a number of them.  John Romita is one guy.  Bob Layton and Jim Shooter.

DB:  What was Shooter like?
DP:  Very tall. <laughs> He’s about six foot seven I think. He was nice guy.  As far as I’m concerned I never had any problems.

DB:  You worked with Will Eisner.  What was he like?
DP:  Well I kind of say that I worked for Will Eisner.  What happened was I walked in to his office when the fellow that they had doing the Spirit left.  I walked in with some samples and they brought them in to Eisner , he looked at them and hired me. At that time they had a publication that they were doing called PS Magazine, it was a mechanical maintenance magazine for the Army.  They gave me a drawing board in the corner of the office and left me alone. Jules Feiffer was writing it.  He, at that time, was in the Army stationed at Governors’ Island, which is an island in New York Harbour and he’d come in on the weekend and write a story, lay it out roughly on the boards.  I’d come in on the Monday and I’d pencil it.  I never saw Eisner again after that first time.  I mean while working there.

DB:  You came to Marvel in the early 1970s.  Marvel seemed to have two major explosions, the 1960s where you had the likes of Kirby, Ditko, Colan.
DP:  That was the Silver Age right?

DB:  Right.
DP:  By the time I got there they had reached the Bronze Age. <laughs>  I was there, John Byrne was there, Chris Claremont.  Now Chris Claremont at that time was working staff, and then the first story he wrote I drew.

DB:  Which one was that?
DP:  Oh it was about this woman detective, who was given this job to hunt down the werewolf, and finally she catches this werewolf in a warehouse and he attacks her and finally she puts the silver bullet into it.  And the werewolf turns out to be her husband.  It appeared in one of those black and white comics that they used to put out.  Then I worked with a writer named Doug Moench on Werewolf By Night.  That was a very pleasant experience.  Great guy to work with.  Most of the writers that I worked with were pretty good. I enjoyed doing these characters, and creating some of this stuff, it was really nice.  The only thing was I wish I were smarter about negotiating deals because I’d probably have come out better financially, but you can’t have everything.

DB:  Did you retain much of your artwork?
DP: I’ve got some pages from the Defenders, Transformers, Beauty And The Beast. I have very few pages of Ghost Rider and I have maybe two or three pages of Werewolf. I also have pages of the work I did for Acclaim.

DB:  Why was that?  Were they given to you and you’ve disposed of them over the years? The reason I ask is because there's always the stories of artwork that was never returned.
DP:  That may be true because at first they’d take the artwork and it’d disappear.  They would warehouse the stuff.  Then I think it was Neal Adams who said, "why don’t you give the stuff back?”  Then you wouldn’t have the pay for the warehousing, if you reprinted it you’ve got it on microfilm. There were people who would rather see it destroyed than given back, but then eventually they started giving it all back.  It wound up being easier for them.

I was the first guy, unwittingly, to put profanity in comics.
DB:  The Kazar cover?
DP:  No, it wasn’t the Kazar cover, what was that?

DB:  Issue one of Kazar, back in the early 1970s, on the cover the artist had the trees in the background spelling the magic word.
DP:  This happened in one of the Defenders.  There was a character in there who was a lawyer for the Defenders and his gimmick was that no matter where you saw him in his office, there had to be a TV set on - he was always watching TV.  And while I was drawing one of the panels I was listening to a talk show and there was someone on telling how bad cereals for kids were - they were all loaded with sugar.  So I drew a picture on the TV of a bunny rabbit holding a box of cereal and across the label where the name of the cereal would be I pencilled in 'shit'.  <laughter>  So I figured, because I used to write nutty comments in the borders and stuff I thought they‚d get a laugh out of it and change it.  So they gave it to Pablo Marcos and I don’t know if he knew how to read English or not but he inked it. I walked in one day and I said hello - everybody used to greet me at Marvel with smiles.  And I came in there and they looked at me, boy, like don’t go near him, something might happen to you.  Shooter was looking for me and I went up there and Shooter started yelling, "What did you do? Look at it! They called me upstairs and showed me this" and I said, "Wait a minute.  That thing goes through an assistant editor, an editor, a proof- reader and then you’re supposed to read it.  And no-one picked it up so don‚t blame me."  So what happened was he said fine, just don’t write anymore comments on your pages. <laughter>

DB:  I’m not sure that many people know of that one because I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere. 
DP:  It’s right down near the spine so you might even pass by and not notice it. A friend of mine who had a comic book store called me up and he said, "I have a person who wants to buy the page for $100 At that time $100 was a lot of money.  Do you have the page? I looked at what I got back and I didn’t have the page, and I called Pablo up and said you can get $100 if you have that page.  He told me he didn’t have the page.  Somebody stole that page.

DB:  I never knew that and I used to read the Defenders when I was a kid.
DP:  At that time there was no profanity in it.  I didn’t mean for that to be in it.  I just thought hey, everybody’s smart enough to take that out, c’mon. <laughter>  I guess my estimate of them was too high. <laughter>

DB:  It was a good book, the Defenders, and the run that you were talking about featured a story-line that went through the issues in the 90s and culminated with Satan coming to Earth in issue 100.  When I was young that just blew me away.
DP:  Issue 100, that’s got that big splash, the double page spread where Satan is sitting on the throne and the busses are overturned, a big bottle with all the superheroes in it.  I got that page here somewhere.

DB:  I’ll be frank - that scared the crap out of me when I was 13.
DP:  I’m surprised because when I first started they used to tell me “You’ve got to watch your work because your stuff tends to be cartoony”. I used to sit there and I’d think up horrors for the Werewolf and stuff and I kept wondering whether this would be too cartoony, because I’m looking at it and I thought some of it was pretty funny.  But then when I started working for Acclaim I had occasion to hire somebody, a young fellow, and he says, "You’re Don Perlin, you drew the Werewolf?" and I says, "Yeah" and he says. "You know that stuff gave me nightmares". <laughter>

DB:  Ghost Rider was another one that used to give me nightmares.
DP:  That was a little bit different.  I was drawing him in the middle of the night, I had only one light on over the desk and somehow the hairs on the back of my neck kept getting stiff and I was afraid to turn around.  I could have sworn I smelt fire and brimstone.  So it gets to you after say half a dozen or more cups of coffee.  I was good at that time for twelve cups of coffee a day.  I’d wash the No Doze pills down with them.

DB:  Have you slept since then? <laughs>
DP:  Hey, you know something?  I’ve got so that I can sit here and drink a couple of cups of coffee fifteen minutes before I got to bed and I’ll be asleep in a wink. It doesn’t bother me.

DB:  You’re immune to caffeine.
DP:  Yeah, I’ve got an immunity to it.  Are you familiar with Bloodshot?

DB:  Yes I am.  Out of all the Valiant characters the ones I liked the most were the Eternal Warrior for some reason, and Bloodshot - he even looked cool.
DP:  He looked good until they made him look ugly.  I don’t think that character should have been ugly.  He was supposed to be a ladies man; he should have been what we made him to be in the first place. But when the comic book sales started dropping they didn’t know what to do so they started screwing around with it and that’s what happened.

Did you ever see my favourite?  The Bad Eggs?  The two raunchy dinosaurs.  Did you ever see Pulp Fiction?

DB:  Yes.
DP:  That’s what they’re supposed to be.  They’re supposed to be Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta.  They were my favourites I think because I had a lot of fun doing that.  There were no holds barred on page layouts, I could do funny stuff, but I like to piddle and put detail in so I could be funny and do as much detailing as I liked.  It was a unique thing just that it came too little too late.

DB:  What happened to the ownership of the Valiant characters that you created?
DP:  Acclaim still owns them.  Acclaim is not a comic book company; Acclaim is a video game company.  They made video games and they bought Valiant so they could use the characters in their video games.  One of the characters was Turok.  The first video game Turok The Dinosaur Hunter, I did the designs for all the bad guys. They were going to call one of the bad guys the Hulk Monster.  Fabian Nicenza was at that time the editor in chief told them, "You can’t do that because you’ll get problems from Marvel."  So they said to him, "Well, what can you name him?"  So he says, "Why don’t you call him Pur-lin?"  So they’ve got a Pur-lin Monster there.  You get lots of points for knocking off a Pur-lin Monster. <laughter>  It’s an interesting world.

DB:  You’ve worked on a lot of things obviously.  Is there anything left that you’d love to work on?
DP:  Anything I’d like to work on?

DB:  Yeah, say I owned either Marvel or DC and said you can have a shot at any character.
DP:  Oh, I don’t know I’ve never thought about that question.  I’ve been thinking and pondering all kinds of questions, but I’ve never thought of that.  People always ask me who my favourite cartoonist is, but if I could do any character what would I do?  You know, off hand, I couldn’t think of anything that I haven’t done that would matter to me. Unless they let me create something of my own that I’d want to do.  That would be what I’d like to do something on my own.  Everything new seems to be all the same.  All the characters have become the same, they’ve been running kind of cold on ideas and actually I don’t think any of the publishers have figured out why comic books sales are in the basement now.  There are a few hardcore fans. I have a friend who has a comic book store and I go in there every so often and I look at the stuff and there are so many different titles and they all look alike. I wanted to make a bet with somebody that I could take four comic books, cut the pages out, shuffle them, put them back in and mix up the pages and you’d have to read the story before you could tell what issue they’re from.  They’ve lost the uniqueness.  You used to be able to pick up a book and you could tell John Buscema did this, or Neal Adams did that, or Herb Trimpe did something, and it was interesting.  Now you look at them and it looks all the same.  The colouring is all the same.  The main thing that seems to have gotten better in comic books is the technical end.  They use better paper, and the printing processes and the computerization of the colouring and the lettering has gotten to be great, but the rest of it, they don’t know how to do.  There’s a lot competition other than comic books than before. People play video games and card games instead of reading a comic book.

DB:  Your favourite character that you’ve ever drawn.
DP:  I think it would be Bloodshot.  I had a hell of a lot to do with creating the character.  I would say it’s Bloodshot, and then after that it’d be the two dinosaurs in The Bad Eggs.

DB:  The one book that you’ve done that you’ve said, "That’s completely representative of me", what would it be?
DP:  That’s hard, because I don’t think there are any.  People say I have a style but I don’t know that I do or not.  I think every time I draw something it’s a little different, it’s got a different strand of me, a different phase of me.

DB:  As an inker, who did you prefer to ink over?
DP:  There were two guys, well three really.  I inked (George) Tuska, which was great.  I inked Sal Buscema, which was over breakdowns and I had a lot of leeway in it.  That was fun.  And then I inked Bob Hall which was very good.  His work flowed; it was very easy.  There wasn’t anybody that gave me problems.  Because I’m such a genius you know. <laughter> 

DB:  As a penciller who did you prefer as an inker?
DP:  Besides myself, when I was doing the Defenders, Kim De Mulder.  He was the first to keep my feeling of the work, but he added to it.  Bob Layton did a lot of that Solar stuff that I did.  He was good.  I liked John Dixon.  But John, no matter what you gave him, it came out looking like John.  He had a very strong style.  He is a good artist, so you know what you were going to get back.  You weren’t going to have to slink around corners to avoid anybody after they’d seen the book. Gonzalo Mayo was another great inker he could do wonders with that black ink.

DB:  One last question.  Most unusual job that you did.  Were you the one that pencilled the Ghost Rider issue over Jim Shooter’s breakdowns?
DP:  I did.

DB:  How was that as a job because Shooter isn’t known as being an artist.
DP: He’s not.  <laughter>  We had to do a lot of fixing up.  But that wasn’t my most unusual job - that was a book I did for a special commercial section of Marvel, Captain Midnight, for Ovaltine.  It was a book about different kinds of sports and games, which had nothing really to do with comics.  But the most unusual comic book job?  I even did one for Classic Comics.  That was Robar The Conqueror, a sci-fi book by Jules Verne.   
There was a fellow putting out a series of comic  books called Golden Legacy, which was a series of books on black history.  I did a number of those books.  I did one that I’m proud of.  It was about black cowboys.  We were talking about other books he’d like to produce when he said, "How come when you see a cowboy movie, you don‚t see any black cowboys?"  The period that they make the movies about was right after the American civil war and slaves were set free and a lot of them moved westward.  And to be a cowboy, you didn’t have to be John Wayne.  You didn’t have to know how to read and write, you just tended to cows.  And in history there were a great deal of black cowboys because it was easier for them to get into that kind of a thing where you didn’t need much of an education, which had never been available to them at the time.  I had looked up a whole bunch of stuff and went through some history books and different things.  I wrote a few stories about black cowboys and I pencilled, inked, lettered and coloured them. That was pretty unusual and I did a story on Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King and a few others in the series.
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All images courtesy of  Don Perlin

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Interview conducted and transcribed by Daniel Best

Interview copyedited by Melissa Gowen and Don Perlin.

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